Finding God in vulnerability: a sermon about Luke 2

by Anna Doherty

I don’t know if you’ve spent much time with newborn babies lately,

but the characteristics of the newest human beings are so remarkable, it bears repeating.

Newborn humans are particularly vulnerable, relative to other newborn animals, even relative to other primate species.

It’s our big human brains, that make us so vulnerable.

Human babies need to divert much more of their energy towards brain development,

so we emerge from the womb far weaker and helpless than most other mammals.

Newborn human babies cannot regulate their own body temperature.

They literally depend on the environment of their birth and the proximity to their mother for warmth.

It’s no wonder that Mary wraps her newborn son in bands of cloth.

Not only was swaddling babies the practice back then,

but it was likely essential for keeping the tiny newcomer warm in the cold desert night.

Newborns also cannot see, other than shadows and light.

They do not have control over their muscles, or their bladders…

…they’ve never before been exposed to air or germs or any substance outside of the womb.

Newborn babies operate largely on reflex, and they are totally dependent on their caregivers for everything.

It is vulnerable and helpless to be a newborn baby, even with the comforts of modern Western medicine and conveniences.

For the newborn baby Jesus, born over 2000 years ago in ancient Palestine…

…placed in an animal feeding trough at his birth…

Born to a young mother, who has just traveled close to 100 miles from Nazareth to Bethlehem.

Born in Bethlehem, a tiny, backwater town so full of displaced people that their is no place for Jesus’ family to stay…

Born into a family who is poor, displaced, and Jewish in the midst of an oppressive Roman empire…

The newborn baby Jesus is even more vulnerable than usual for all these reasons.

And the same God, who only one chapter before Mary magnifies as showing the strength of God’s arm, of scattering the proud and lifting up the lowly…

The God who the prophet Isaiah names today as Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace…

That God is one and the same as the tiny, mewling infant, who has just been born in backwater Bethlehem.

God, born in the world as Jesus, unable to see, keep himself warm, unable to make his infant needs known in any other way except to cry…

No wonder Mary seems pensive and thoughtful, pondering these things in her heart, because it is still, generations later…

hard to wrap our minds around the full implications of Jesus’ birth.

God Almighty, the Creator of the Universe, comes into the world as a human being, and God comes completely vulnerable.

That is how much God loves us, that God would take on all the weakness of human life, especially the weakness of newborn infant human life…

… in order to redeem the world.

There is no other God, before or since in human history and faith, who has done such a thing.

And God does this, as Luke’s gospel makes clear, in order to make sure that we know that God sees, God knows, God personally experiences, God enters into…

…those parts of human life that would otherwise go unrecognized, unseen and unknown.

The circumstances of Jesus’ birth demonstrate that God comes to the vulnerable places of human life, to the very young, the very old, the poor, the powerless the lowly…

…to shepherds and not emperors, to Bethlehem and not Jerusalem or Rome.

God is born as Jesus in a time and a place and to a family and in circumstances that represent for us all the vulnerability of human life.

God comes also to the vulnerable places of great sadness and great joy, and to those who suffer and rejoice alike.

And just as Jesus is born human and vulnerable, that is also the way Jesus dies.

I believe that is why today, Mary both treasures and ponders all that has happened.

Because it is both wonderful and painful all at the same time, to worship a God who knows what it is to be human.

God knows all that human life entails, both the good and the bad parts of our existence and our lives in the world.

God sees, God knows, and God pays attention to all those vulnerable places in our world and in our lives.

That is what the Incarnation of God does for us.

We receive at Christmas a God who is with us and for us, a God who is one of us, in all that human life is.

And all we can do at Christmas, indeed, perhaps the most appropriate response, is to simply sit in awe, gratitude, and praise…

at what God has done for us.

To spend time, as the shepherds do, in worship, ….

and then to go out into the world glorifying and praising our God and proclaiming to the world the wonders of God’s love.

Where have you felt God’s presence in your life?

It is often in our most vulnerable places of great joy or great pain.

Where have you known that God saw you, recognized you, entered into your life and experience?

It is often in those moments that would otherwise go unnoticed or unremarked upon by the rest of the world,

but are nonetheless profound and transformative for us.

To recall those moments when God enters into our lives is akin to worshiping the infant in the manger.

When we remember those moments, it’s as if we too gaze upon the helpless newborn Jesus…

Giving thanks for the incarnation of God in the world.

And when we proclaim those moments in our lives when God enters in,

we announce, like the shepherds and the heavenly host all that God has done for us.

And when we do that, when we see and proclaim God in the world, God’s presence shines a little brighter in the darkness.

And the love of God and one another grows a little deeper.

And lives are changed forever.

As they did on the night Jesus was born.