The power of vulnerability
Supersize it! Make it bigger! A twenty-nine-bedroom, thirty-nine bathroom, two hundred fifty-million-dollar state home. Eighty-seven million dollars private airplanes incorporating king-size beds, showers, and plenty of seating for executives and staff.
Oscar de la Renta; Rolex; Gucci; Rolls-Royce or Lexus. An almond-shaped emerald ring received as a token of appreciation; a seventy-grand diamond-studded 14 K solid gold chain…
The largest church; the largest congregation; the biggest salary; the largest TV audience; the largest number of Twitter, Instagram or YouTube followers; the largest staff and, of course, the best motor-home to carry your pets whenever you need to travel out of town.
Well, that is the way the world measures success. If we find all this excessive, let us consider how much money we may have spent on our Christmas gifts and decorations, and what does the size and price of our gifts truly represent – our appreciation for the recipient or the dictates of fashion and trendiness? What really make us tick?
The lessons for the fourth Sunday in Advent, from early in the history of the Church have centered in the story of the Annunciation or the Visitation of the Angel to Mary.
There, once again, we learn that true greatness is not found in majesty or splendor, but in a pail and a towel, a non-descript country girl, a baby born not in a palace and laid in a cradle of gold, but in a smelly shed with a stack of straw for a crib.
As we progress from this day until Christmas, the Scriptures will show us that Christ’s story is not a story about power and might, but a story about fragility and vulnerability. It is the humble who are lifted high. It is a teen-aged bride to be who would bear a Son, THE Son of God, Emmanuel.
It is a craftsman’s family, way far removed from the glory of their ancestor, King David. They had no money, old or new, and yet they took care for the Redeemer of the world. Mary is a childbearing a child; a child who will be the Holy Mother to nurture the Savior in the ways of God. And for his first pastor in the domestic church that was their home, Jesus had a carpenter.
In recalling our Lord’s birth, we acknowledge that Jesus entered the world like each one of us, dependent upon others for survival. As a newborn, like all of us, he became vulnerable to hunger and thirst, to cold and stress, to infection and accident.
“The Word became flesh and lived among us,” writes John in his Gospel. The divine Word became a newborn child, fragile, and vulnerable, utterly dependent on the love and care of others. In fact, for Mary, it was not different. As a teenager mother-to-be Mary was dependent on the support and care of others.
The Nativity is the story about God sending His Son, born as an infant dependent upon Mary and Joseph for his very survival. God sent His Son to be cared for, protected, and nurtured by people like us. But even before his birth, God choose to “humble himself” to be born into this world in the cradle of an unpretentious migrant household. Those who had nothing or very little to spare yet found in their hearts to make room in their lives for the Lord of life.
God entrusted his Son to us, making Him vulnerable and fragile. God entrusted the Holy Mother not to the rich and powerful, not to the jet-set of their days, but to a humble carpenter. In doing so, we learn that God can and will transform our own vulnerability and fragility into strength to live out and proclaim eternal love in Jesus Christ.
The vision of God’s power and might, of his everlasting and enduring love, of the power of His grace and mercy over arrogance and ruthlessness, can only be acquired from the vantage point of a humble manger.
For all the distress that has been poured on us by Covid, let me suggest that perhaps what many have found to be worse than the virus itself is a sense of vulnerability. Rich or poor, skyscraper or farmhouse, Wall Street or Main Street, Red or Blue, there is no one that can say, “It won’t happen to me.”
For, unfortunately, the cemeteries are filled with many who thought they were invulnerable. The little bug not only has cut us down to size but also has cut the bootstraps that we are so keen in using to lift ourselves up, without regard to God. And that is precisely what makes Covid so vexing.
But here is the good news. Christmas is here to remind us that under God, there is power in vulnerability, in humility, and in sheer dependence in God – in living in God’s terms and not ours.
There is power in vulnerability when rather than grabbing a Bible we let the Word of God grab our hearts and minds. There is power in vulnerability whenever we stop paying lip service to God and start using our lips to pray and to praise the One and true source of life, light, and love.
Vulnerability may stir up fears. But the good news of Christmas is that of a Holy Child lying on a manger and who, without words, still communicates to the world a message of enduring hope and the power of love.
Thou didst leave Thy throne and Thy kingly crown,
When Thou camest to earth for me;
But in Bethlehem’s home was there found no room
For Thy holy nativity.
O come to my heart, Lord Jesus,
There is room in my heart for Thee.