Here is the little door,
lift up the latch, oh lift!
These are the opening lines of a Christmas poem by Frances Chesterton (G.K. Chesterton’s wife), put splendidly to music in the Herbert Howell anthem, “Here is the little door.”
I put that anthem on my Advent playlist, yet I’d never really heard those words. Then it struck me—how small this Christmas thing is. We are directed to this tiny portal, and then the voice is imperative: “lift up the latch, oh lift!” Inside is the cow stall and the manger and the miracle child. But to get in we must “Bend low about his bed.”
The proportions of Christmas seem way off. On the other side of the tiny door is…the world’s salvation? Very God? If it’s all really that infinitely enormous, why the little door?
This seeming contradiction causes many to doubt or deny the miracle. It’s not “big enough” to register as a truly colossal event. But like everything infinite on earth, it cannot be seen from the outside in, only from the inside out.
I have always been deeply moved by the life of Jean Vanier, founder of the L’Arche movement. Vanier visited huge mental hospitals in the 1960s and was overwhelmed by the primal cries of those with deep impairment who had been essentially imprisoned. In those painful cries, Vanier says, he heard, “Do you love me? Does my life have any worth? Will you be my friend?” He went on to spend his life in community with people that most of us do not want even to see. From the outside they look shocking, frightening. Vanier began to see them from the inside, and knew that each person was of infinite value and worth. He saw their beauty.
Another way of saying this is, to love someone is to slip beneath outer appearance and know that one from the inside. Then we see their immeasurable spirit, their incalculable worth.
We can waste a lot of time standing outside that door, insisting it’s too small to lead anywhere eternal. Lift up the latch. Bend low. Squeeze inside. Gaze with the eyes of love.