I’ve been making myself pay attention to Advent this year. Weirdly its meant I’ve found more depth in my reflections on Christmas. Go figure.
The God who is all powerful and sovereign over all creation is not revealed through might and majesty at Christmas, but in vulnerability and powerlessness. Jesus is born the helpless baby of a helpless young woman. Without Mary, Jesus is lost. Without Joseph, Mary is lost. Oddly, the one who comes to save us actually needs saving by us to begin with.
God’s coming like this means no one is commanded to serve Him, but strangely, many find themselves compelled to do so anyway. But their service is an act of freedom and creative generosity, rather than coerced conformity. Too often our faith loses this dimension of freedom.
Mary herself freely accepts God’s invitation to bear Jesus with her courageous ‘Let it be.’
Joseph takes the difficult road of marrying his mysteriously pregnant fiancee, giving her protection and place.
I think God’s coming as a helpless baby is profound, not because it makes people do things, it doesn’t command faithfulness or service, but because it reveals what people already are. It draws faithfulness out of them. It invites them into lives of holy righteousness. Mary is revealed as faithful and brave. Joseph is revealed as trusting, and fearlessly loyal. Herod, on the other hand, betrays himself as insecure and fearful, when he can’t cope with any competition to his throne, even from a newborn infant!
God’s coming as a vulnerable child draws our true nature out. How we respond to vulnerability reveals who we truly are. Do we take advantage of that weakness like Herod sought to, or do we try to protect it, and help it flourish?
This vulnerable God reveals something deep about us, something we couldn’t arrive at on our own. In that sense it is gift and grace. Mary; insignificant, young peasant mother, is revealed as Theotokos – the God-bearer. Joseph, the simple carpenter, is revealed as Guardian-Protector of God’s only Son. The Shepherds are transformed from marginal outsiders, to the inner-circle of God’s welcoming committee. And powerful Herod is exposed for the sad, twisted soul that he is.
God’s gift to us is not only in the power to save us from our sins, but in the powerlessness that draws our truest selves out into the light of day. Our need for redemption relies upon our knowing who we really are to start with. This is God’s first gift to us – the real gift of Christmas.
When the young Jesus is presented at the temple, old Simeon says, ‘This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed…’
What does the coming of this vulnerable God draw out of you?