This is my first Advent / Christmas Season back in the parish in seven years. The last Advent worship series I had to plan and the last marathon day of Christmas Eve services I helped lead were in 2008. Sure, I’ve been to Christmas Eve services in the intervening years, but I haven’t had to be responsible for them. So, even though I have known that Advent and Christmas were coming for months, it has felt a little as if it has all snuck up on me.
For this and other reasons, I’ve been thinking about vulnerability a lot lately. And because the interwebs has so many answers, I typed in “vulnerability” and looked at what came up.
Top hits mostly involve Brené Brown’s 2010 TED talk titled, “The Power of Vulnerability” or some citation of her work. In it she talks about shame and fear, courage, compassion, connection, love and belonging, wholeheartedness, and vulnerability, both excruciating and necessary. One blog that cited her work defined vulnerability as the ability to give one’s whole self to something (to a connection, to a relationship, to life) without any guarantees.
As I have sat with this definition during this season of waiting, my thoughts have turned away from my own vulnerability to the vulnerability of God in the incarnation.
Frankly, the incarnation was a bad bet. It was not a situation without guarantees. There were thousands of years of human history with God that all but guaranteed that God’s love for God’s people would be rejected in favor of something else – a king like all other nations or a national identity built on political and military prowess like all other nations to name a couple. In spite of all of that, God still came. God still gave God’s whole self to the relationship with us even though there were no positive guarantees.
When we proclaim the birth of Christ Jesus at Christmas, we proclaim a God who limited God’s self, freely and purposefully, to know us and to be in relationship with us. When we proclaim the birth of Christ Jesus as a tiny baby, we proclaim a God who is unlike any other – not because of God’s power, or knowledge, or wisdom, or strength – but because of God’s weakness and limitations and vulnerability in Jesus Christ.
The God who created the world and brought all things into being limited God’s ability to control and predict, and showed us this beautiful and necessary vulnerability. God denied all those things that we as humans believed God should be in order to be the God of incarnation, and showed us God’s authentic self. God came down and allowed God’s self to be seen in order that we might be connected to God, and all of our weaknesses and imperfections and limitations have been redeemed and called good.
Because of this, we know that we are loved and we belong. And because of this, we have been freed to be vulnerable with God and with one another, to give our whole selves without any guarantees. May this be good news in this season for you and for me.
Jihyun Oh currently serves as Manager, Call Process Support and Assistant Stated Clerk for the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and has served as interim pastor, associate pastor and hospital chaplain.