Saturday, December 24, 2016

The Vulnerability of God

Christmas Eve
Luke 2.1-20
St. Gregory’s, Long Beach

Tonight we stand before the nativity scene. What do we see there before us? A tiny, newborn baby, wrapped in bands of cloth, lying in a cold manger. Mary, glowing with love for the child she has just brought into the world, full of hope for his future, for who he will grow to be. Full of hope for humanity. Joseph, beaming with pride for his newborn son – even if not his biological son – the “adopted” son he will raise as his own. The child he will raise into manhood, and help form who he will become. Shepherds, amazed at the prospect that this is the one whom angels have declared as their Savior, the Messiah. Numerous animals – oxen, cattle, sheep – while not capable of understanding who this is, still sensing the miracle present before them.

As we look deeper still, as we look with the eyes of faith, we see even more. We see what this means for humanity. How, in the words of Phillips Brooks, in the first verse of “O Little Town of Bethlehem,” “the hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.” We see what this little child, lying in the manger, truly means. What the angel proclaimed in their announcement to the shepherds – “to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord” (Lk 2.11). And then “suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!’” (Lk 2.14).

We at once see the baby in the manger and the man he will grow to be – the one who through his teachings and his miraculous acts proclaims the kingdom of God. The one who through his death and resurrection defeats sin and death, securing for us our salvation – forgiveness of all our sins and the promise of eternal life. No, we cannot look at the baby in the manger in Bethlehem for too long without soon seeing the man crucified on a cross at Golgotha. Certainly not this side of the resurrection. We see and fully understand what this child lying in the manger will do for us. What he HAS done for us. That this new life before us, this newborn infant, will be the means by which we ourselves experience new life.

As Christians, we pretty much take this for granted. It is God’s promise to us. A promise fulfilled by the one who lies before us in the manger. But have you ever stopped to consider what it took to make all that happen?

Look closer at the manger. The answer is there, if you look hard enough. What do you see? Emmanuel. God with us. That’s what the Archangel Gabriel told Mary at the Annunciation – that she would give birth to the Son of the Most High. This is what the prophet Isaiah foretold. “Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel” (Mt 1.23). God WITH us. God with US. That little baby lying there in the manger. That’s God in the flesh! The Creator of all that is, became human! In the flesh. Like you and me! If that doesn’t blow your mind, I don’t know what will.

One of the things that always strikes me about babies, particularly newborns, is how frail they are. How vulnerable. How dependent on others for their care, for having even their most basic of needs met. The absolute vulnerability.

When you see that baby there in the manger and realize that it is God with us, do you know what that means? When God chose to become human, when God chose to experience life as we experience it – from the moment of birth to the moment of death – when God was born as a human in the form of Jesus, God became absolutely vulnerable. Our all-powerful, omnipotent God became vulnerable in the form of a baby. Staggering, isn’t it? The fact that God would willingly do that, to risk that, just to experience life as we do. Just to be with us face-to-face, flesh-to-flesh. Why? Because God loves us so much. If that doesn’t show God’s love for us, if that doesn’t show God’s commitment to humanity, I don’t know what possibly could. For this demonstrates without a doubt that God was, is, and always will be, among us, in the midst of everything that makes us human. Even in our own vulnerabilities.

In that vulnerability, we have a responsibility to that baby in the manger. For that child was born for us. For “to [us] is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord” (Lk 2.11). As Christians, we have a role to play in the Christmas drama. That God became vulnerable to us in the form of the baby, Jesus. And we are to take that baby as our own, to care for him and nurture him in our own lives. And to share him with others so that they too may know the love that God has for us. The love demonstrated by God becoming human, as we are. The love demonstrated by God becoming vulnerable, as we are.

Tonight we stand before the nativity scene. What do you see before you? God who made himself vulnerable to you. God who made himself vulnerable FOR you. Out of love. Out of pure love.

Just as God was vulnerable in coming to you in the form of a baby in a manger, may you be willing to be vulnerable enough to open yourself to the unbounded love God has for you. And may you carry that blessed gift with you this holy night, and all the days of your life.

Merry Christmas!

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