A Very Vulnerable Christmas
Last week I hurt my back. It started as a twinge, which graduated to a constant niggle, which culminated in me collapsing on the floor in pain as I tried to unpack the dishwasher. Clearly, housework is not good for you!
I have spent the last few days either hobbling on crutches, crawling on the floor or lying flat on my back, with a heat pack wedged underneath me. The simplest tasks have become excruciatingly painful, if not impossible. I feel utterly helpless and I do not like it one bit.
Although I don’t mind ordering my family around as I lay prostrate on the living room rug, eyeballing every dust bunny and a few lost dog toys, the lack of control and independence are constant and unwelcome reminders of my very real limitations.
I am a passionate advocate for authenticity, vulnerability and embracing our need for each other. I have come to realise, however, that I am far more comfortable sharing those messages from a position of strength rather than weakness. I would much prefer to speak of my need and pain and helplessness after the fact, not during. It seems I like the theory of vulnerability and interdependence way more than the reality.
Yet, when I reflect on Christ’s entry into the world, I am reminded that the Divine willingly layed down the power, strength and glory of heaven to enter the messy vulnerability and frailty of our human experience as a helpless baby. Born not to a king or an emperor in a palace but to an overwhelmed, barely married young couple, from an oppressed and marginalised community. The arrival of Immanuel – ‘God is with Us’ – lacked any display of the traditional power, might and self-sufficiency that we would expect from the Saviour of the World.
For today in Bethlehem a rescuer was born for you. He is the Lord Yahweh, Messiah. You will recognize him by this miracle sign: You will find a baby wrapped in strips of cloth and lying in a feeding trough!
Luke 2:11,12 (TPT)
Jesus entered the world totally dependent on others for his survival, protection and provision. His goal was not to impress us but to identify with us. He embraced the fullness of humanity. Throughout his life, we see no evidence of him rejecting the companionship, support and complexity of interdependent relationships. There was no strong arming – ‘my way or the highway’ – style leadership. When gifts were offered, he received them graciously. When help was required, he asked without apology. Jesus wept when his friend died, felt the sting of betrayal and rejection, suffered the loss of reputation and the ache of being profoundly misunderstood. It is not weakness to need each other, it is part of our divine design. Jesus embodied the frailty and neediness of humanity and, in doing so, gave us both an example and permission to do the same.
He humbled himself and became vulnerable, choosing to be revealed as a man and was obedient. He was a perfect example, even in his death…
Philippians 2:8 (TPT)
God’s radical vulnerability, willingly expressed out of desire for intimacy with a complicated, hard-headed and desperately hurting world, contrasts sharply with our personal tendencies. We long for love, belonging and acceptance but fear and pride often lead us to adopt a position of defensiveness, striving or control. What are we most afraid of? Rejection, exclusion and failure. We don’t want to appear weak or needy – ever! So, in a desperate bid to protect ourselves, we withdraw and exclude. Sadly, in doing this, not only do we miss out on genuine connection and community, but we also deny others the opportunity to experience the same with us. The way of Jesus could not be more different. From birth to death and beyond he was and is, all in. Present, engaged, humble and available, he took on the risk of rejection so that we may experience real belonging and acceptance. He went first and now asks us to follow.
Christmas is a celebration of many things but this year I have been sharply and painfully reminded that people-pleasing, perfectionist independence and self-sufficiency should not be on that list. My gift to myself and others this year is to be present, honest, engaged and available – exactly as I am, even if that’s lying on the floor with a heat pack, drinking champagne through a straw.