I remember being taught as a child to kneel to you because you were Lord and God and Almighty and Better than us and all the rest of it. Kyriearchy I mean.
I bought it because it came with a very convincing side of inferiority which quickly fermented to self-hate and that seemed logical in terms of the bigger picture in so many ways.
It was not until I was about 17 that I had a close friend who questioned religion and refused to see herself as “unworthy”. No more kneeling to grovel before a judgemental monarch. I began to feel uncomfortable with the classist aspects of religion.
But there was the stable scene at church with almost life-sized statues in real straw and we knelt to see it, to see you as a baby and all the figures that surrounded you in love and awe. We looked at the joy, the sparkle and the mystery and we were little ones ourselves we did not deconstruct this story and all the ways it makes no historical sense.
What we saw as we knelt was everyone’s eyes downwards to a baby: the beauty of God. We felt inspired to kindness, to live a better life with each other and see sacredness even in animals and stars and straw.
That my little Darling was the other side of kneeling.
Now I am all grown up and I work in early childhood and I had my own children who were so little but now I have to look up to talk to them and reach up to hug them. But at work I spend much of my day close to the floor on seats that are too low. I crouch, kneel even crawl all day because the little ones I am working with and teaching are so small. To really see, hear and notice them I often have to get down a level or two. To participate with them I have to also give up the adult dignity of standing (also give up comfort).
So then kneeling in my profession does not mean worship of the powerful dictator, it means getting down to give voice to the vulnerable, talking at a respectful eye-level, being authentically with someone small and in need of protection.
At work baby Jesus you would relate with my day where I sit in the sand and pretend to eat meals the little ones prepare. I construct a better train track for their trains, do up their shoes and wipe their noses. I find ants to watch, sweep up tempting but dirty crumbs and sit with children crowding onto my lap and snuggling in from all sides complaining “I can’t see the story”. I sit on the floor between two mattresses patting tiny backs to stillness while quiet music plays. I crouch down to take a picture that isn’t “from above” or to clean a variety of messes or to see what is out of reach (and move things as needed).
And that is “kneeling”.
So how then do we kneel down to the level of vulnerable and emotionally needy, the ones who are you little baby Jesus? How do we touch the little heartbeat of wisdom that needs care and nurture and even reassurance? To me this is one more call to social justice. Any adult can walk into a room and perform the basics for the child- hand them food, tell them off, even smile and clearly like the child and perform a variety of services for the wellbeing of the child but it is just not the same when we don’t get down to their level (your level, my God) and deeply listen.
All our Christmas charity to the poor and general “niceness” to people is fine, we ought to still do it because it is like feeding and clothing and keeping the child safe. The weather is particularly bad in my city this year and I will take them something if I can and it is good but it is not enough.
Who are we to give out our generous gifts from above people? Who are we to decide for others as an adult decides the fate of a child?
Baby Jesus, you need a closer encounter, for us to get down on the floor and enter with you into play- to hear and see and know the vulnerable of the world, to share laughter and tears as well as the leftovers of our bread. Like any child, you are demanding Word of God.
Even when we are exhausted may our hearts allow your little fingers pulling at our clothing and reaching for our hands and calling us back into play with cuddles and smiles and sometimes tears. Like the childcare workers who well and truly earn their ten-minute breaks just to get out of the room and try to restore sanity after a few hours of it, or like the parent who has been sleep deprived for many long months we don’t always respond to you as quickly and tirelessly as we want to.
So we restore ourselves this Christmas with good food and good company and Christmas carols and lights and all the rest.
But what about those who can’t? How do we work together to support each other’s work and self-care? What love and attention can we bring to you Jesus in the “least of your siblings”, in the babies who need better supported families, in the women whose gifts are rejected by their society or church, the homeless people, the refugees, the unemployed and unemployable, the aging or dying and those who used to make Christmas wonderful for others and now barely manage to enjoy a moment of it because of age or stress.
That is where we kneel, we can’t solve all the world’s problems but we be with Jesus and with the “least of my siblings”. We come down to eye level when the baby cries. Sometimes there is no solution there is only love and presence.