The Call of the Small: An Advent Invitation

I once saw a kitschy Christmas card featuring a photograph of a straw-filled manger. The caption read “King-sized Bed.”

Despite its triteness, that caption stayed with me. The thought of God’s choice, binding himself to humanity by becoming one of us and in lowly circumstances whose fanfare was known only to shepherds and star-studying Magi is meditation enough to fill a lifetime of Christmases.

“It isn’t to the palace that the Christ Child comes,” Bruce Cockburn reminds us, “but to shepherds and street people, hookers and bums.”

Will I recognize his presence when he comes?

It is Advent, the liturgical season where we keep vigil for the “once and future coming” of the King. This year I’m focusing on the call of the small, on God’s right reordering of the world’s priorities. I hope for grace to shrink my haughty heart to the size of a manger, a king-sized bed.

Weary of political posers and social media ego inflation, I’m praying for grace to keep my eyes on small wonders, filling my heart by emptying it. Why did I ever think happiness could be found in any other way?

“Unless you become as a little child,” Jesus would comment when his friends began bickering about which one was the greatest, “you will not enter the kingdom of God.”

“My kingdom is not of this world,” he told the earthly ruler who had power to kill him, but not to take his life.

If we’re going to prepare for the coming of this king, we have to know where to look.

The scriptures give us glimpses of the places where real life is to be found, and it isn’t typically where the loud and the proud hang out. But it might be, because it isn’t in a particular place at all but in our becoming like small, needy, wonder-filled children.

Rich Mullins called it “growing young.” 

St. Thérèse of Lisieux, the Little Flower, called it her little way of spiritual childhood. 

Fr. Thomas Acklin calls it “conversion as shrinking.”

His book, where I discovered this life-changing phrase, contains a challenge for those who want to grow in humility and happiness, who want more of the humble King’s life in their own hearts. Every time you read the Scriptures, he advises, be on the lookout for the “last, the least, the littlest and the lowest.” Each one is an illustration of God’s call to be small.

Each one is a victory for the King.

This is my Advent search.

The kingdom of God in a mustard seed. A cup of cold water given in his name. Lilies. Sparrows. Jesse’s youngest, the shepherd boy. Jonathan’s crippled son Mephibosheth. Gideon’s rag-tag army. Bethlehem, least among the cities of Judah. The widow’s mite, an offering greater than all the others. The Handmaid of the Lord in her Nazareth hometown—can anything good come from there? St. Paul, the “least” of the Apostles.

Celebrations of the small are everywhere once we begin looking. There’s Lucy Pevensie, the youngest and “most longing,” first of the children who walked into Narnia through a hard-backed wardrobe door. The little mouse Reepicheep, first to enter Aslan’s country. Frodo, the hobbit-Ring bearer, and Samwise Gamgee, his humble protector and friend.

There’s the violet pushing through a sidewalk crack. The woman who showed up at school with winter hats she’d knitted and wanted to donate to children without one. The first star in the evening twilight.

The earth is charged with such grandeurs.

I’ll be posting small wonders about them this Advent, in case you’d like to join me. You can subscribe here to receive them, and if you have one to share with me, I’d love to hear from you.

May the scales covering our eyes fall to the ground as we keep watch for the humble King’s once and future coming.

If you enjoyed this post, please share Sparrrowfare and subscribe here so you won’t miss another!

You might also enjoy Advent’s First Week: It is Better to Light One Candle and Meditating on Handel’s Messiah and More: Advent’s Perpetual Preparation for Peace.

How does a Servant of God prepare her heart for Christ’s coming? Read Amy Welborn’s Dorothy Day on Advent to discover how seriously the co-founder of The Catholic Worker took her faith in Christ.

Advent should admonish us to discover
in each brother or sister that we greet,
in each friend whose hand we shake,
in each beggar who asks for bread… the face of Christ.

St. Oscar Romero December 3, 1978 (more here)

That’s the call of the small.

Photos by Mick Haupt, Aaron Burden and MI PHAM on Unsplash.

7 thoughts on “The Call of the Small: An Advent Invitation

  1. Dear Peggy,

    I find myself counting on you for my Advent meditations each year since you began your Sparrowfare journey. I know that I can come to this blog and find words I need to live by. I envision us sitting in your office at Marsh or sharing a meal and pondering the large-ness of these “small” thoughts. Thank you for grounding AND PROVOKING my inner being yesterday, today, and tomorrow.


    1. Such a blessing to read this today Kristin! The large-ness of these “small” thoughts indeed! We’ve had “small” people open the truth to us so many times. Wishing you a blessed Advent with all my heart!

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