December 24, 2017
All Saints’ Church
Merry Christmas! And welcome to All Saints’ Church. It does not matter who you are, where you are from, who you’re here with, or what you believe—you are welcome here. In the Christian story, our savior was born in a stable because there was no room at the inn. That’s why in this, God’s house, we strive to make room for everyone, so that no one will be turned away for any reason. There is a place at this feast for every person. And if it has been a long time since you’ve come to a church or if you’re just here because you’ve been dragged along, or if you’re just here because you love amazing music, please know that you are no stranger here. This is a special Christmas for our parish, which is celebrating our 150th anniversary. We have been welcoming strangers here for a century and a half, and we don’t intend to stop now. A church is a community of love, and if there is any love in your heart, you are in the right place.
On Christmas Eve, this house is filled with a wide mix of emotions. Many of us approach the birth of Jesus with joy and wonder. For others, being in this place on this evening may be something more of a curiosity, a chance to try something new. There are those of us who bring the pain of grief or loss as we remember loved ones from whom we have been parted or estranged. And there are those who bring hopeful expectation of great things to come, or hearts full of blessings.
Whatever state your spirit is in this evening, let it be filled with the Holy Spirit of this holy evening. God sees all of who you are and what you feel—and blesses it. This particularholiday can make even the strongest among us feel exposed and defenseless. But there is nothing to fear here—only a little child, squirming in the manger. This is not a coincidence. Because in the miracle we celebrate tonight is a deep truth about who God is and what God wills for us. By becoming human in Jesus, we learn that even God is vulnerable—as vulnerable as a tiny baby, an infant in a stable.
Friends, it is impossible to get through this life without being vulnerable. We come into this world just like Jesus did—small, helpless, and totally dependent on care from others. If we are lucky, we have a few years here and there when we may be strong and independent. But even then, human lives are so intimately intertwined with one another that the fate of one depends on the fate of all. And in the end, no matter where you might be today, your situation will become more tender one day, and you will find yourself again vulnerable.
The infant Jesus proclaims with a cry that this is no reason for sadness. He is born at the wrong time in the wrong place to the wrong people—by earthly standards. But because he is God’s holy child, he shows us the divine richness in our vulnerability. The inconvenient time of his birth becomes the holiest night in history. The meekness of his mother elevates her to the greatest of saints. The poverty of his circumstances transforms our poverty into the richness of God’s glory. The incarnation of Jesus Christ under such scandal and improbability is the foremost testament to God’s immense love for us when we are most vulnerable—when we need God most.
In the time of strength, it can be tempting to use our relative power to make ourselves forget that we were once as vulnerable as Jesus. We can surround ourselves with people and things to create the illusion that we will never be vulnerable again. The misguided among us are so disturbed by the thought of the vulnerable that they oppress them, trampling on the poor, the sick, the hungry, and the powerless.
But Jesus was all these things. He was born into poverty, and when he grew up, he chose to spend his life among the outcasts of his world. He never had any money to speak of, and he was never given any earthly authority. In fact, he stayed vulnerable all his life, until he gave up even that.
This is God. God created you and me and everything you see—and yet became as fragile as a human being. When he was among us, God chose a vulnerable life spent with the most vulnerable among us. And Christmas teaches us that God is there still. God is in our moments of greatest weakness. God is in our failings and our tragedies. God is in our infancy and our last breath. When we are at our most vulnerable, God is there. Because God is love. And without vulnerability, there is no room for love.
I have had this word—vulnerable—on my mind recently. You might have heard a news item last week about a government agency called the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, also known as the CDC. Apparently, the White House gave the CDC a list of words it was forbidden to use when preparing next year’s budget. One of these words was “vulnerable.”
Please, make your own conclusion on whether you think this particular bureaucratic incident is a big deal or not. That is not my job. But for me, the timing of this news—so close to Christmas--makes it impossible not to think about what it means to censor our vulnerability.
A society that punishes or forbids discussion of vulnerability is a cruel and unforgiving group of human beings. It will look for the weak and crush them for their weakness. It will exalt the strong and give them more strength. In such a dark vision for our common life, everyone will eventually be consumed by the lust for strength, because as human beings, we are, at heart, frail.
None of us actually wants to be vulnerable. But if you’re a Christian—or even if you just find Jesus somehow compelling—you must acknowledge and embrace your vulnerability the same way Jesus embraced his. It’s what makes us human. It’s what makes us compassionate. And ultimately, it’s what gives us the capacity to love.
Jesus knew this, and he sought to save us from our fear of our own weakness. He did this by becoming weak himself. He taught us that the highest calling for the strong is to serve the weak and to humble themselves before God.
But this evening—this holy night—the child Jesus is calling out. Hear is cooing and his whimpering. Look at his tiny face, so small against the vastness of the world. This is God. This is God—come as an infant—for you.