Saturday, December 25, 2010

Christmas: The Irritating Vulnerability of God

Christmas is the celebration of God’s willingness to risk the ultimate vulnerability. In Jesus God becomes helpless, vulnerable, at risk for all the random chaos and cruelty that defines human life. In the Nativity we see the divine stripped of power and control. So perhaps the lesson for us all is that every day is Christmas.

We often say that they key to Christmas is that God is born in our lives. God’s action and presence become real in the world through our work, our becoming the hands of Christ. This is true but there is another reality that Christ does not come in power and might but on the margins, in the rejected and powerless.

So what does this reality of the coming of the vulnerable presence of God mean in our lives? Perhaps we begin by looking around us. In our communities, whether they are families, monasteries, work places, Churches, who are the marginalized, who are the people we brush aside, the people we would rather not deal with? It is always easier to be open to the presence of God as long as God does not challenge us in real, concrete ways right in front of our eyes. The presence of God we need to see may not be the lovable people but the ones who challenge us, who we dismiss, the people we feel justified in disliking or ignoring. In his ministry the people Jesus angered the most were the good, observant, righteous, religious people of his time. These were the ones least able to see God in the form of Jesus. We need to ask ourselves if we too are missing the presence of God in our midst today.

The vulnerable coming of God also happens within as well as in the people around us. The interior birth of God in our lives, the coming of God’s power deep in our hearts can also be unexpected and unwelcome. We prefer our spiritual growth to feel good, we want prayer to be full of consolations, becoming closer to God should be a warm, comforting experience. But God comes in the flesh, comes in our lives to bring us to wholeness, to salvation, to a grace that has no price but is never cheap.

God’s presence being born in our lives often shows in the parts of ourselves that are on the margins, rejected or ignored. God comes to shake up our complacency, our easy presumption that we can be faithful to God’s call while remaining in control of our life. In the midst of our comfort God comes in the form of those parts of ourselves that we would rather not face, that we would rather deny are even part of who we are. In the depths of the anger, fear, bitterness, arrogance, laziness, or other characteristics we are loathe to admit are part of us, Jesus waits for us like the father of the prodigal son waiting on the road to embrace us in all our woundedness. The rejected parts of ourselves are embraced, anointed and welcomed and through God’s love become characteristics that are redeemed and made whole.

It is easy to reduce the Nativity to a “nice” scene, beautiful baby, beaming parents, exotic visitors and sanitized animals. But the birth of God is a radical, dangerous reality in our lives in our world. The incarnation means that God is a vulnerable new presence that turns everything upside down. God will come in the marginalized, difficult people we want to ignore but who invite us to know the deep and difficult reality of love. God is present in the rejected, broken parts of ourselves that we want to deny but that need to be recognized and incorporated for us to be who we were truly created to be.

We easily say “Come Lord Jesus” at this time of year. Perhaps this year we can say it knowing what it truly means, say it with fear, trembling and the deep hope that the Lord will truly come and make us new creations.

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