the shape of leadership

The Antidote to Shame

The songs of Christmas, Part 4

George P Wood on December 20, 2017


Today’s Scripture reading: Luke 1:23-25


“You should be ashamed of yourself” is one of the most powerful combinations of words in the English language, both for good and for evil.

At best, those six words shake people out of their moral stupor, show them how their deeds or words fall far short of God’s standards, and cause them to act and speak in more honorable ways.

For example, if a father with a secret drug habit gets caught shooting up in the bathroom by his young son, he should feel ashamed of himself. But rather than wallow in that shame, he should get clean and sober and give his son a reason to be proud of him.

At worst, however, those words imprison us in a cage of other people’s opinions and arbitrary standards.

Some time ago, Dr. Phil aired the story of a mother who despised her older daughter because she was stocky, but lavished love, attention and affection on her younger daughter, who was petite. Through her words and actions, this mother created a deep feeling of shame in her older daughter. Did I mention that both girls were under 10 years of age?

There was nothing wrong with the older daughter. The problem was the mother and her arbitrary standards and loveless criticisms. She was the one who should have been ashamed of herself.

Grace is always the antidote to shame.

When Elizabeth became pregnant, she said God had taken away her “disgrace among the people” (verse 25). Which kind of shame had Elizabeth felt up to this point: the better kind or the worst kind? Obviously, it cannot be the better kind.

Luke 1:6 says Zechariah and Elizabeth were “righteous in the sight of God, observing all the Lord’s commands and decrees blamelessly.” Elizabeth’s feelings of shame (or disgrace) did not arise from anything she had done wrong. She did not need to change her ways.

Rather, Elizabeth's shame arose from what the community expected of her as a wife, namely, that she would also be a mother. Unfortunately, through no fault of her own, Elizabeth was “not able to conceive” (Luke 1:7).

And this childlessness lowered Elizabeth several notches in the neighbors’ estimation of her, and, consequently, in Elizabeth's estimation of herself. She had no reason to be ashamed, but Elizabeth was ashamed nonetheless.

God is in the business of taking shame away from people. He does so in several ways.

First, God removes our shame when we repent of the deeds and words that are shameful. Second, God removes our shame when He exposes the arbitrary social standards and expectations that society unfairly imposes on us. And third, He gives us grace, in both spiritual and material ways.

In Elizabeth’s case, that grace was a baby boy named John, Yohanan, “The Lord is gracious.”

Grace, you see, is always the antidote to shame.


See also:

The Songs of Christmas, Part 1
The Songs of Christmas, Part 2
The Songs of Christmas, Part 3

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