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.
There 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 . . .