I love the Christmas story. While belief presents me with other challenges, loving the story is easy. The story being simple– God becomes human. And the details of that humanity matter. They matter a lot.
God becomes human in a child born in peril, in a vulnerable place and time. This child was not born in a palace, in a place of power, comfort, or security. Rather, the stories tell us, from the gospels of Matthew and Luke, that the child was born into a world in which there “was no room.” As childbirth often is, this birth is dangerous. This child is born into the danger of poverty, the danger of homelessness, the danger that comes on the road. This child is born vulnerable.
And really, this child’s life would not change much. While we know little about the youth of Jesus of Nazareth, we know he became a wandering preacher, part of a small community, who was ultimately executed. He lived a vulnerable life.
If God’s most intimate connection with humanity is vulnerability, then we have a great deal to learn. Historians tell us that once Christianity became part of the Roman Empire, the radical edge of Christianity was lost. Perhaps that is true, because one can’t escape the vulnerability of the Christmas stories. There is no way one can take anything seriously about Jesus of Nazareth and not find vulnerability at the core. Much of American Christianity disfigures this truth. But the details of this child’s dangerous life, whose birth these days remember, cannot be easily dismissed.
Recalling that this child was born into a world where there “was no room,” places our current refugee crisis at the center of our moral compass. In fact, I wonder if we don’t have a hospitality crisis rather than a refugee crisis. It’s clear that today, our world is awash with refugees. Families and individuals flee violence and poverty because they’ve decided the vulnerability of fleeing is safer than the vulnerability of staying. So, they pick up what they can, however they can, and they go. They flee with babies, children, elders, the sick. Then, they often discover that those in the countries who can offer refuge, act as if the world were their own, as if they own their countries– as if they get to decide who stays where. When people flee war and poverty, they need refuge. Yet, this is one of the lessons, from that child whose birth we recall, that many choose to avoid.
This is meant in no way, to suggest that it’s good to be vulnerable, to romanticize insecurity. Being vulnerable hurts. But there might be wisdom in it too. At the very least, we might attune ourselves to see vulnerability more clearly– so as to respond to it more compassionately. If God reaches out to humanity in just this way, there is something to it.
It’s a simple suggestion– that we explore vulnerability, that we consider it. If it’s at the center of the birth these days remember, it might be worth exploring.
Photo: Giotto’s “Nativity” in the Basilica of St. Francis, Assisi, Italy