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Empty
by Bob Whorton


Bob Whorton

Empty

You may know the Christmas song by Emily E.S. Elliott which begins ‘Thou didst leave Thy throne and Thy kingly crown’ with the chorus, ‘O come to my heart, Lord Jesus, there is room in my heart for Thee.’ It is typically Victorian, with a rather schmaltzy tune, and I confess I love to sing it. The chorus in particular is very easy to sing, but actually incredibly challenging. Is there room in our hearts? Is my heart really a manger for the Christ child? Do we actually desire this earth-shattering, ego-shattering birth, which turns everything upside down?

A few moments of silence reveals to many of us what is happening in that inner room of the heart. There are strange thoughts which come to us unbidden, memories which seem to come from nowhere, instincts and prejudices and worries. It’s rather like a whole company of squirrels jumping around, completely out of control, in a walnut tree. And when the tree blows in the wind we are scared. The tree could blow over. We might lose control.

It is a lifelong’s task to surrender our lives to Christ, so that he can be born in us. To be empty enough. And we constantly get filled up with rubbish, so that we need to empty again and again. You and I will have different ways of doing this – different prayerful ways. The important thing is the intention.

Of course we will never be perfectly empty in this life and never perfectly filled with the love of Christ. We need to accept that. But a prayerful discipline means that something changes gradually over the years. We become a little more free of ego, and therefore free to be the servant of others. Paul writes in Philippians (2. 5-7) ‘Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.

I like the Revised Standard Version here, using the language of ‘Kenosis’ or self-emptying. The Christ has emptied himself of divinity in order to be with us, alongside us in our humanity. And Paul uses the words of this ancient hymn, embedding it in his letter, to give us the model of self-emptying. We are to be like this. We are to be like this servant, counting others better than ourselves, looking not to our own interests but to the interests of others. And there is a curious fulfilment when we can do this – the freedom of a surrendered life.

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