Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Entitlement

Over the last few years, friends of mine and I have sat around -- as old folks tend to do -- meditating and pontificating on the current condition of society, and projecting and prophesying about what is to come. Some of those friends, like me, have found themselves frustrated and fearful at the reluctance of "today's youth" to learn from mistakes -- ours as well as theirs, to heed wise instruction, and to turn from their impulsions and compulsions in order to create for themselves a better life, and create for those around and after them a better world. One word has appeared over and over in our discussions: entitled. "Why does this generation think they are so entitled?" And we shake our heads and crinkle our brows at the arrogance of these children, our children, our future. "They weren't raised that way."

In studying the story of The Advent this year, I was struck by the humility of this very young couple, Joseph and Mary as they arrived in Bethlehem after a long and arduous journey, and searched for a place in which to simply rest, at a time when they were awaiting more anxiously than anyone, the birth of the long-anticipated Messiah, the King of all kings, their very Savior, a baby.

This year our family welcomed two babes -- a granddaughter in July, and a grandson in November; both mothers and newborns received the most skilled and sanitary care available. While we are all aware babies are born everyday in some of the most rustic and difficult situations, the thought of a child being delivered in a manure-infused stable amidst farm animals, with a few old blankets or hastily shredded cloths upon which to lay either mother or babe, and only the light of a few reeds or clay jars to guide the way -- well, let's just say, knowing what my truck looks and smells like after one thirty-minute trip to the vet with two dogs, and in today's super-sanitized, bleachy wiped, brighter is better world, I can't quite get my head around it. Who wouldn't expect better conditions from the God of the Universe for the arrival of His Son into the world? When the inn keeper said there were no clean, comfortable sheets on which to lay this child God had entrusted to them, did these young parents say, "Oh, no, we have to keep looking then. Surely God would not want His Son delivered amidst bovine snot rockets and sheep urine." Why didn't Joseph demand better for his dear Mary and the child that had caused him so much distress, and at the same time, so much joy? Did Mary, possibly in the midst of contractions snarl, "Do you not know who I am -- who this is?"

And hours later, after Jesus had nursed and fallen asleep in Mary's arms, when "honored" guests arrived to see their Redeemer. Shepherds. They may very well have smelled worse than Joseph and Mary's animal companions! And so much noise and commotion. "I just got him to sleep!" From what we're told, Mary seems to be the quiet, reflective type, not some attention-seeking drama queen. A "house" full of guests -- complete strangers -- shortly after such an emotional and intimate event was probably not what she envisioned or maybe even desired. Did Mary close her eyes and whisper, "Really, Lord?"

And weeks later, upon entering the temple with the minimal sacrifice for Mary's purification -- the minimal sacrifice -- didn't Joseph question why God would allow His Only Begotten Son to grow up in abject poverty? Had Joseph missed something? Was there something he, as Jesus step-father should be doing? "Father, why would you give this child to me? And why would we, earthly guardians of the Most High King, continue to live as the poorest of the poor?" Did Joseph shake his fist and cry out to God, "I am so tired of living hand to mouth; I would have at least thought You'd want better for Your Son!"?

Entitlement. From what the Scriptures tell us, entitlement was not what these young newlyweds felt. They were honored. They were humbled. They pondered, and learned, and grew in their own walk with The Savior. They were servants and instruments. They obeyed and sought to serve their Lord of lords in all they did, and spoke, and thought. You'd think if anyone deserved to feel entitled, it would have been these two. Selected, called, tested, persecuted, grieved, over and over again.

Feelings of entitlement seem to be part and parcel of the human condition. If you've ever been disappointed with your raise, if you've ever purchased something you couldn't afford, or if you've ever been annoyed by the success of others, chances are you have felt in some way entitled. Entitlement is not just a condition of youth -- today's youth or otherwise. Entitlement does not just infect those who take advantage of others or pride themselves on being better than the rest in some way. Entitlement has spent a little time with each one of us. The question is I suppose, this Advent will you allow the humility that is found on your knees, alongside a feeding trough, gazing at a helpless but Holy Babe to replace that entitlement? He is Lord over you, He is Lord over all -- will you live in that way?

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