Students, families and staff filled Christ Church Cathedral for the annual Carol Service in early December.
For many in the audience, it was an opportunity to unwind. As a community of high achievers, we ask a lot of ourselves and our students. We thank everyone who spoke and performed, and those who orchestrated the service. It’s a busy time of year and we truly appreciate the efforts made to provide a peaceful, joyous event that took us away from the daily hustle and bustle of our lives for an hour or so.
Choirs from our Junior, Middle and Senior Schools made full use of the wonderful acoustics and celebrated the season with songs.
Middle School students Grace, Cole, Elizabeth, Elaine, Zephyr, Calum, Sophia, Daniel, Anjulie and Bianca also wrote and read their reflections and the final prayer at the service.
For this year’s reflection, we chose to focus on that familiar scene that comes at the end of the reading from Luke: Mary and Joseph, with baby Jesus lying in a manger; shepherds and sheep in attendance.
When we close our eyes and imagine that moment, our minds go in two directions.
Looking at the scene from one point of view, we can describe it using words like calm, peaceful, heavenly and full of hope – all underwritten with a softly spoken hallelujah.
Looking at it from another view, we can think of the family’s long journey and imagine that they must have felt a little overwhelmed and a lot relieved. Perhaps that relief even gave way to moments that were a bit boisterous. And don’t forget, the stable itself wouldn’t have been particularly comfortable and the straw would have been… poky. In fact, we’re pretty sure that there would have been donkey sounds.
Although that first, calm, peaceful point-of-view is beautiful, we think that the second view, with its mixed emotions of being overwhelmed and relieved, followed by moments of alternating pokiness and boisterousness – that second view looks a whole lot like life at Middle School.
What we did notice from both viewpoints was that this birth was a very humble start for a person who would become so influential – and we wondered what message there might be for us.
For instance, we all know we have shortcomings and sometimes those shortcomings lead to feelings of unworthiness. What would happen, if instead of feeling contained by such feelings, we instead accepted the reality that sometimes we’re poky and life is poky and things definitely aren’t always going to go the way we want them to no matter how much we try.
If we exercise some humility and accept that we’re not ‘all that’, where does it leave us?
Well, for a start, humility allows us to believe in ourselves, believe in our real selves. Not some glorified, glowing version, where all our flaws are deleted, but the real us. Once we’re willing to see ourselves for who we are, it becomes clearer that we need to work on the project of us and that if we work hard we can really make a difference. We get to move forward. In fact, it’s our perceived limitations that sometimes prod us forward, making us strive for improvement.
Here’s another thing. When humility allows us to see who we really are with all our strengths and flaws, it also changes the way we look at others. There’s not so much judgement at play. We no longer want to compete in ways that cause hurt and suffering in others. We begin to understand that everyone else is pretty much like ourselves. Those who seem so great have their own problems. Those we’re tempted to look down on actually have real strengths.
A bit of humility helps us to really see each other. When we do that, eventually, we begin to understand how others see the world and we see it more clearly ourselves.
Sometimes people talk like being humble is a sign of low self-esteem. We don’t agree. When we look at that manger scene and think of being humble, we see humility as a path to being better people, leading fuller lives with a strong sense of identity.
And, though occasionally poky, that’s something worth getting boisterous about.
Looking at our world, we see big problems: racial stereotypes and gender inequality, ongoing poverty and climate change.
Even within our circles, there are challenges, like the pressure to conform or the sense that we’re not understood or maybe our ideas don’t get heard – all the forms of exclusion.
When we think of all the larger scale and smaller scale problems, and take an honest look at ourselves, we might think that being humble would make us less inclined to act on any of it. That’s the stereotype attached to humility.
We’re not so sure it’s true for two reasons.
The first is the manger scene reading itself. The reason we’re interested in this particular humble birth is that the baby grew up to be an incredible spokesperson for values that we all care about like justice and compassion and forgiveness and love. He may have started in straw, but he made a difference to the people of his day and beyond.
And he’s not the only one, which brings us to the second reason we don’t believe the stereotype. We personally know some not-famous people who have made a difference to those around them:
- Like one of our grandfathers who saved the life of a soldier from the opposing side of the war
- And one of our uncles who installed clean water taps in Central America
- And one of our parents who delivered food & hot beverages to the homeless in tent city last winter
- And one of our siblings who’s really empathetic, who goes out of his way to make people feel good
- And one of our fellow students who got the idea to start a petition about styrofoam cups
- And even one of our friends who’s known for standing up and saying something when someone’s being mean.
None of these people are famous and yet they, in their humble ways, make a real difference.
This gives us hope. If being humble helps us to see ourselves more clearly and accept ourselves more deeply; and if that in turn helps us to understand and connect with those around us; and if those two things combined encourages us to grow and live out our values, then maybe each and every one of us has the means to make a difference – especially when we work together.
Doesn’t matter if we had an unlucky start or we had a disadvantage. Doesn’t even matter if sometimes we’re disenchanted with our own ideas. There are roles that we can play:
- We can be the person who sees someone in need and reaches out to help
- We can be the person who cares about knowledge and creates a great learning environment
- We can be the person who’s a good friend and builds trust despite differences
- We can be the person who knows how to get things done, so everyone can move forward
- We can be the person who’s a dynamo, offering the kind of fun that brings people to life
- We can be that idealist, that visionary, who inspires the community to live out its values.
All these roles. All these ways to make a difference to others and ourselves. And we don’t need a grand starting point. Humble beginnings are all that’s necessary.
At least, that’s our understanding, when we close our eyes and imagine that scene of Mary and Joseph with Jesus, lying in a manger, along with shepherds, sheep, poky straw, and, for sure, a rather loud donkey.
- For family and friends who are elsewhere this season, that we remind ourselves in the midst of our celebrations that we are connected despite whatever distance separates us
- For those who face poverty on a daily basis, that their needs are met and their hopes are realized and that we do our part in being generous towards them
- For those in our society who often feel excluded, that they feel free to be themselves and feel accepted for who they are and that we make room for them in our lives
- For those with busy schedules who rarely take a breath, that they pause to remember the good things of life
- For those who haven’t a clear sense of who they are or what they should do, that in this season, they find peace and a sense of purpose
- And finally, God, that as we move into this season of light, we remember both the humility and grandness that lies at its heart, so that even our lives might come to reflect good news of great joy for all people.
View more photos from the Carol Service on the SMUS Photo Gallery.