Being Vulnerable (4 of 8)

The most striking thing to me about the nativity narrative is found in the extent to which God makes himself vulnerable. Not only does he assume the general vagaries of human frailty, but he pursues vulnerability in its most dramatic forms – being born a helpless babe, sharing a nursery with livestock; born to an impoverished couple, amidst the scandal of a teenage pregnancy, within a morally legalistic culture. All of which historically occurs during a time when the social station into which you were born defined your significance from that point forward.

Our Christmas card portrayals of the nativity tend to employ a more romantic lens, filtering out the harsher aspects of the destitute predicament of Jesus’ birth. But rightly so, we look at this moment with glad tidings of great joy, knowing this to be the moment that ushers in the ponderous gift of redemption and reconciliation offered to all men. And given our role, as being on the receiving end of such an extravagant gift – it does not fully occur to us that even in this moment, to appreciate that a cost is being paid by Jesus . . . long before he goes to the cross.

It is the love of God on display, witnessed in his humble choices of vulnerability throughout his life. It is evident in the forty days of wilderness setting the tone for his three year ministry, giving himself over to want and deprivation – only to culminate in being taunted and tempted by an accusing deceiver. The temptation here isn’t really found in whether or not he accepted Satan’s offer, but in whether he would choose, to avoid or accept, the ultimate vulnerability of the cross. But even before the cross, we find him in the garden, his disciples completely unaware of his burden — fast asleep. So it was alone, he would face the cup that would not pass . . . knowing that he must drink it dry.

imagesThere is a good reason why so many of our Christmas carols choose to celebrate the infant king with the melancholy of minor chords – for embedded in this beautiful, scandalous night of angels, there is a long dark night’s journey for the Son of Man, a journey of self-emptying sacrifice, before we could all awaken on that resurrection morning. It is the humble path of choosing at every turn to make himself vulnerable, that marks the life of Christ from manger to cross. So it is not merely an interesting detail of his incarnation that we find Jesus born of low estate – it is an essential element in how we are to understand his extraordinary love for us.

So it is of no small significance for me to observe, that in contrast, it is in our being vulnerable to such an extent, where the human psyche resists the most. The shame and hurt, the disappointment and disparagement, are all such powerful forces – we dare not open that door too wide . . . or we will be utterly undone. But in the incarnate self-emptying way of Christ we discover an invitation to throw open that door of vulnerability, to allow ourselves to be known, scandalous details and all . . . so that the love and mercy of God might flow beyond our protected borders of self – to find its way into every life we touch with the true invitation of freedom. Because it is the way of Christ — to give of yourself in such a way that gives beyond the limitations of self.


Sometimes we forget this was a mother’s tender moment first . . .

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Being Expectant (3 of 8)

“Hope is a dangerous thing.” is arguably the seminal line spoken by Morgan Freeman’s character in the movie, Shawshank Redemption. The crucial nature of this line’s context is what gives it gravity – men serving life sentences in a state penitentiary. In such a setting, the idea of hope is but a mocking voice, only serving to accentuate the despair of imprisonment. Because those who are free, are free to hope – but for those whose lives are bound, hope comes at a great cost.

There is a symbiosis – hope requires freedom, and freedom thrives on hope. But in order to understand this symbiosis, it is critical that we understand the substance of hope. Hope is not found in the idle wishing for things to be so, predicated on nothing more than the whimsy of our passing desire – hope is forged in the fire of our faith beliefs, which constitutes the infrastructure of our entire perception of life’s meaning. It is an expectation firmly anchored in the faithfulness of God (Hebrews 10:23).

It is our expectation of what is true – that it will eventually make itself evident. So our hope is placed, both in what can be known, and what has yet to be revealed . . . and our faith is the bridge between the two. We are therefore, free to expect that God will accomplish his will, precisely because it is not bound by our limitations to make it so. In this regard, hope is a leveraging against a certain future – in order that we might live confidently now in God’s providence. And it is this very future/now paradigm that animates our understanding of the Advent season.

It was the expectation of God’s people, because of God’s past faithfulness, that he would redeem and deliver them – even though they had no conception of their redeemer as coming in the shape of a helpless babe, who would one day face a scandalous execution as a political/ religious subversive. And whereas, they might not have expected the means of their redemption to be fulfilled in such a manner – their expectations were met all the same . . . regardless of their ability to realize it or not.

christmas-season-advent-nativity-background-baby-jesus-in-a-manger-with-bright-star-shining-above_h-xffjgfg_thumbnail-small01So what are your expectations of this Advent season? Are you building upon God’s faithfulness, so that you might be expectant of what he’ll do next? Will you allow your heart and mind the wonderment of embracing a God who takes on flesh, so that he might enter into your pain of disappointment and know your discouragement? Will you expectantly follow his humble path, believing his life to be a template of reconciliation that you might also reconcile others to God (2 Corinthians 5:18,19)?

So what do you expect as you look once more upon that manger? Do you see death defeated on a cross, and a king inviting you into his banquet hall? And how will that change what you expect from the rest of your life? Does your faith know how to make the journey between what you say you believe and what you hope to be true? Because after all – hope is a dangerous thing. It should only be invoked, if you’re truly willing to be set free from all that binds you.


This is my brother Jeff’s wonderful arrangement of “Joy To The World”