Living and growing: Words of wisdom from a child: 'You have nothing'

Posted: Friday, January 20, 2006

You are probably aware of the story of the emperor's new clothes. You know the one, the tale about swindlers that come and convince the emperor that they can make the best clothes for his wardrobe. Yet, when the emperor parades down the road, it becomes clear that he has been fooled. He is, in fact, wearing nothing at all.

I have been thinking of new clothes for a while now. During this week I celebrated my birthday, and it got me thinking about what we call our "birthday suits." You know, the clothing we were born with, new clothing that is fresh and ready for the world.

But we know that new clothing doesn't last. After the birth of my first child, I noticed a couple of gray hairs appearing in my beard (I am sure the two aren't related). As time goes on, I notice a little bit of pain in my right ankle that wasn't there before. I have a harder time getting up off the floor when I play. My clothing is getting older. It isn't as crisp as it was years ago.

In the tale of this emperor, it is a child that speaks the words of truth. A child points out that the clothing the emperor is wearing is a flim-flam. It is a con, a sham. The emperor has been fooled. He doesn't have any clothes on.

I try and fool myself sometimes. As I get older, I find myself trying to hide this fact in many ways. Perhaps it is by the way I talk. Trust me, trying to sound "cool" when you aren't ... it isn't pretty. Or perhaps it is the way I dress ... again, not a pleasant sight.

As I was attempting to be cool, hip or whatever you want to call it, a friend stated the obvious, "I got nothing!" Which is how I felt.

I had nothing. I stood there with clothes getting older and speech that didn't line up with the times.

I had nothing. I have nothing.

It is then I remember the promise of our God. We have just come out of the Christmas season. We have seen the star of Bethlehem, and it has guided us to the one that brings New Beginnings. This Christ child, who comes to us. This God in the flesh, coming to us.

I stand before this child. I stand before this God with all my tattered clothes, with my increasingly graying beard, with my out-of-style language. I know that I have nothing. I stand before my God naked as the day I was born, leaving all my pretenses behind me.

A little child says to me, "You have nothing." The Christ child says, "Welcome my child." And in this child, I find new beginnings.

This little child says, "You have me." And I find that this is all I need.

• John Stevens is the pastor at Resurrection Lutheran Church.

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