Tuesday, December 09, 2008

The Vulnerability of Jesus

We pretty up the manger and we pretty up the cross.
We make them quaint and cute as fairy-tales.
We empty them of meaning and stark reality.
Our meddling oft’ ensures the message fails.

These are the beginning lines of a poem that has refused to cooperate, refused to embrace beauty of language, metaphor and meter. Easter and Christmas are like that for me – too big to grasp, the paradox too vast for comprehension.

But the manger is a feeding trough for donkeys, sheep and goats.
The cross is a blood-stained hunk of wood.

. . . And the One most intimate with God cried from that cross, “My God, My God, Why have you forsaken me.” We have known – all of us – separation from God. What we have not known except in glimpses, is the intimacy so close that the Bible uses the language of marriage to describe it.

Even before the manger we see a depth of vulnerability breathtaking in its scope.

Vulnerability # 1: The creator – in the womb of a teen girl who was castigated, at risk of stoning. Nine months of vulnerability confined in space and time.

Vulnerability # 2: Joseph, knowing he is not the father, shocked, bewildered, wounded, then visited by an angel.

Vulnerability # 3: Birth in a stable. No midwife. Separated from family. Mary’s hard working husband feeling the humiliation of being unable to provide better for his wife – wondering what he will say to the in-laws. Since Mary turned up pregnant, they have not been overly fond of Joseph anyway. How will he tell them their grandson has been born in a stable?

Vulnerability # 4: Interruptions in the night. Shepherds, probably more at home in the stable than Mary and Joseph, perhaps smelling like they were at home there – insisting on seeing the baby. Not a setting to make Joseph eager for company or to have his name spread farther.

Vulnerability # 5: Returning to the home they just left with a newborn son just months after the wedding held little appeal. But setting up shop in this little village that had welcomed them with a barn had its drawbacks as well. Starting a business from nothing once again, knowing surely that the rumours would reach here as well – promised continued heartache.

Vulnerability # 6: The Creator of the Universe in diapers, learning to walk, to talk, to feed himself – accepting all the limitations of an infant.

Vulnerability # 7: Strange visitors bearing strange gifts for Jesus, now a toddler underfoot in the carpenter shop. High profile visitors that get tongues wagging once again, stirring up all the old rumours.

Vulnerability # 8 Joseph’s dream. An urgent night-time escape into Egypt – no five-star motels along the route. Herod’s power-mad blood-lust plotting extermination, blackening an already tarnished name.

Vulnerability # 9: Toddler, boyhood and youth in a carpenter shop. The creator, who by his word spoke worlds into existence, with blood dripping onto the fresh curl of shavings on the floor when he drove a splinter into his finger, earning blisters and dirty finger-nails while taking two days to fashion a stool for a peasant’s cottage. The tedium of adze, rasp and chisel.

Vulnerability #10: Return from Egypt. Memories are long. Mary’s pregnancy has not been forgotten. The stigma, in a culture where the mother was usually stoned. A virgin birth was no easier to grasp at that time then it is now, even though it had been promised.

Vulnerability # 11: The Bible does not tell us when Joseph died, but there seem to be almost no references to him after the trip to Jerusalem when Jesus was 12. The responsibilities of eldest son to a widowed mother, probably before reaching full manhood. The carpenter shop is no longer a place to interact with an earthly father – it is a place where a youth must try to earn a living for a family – a daunting task.

Vulnerability # 12: Understanding his call – his identity – his responsibility – but still the eldest son of a widowed mother.

Vulnerability # 13 Ministry to the masses. Scorned by the religious leaders who should have first recognized him.

Vulnerability #14 A healing ministry where he somehow bears “our infirmities." Healing seems to cost him in personal, physical ways, and doubtless emotional ways as well.

Vulnerability #15 Misunderstood even by his own family. Thought insane by his brothers.

Vulnerability #16 The crowds try to take him by force and make him King. He has taught daily about the Kingdom of God, but they just don’t get it.

Vulnerability # 17 His disciples also fail to grasp the core of his message, and argue over who will be greatest in his kingdom.

Vulnerability # 18 His closest friends sleep when he has pleaded with them to watch and pray.

Vulnerability # 19 Sold for 30 pieces of silver. Betrayed by a Kiss. Denied by one of his closest followers.

Vulnerability # 20 Possessing power and authority to speak worlds into existence, he chooses to submit to the abuse, the mocking, the flogging and finally the cross.

Vulnerability # 21 Crucifixes and pictures always provide at least an undergarment, but crucifixions did not. The Creator of the Universe hanging naked before the crowds – bearing as much humiliation as human minds could conceive.

Vulnerability # 22 Rebuilding a shattered fellowship of believers after the resurrection. His closest followers were as astonished as anyone to find him alive again.

Vulnerability # 23 A commission to reach a lost world, entrusted to 12 men, many of them rough fishermen with little schooling and a track record of failure.

Vulnerability # 24 Guarding the integrity of the Word through generations and across language barriers.

Vulnerability #25 Entrusting people like you and me to continue to lift his name; continue to spread his message in this day and in our sphere of influence.

Christmas remains an incredible history-shattering event. The shadow of the cross falls across it, and the triumph of the cross as well. And still, God chooses to make himself vulnerable to the caprices of those like us who claim his name. May this season see us grasp that reality a little more firmly. May we bring true honor to his name.

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