Week Four: The Birth of Jesus

Week Four: The Birth of Jesus

 
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Several summers ago, my husband, my son, and I were hankering for Baskin Robbins.  We were standing in line waiting to place our order when I noticed a man in his late twenties, sporting a baseball cap and missing his left arm, marking his place in the que behind us. 

I quickly turned my attention back to the ice cream, and as I debated over mint chocolate chip or butter pecan, I heard my five-year old son’s voice, “Hey, can I ask you a question?”  I thought he was about to request a two-dipped cone and I was perched to respond with the usual “one will do just fine.”  However, this is what I heard: “Did you lose your arm in a light saber fight?”  What?  It took me a moment to register what just happened – my son had just asked a stranger if his missing arm was the mark of a Star Wars battle gone wrong. 

I had no immediate response for this other than embarrassment and shame.  How did my son not know that you do not just point out someone’s disability?  I cringed inside and braced myself for any number of negative reactions.  I was prepared at best for this guy to ignore my son and at worst for him to give a reply laced with malice.

How wrong I was. While I stood there berating myself for not teaching my child about social taboos, I experienced a sweet human exchange.   This man did not hold contempt for my curious child.  He bent down and looked my son in the eye and replied, “Nope, that would have been cool, right?  No fight, just born this way.”  My son scrunched up his nose and exclaimed, “bummer.”  I could hear it in his voice that he really meant this. There was my son looking back into this man’s eyes, offering a sincere, empathetic understanding that this guy somehow had been shortchanged.  I could also see how this empathy was received and appreciated by the man.  My parental shame was quickly replaced by awe and recognition of the blessing of connection that had just taken place.

My son then asked the man to sit with us at our table and proceeded to ask multi-layered questions about life with only one arm.  Some of the inquiries were quite personal and made me a bit uncomfortable, but they did not phase our new friend.  He answered with candor and tenderness. 

Between bites of cone, he displayed deep vulnerability and authentically shared with us what it was like to be him. 

I think about this meeting often as it was such a precious glimpse as to how fully the reign of God on earth can be experienced when we disregard worldly convention and allow ourselves to be vulnerable with one another.  It has impressed upon me the importance of vulnerability and its role in knowing God and each other with more depth.

And what better example of vulnerability is there than a newborn in a manger?  That’s correct, we have a God who knows what it takes to be vulnerable – a God that chose to break into this world as a babe fully dependent on others for nourishment and protection.  A God that continued to impart lesson of vulnerability through the cities, the countryside, the mountains and finally on the hill of death.  We have a vulnerable God. 

Do not make the mistake of interchanging weak or powerless with vulnerable.  We do not have an impotent God.  We have a God that is almighty; yet also a God of grace and openness.  A God of revelation and relationship that opens Divine arms to us and yearns for us to nestle into them to be cherished and cradled. 

As we celebrate the birth of Jesus, let us think about what it means to be vulnerable.  What does it mean to be dependent and reliant on God for nourishment and protection?  What does it look like to be vulnerable with one another?  Can we experience the reign of God more fully if we let go of our walls, insecurities and coping mechanisms and learn to be authentically present with our neighbor?

Ever-open, ever-powerful God, we pray for the courage to follow your lessons of vulnerability. Teach us to be a babe in a manger, trusting that you will provide for us.  Guide us to be as open to others as you are with us.  Amen.

Melissa Pearce

 
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Loving God, You came to us in the most vulnerable state – a naked babe laid in straw.  Thank you for this entrance.  Thank you for the example of what it means to be dependent and exposed. Help us find the willingness to be fully reliant on You the way You were beholden to Mary for her maternal care. Amen.


Day One: 

With all the wonder and supremacy that is our God, the Divine chose to come to earth as a child.  How strange and awesome is this?  How do we follow this example?  As you read the following Scripture, allow your senses to roam free.  Place yourself in that manger.  How did it feel, smell, sound like?  As you pray this Scripture, think about what it means to  be vulnerable and ask for the courage and wisdom to do so. 

 

Luke 2:1-7 – Lord, in those days before You were born, a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. Because of this decree, Joseph went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, as he was descended from the house and family of David. He went to be registered with his betrothed, Mary, who was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn. Lord, this is how You came into the world. Help me to be vulnerable as You were vulnerable. Amen.

 

Ask yourself —  Did I notice the demands of the world in this passage (i.e., traveling to fulfill the law of the census) juxtaposed with the miracle of birth?  What societal demands do I feel tugging at me?  Can I lay in that manger, vulnerable and dependent on God and allow those demands to be in God’s control? 

Prayer:  Loving God, You came to us in the most vulnerable state – a naked babe laid in straw.  Thank you for this entrance.  Thank you for the example of what it means to be dependent and exposed. Help us find the willingness to be fully reliant on you the way you were beholden to Mary for her maternal care. Amen.


Day Two:

This passage offers at least two insights about Joseph and Mary.  First, they knew religious law and sought to honor it.  They obediently sought blessing and circumcision for their newborn. Second, they also had some understanding about the extraordinary gravity surrounding their child. As you encounter this Scripture, ponder the words of Simeon. What feelings emerged as you read them?  Also, try to envision what Mary and Joseph must be feeling to hear these words. 

Luke 2:21-35 – Jesus, when You were only eight days old, it was time for your circumcision; and You were called Jesus, the name given by the angel before You were conceived in the womb.

You were taken to Jerusalem to be presented to the Lord, and they offered a sacrifice on your behalf, as was the custom.

Simeon, a righteous and devout man,  on whom the Holy Spirit rested. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. Guided by the Spirit, Simeon  came into the temple; and when your parents brought You to him, Simeon took You in his arms and praised God, saying, 


‘Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace,
according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation, 
which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for       

revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.’

Your father and mother were amazed at what was being said about You. Then Simeon blessed them and said to his mother Mary, ‘This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed—and a sword will pierce your own soul too.’

Ask yourself —  Did I consider how vulnerable Mary and Joseph had to have been in this event?  Given what I know about the birth of Jesus, was I impressed by their need for obedience?  Might I have stayed in that manger afraid to encounter the world outside?  Is obedience to God important enough to me to be vulnerable?  Am I willing to extend the authentic me to the world?   In what concrete ways am I willing to practice greater vulnerability with others? 

Prayer: Loving God, You came to us in the most vulnerable state – a naked babe laid in straw.  Thank you for this entrance.  Thank you for the example of what it means to be dependent and exposed. Help us find the willingness to be fully reliant on You the way You were beholden to Mary for her maternal care. Amen.


Day Three:

We now examine the prophet of the Old testament to explore vulnerability from a different angle.  This passage refers to Zebulun and Naphtali, states with precarious locations that left them vulnerable and subject to captivity late in the Kingdom of Israel.  These states knew of oppression and despair.  The verses also speak of God intervening on the behalf of the oppressed.  It details that only God can bring the light to the darkness.  It is not the people of the land that brings relief to suffering; it is God.  Indeed, the mention of Midian refers to the defeat of the Midian army by Gideon – but the ultimate credit is given to God for the victory.  Read these verses with the understanding that God breaks into our world and intervenes.  Think about deep darkness you have experienced and how you felt as you read the description of light shining and the prediction of a greater light to come. 

Isaiah 9:1-7 (NRSV) – Lord, long ago in a land foreign to me, You spoke to your people words of hope and promise. You told them there would be no gloom for those who were in anguish. You explained that in the former time You brought into contempt the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the latter time You will make glorious the way of the sea, the land beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the nations.  The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness—on them light has shined. You have multiplied the nation, You have increased its joy; they rejoice before You as with joy at the harvest, as people exult when dividing plunder. For the yoke of their burden, and the bar across their shoulders, the rod of their oppressor, You have broken [them] as on the day of Midian.

For a child has been born for us, a son given to us; authority rests upon his shoulders; and He is named Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.  His authority shall grow continually, and there shall be endless peace for the throne of David and his kingdom. He will establish and uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time onwards and for evermore. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this! Amen.

Ask yourself   In times of darkness, do I admit my vulnerability and realize my dependence on God for delivery from the shadows, or do I cling to the delusion that I can shine enough light to overcome the murkiness?   In what ways do I yield to God?  In what ways do I stubbornly proclaim my independence?  Do I believe the babe in the manger can lift me up or do I believe I am the infant so wise?  Take a moment to lists ways you do or do not live into the belief that “authority rests upon his shoulders.”

Prayer: Loving God, You came to us in the most vulnerable state – a naked babe laid in straw.  Thank you for this entrance.  Thank you for the example of what it means to be dependent and exposed. Help us find the willingness to be fully reliant on You the way You were beholden to Mary for her maternal care. Amen.


Day Four: 

For many, the story of the wise men traveling to see Jesus is familiar.  We are used to seeing nativity scenes with the Magi kneeling at the foot of the manger.  We might not be as conversant with the levels of vulnerability operating in this passage.  There are at least four accounts of vulnerability:  an infant, the infant’s parents, King Herod, and the wise men.  Many do not question the vulnerable state of the infant, but do they think about how open and exposed Mary and Joseph are?  Imagine angels and kings showing up in your birthing room?  Yet, they allow all to enter and see the babe.  And the Magis’ willingness to travel and follow is quite an impressive example of dependent faith.  They exposed themselves to elements and harm from Herod.  Herod showed the opposite reaction to vulnerability – he digs deep to keep his power through his own devices.  Focus on both the diligence of the Magi and the insecurity of Herod as you read this passage.  What are your emotional responses to each?

Matthew 2: 1-12 – Jesus, in the time of King Herod, after You were born, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, asking, ‘Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.’ When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. They told him, ‘In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet:  “And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who is to shepherd my people Israel.” ’

Then Herod sent them to Bethlehem, saying, ‘Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage.’ They set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where You were, Jesus. When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. On entering the house, they saw You with Mary, your mother; and they knelt down and paid You homage. Then, opening their treasure-chests, they offered You gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road. Thank you, Jesus, for these wise men! Amen.

Ask yourself —  Did I identify with the wise men?  Do I have examples of when I was willing to step out and follow the star to unknown places because I knew it is what God was calling me to do?  Can I describe this experience as life-giving?  Did I identify with Herod?  Can I think of a time that I allowed fear or insecurity to take hold of my thoughts and actions and push me to scheme or manipulate?  In what ways was this experience life-draining?  How can I prepare myself to become more like the wise men and less like Herod?

Prayer: Loving God, You came to us in the most vulnerable state – a naked babe laid in straw.  Thank you for this entrance.  Thank you for the example of what it means to be dependent and exposed. Help us find the willingness to be fully reliant on You the way You were beholden to Mary for her maternal care. Amen.


Day Five: 

We now turn to the Psalms for a reflection of how ancient people understood God.  In a hymn of praise for the Lord that calls first for praise, gives reasons as to why we should praise God, and then instruction to trust in God.  As we honor the birth of Jesus, let us know our own place in the story.  We are the ones being instructed in the Psalms to praise and trust the babe.  We are called to be vulnerable and make a loud noise of joy and awe.  We are called to expose our love for God in public, kneeling next to the manger.  Read this prayer out loud and listen for words that jump out or shimmer in your mind.  Ponder why these words tug at you.

Psalms 33 – Father God, your Word tells me to...

Rejoice in the Lord, O you righteous.
   Praise befits the upright. 
Praise the Lord with the lyre;
   make melody to him with the harp of ten strings. 
Sing to him a new song;
   play skillfully on the strings, with loud shouts. 
For the word of the Lord is upright,
   and all his work is done in faithfulness. 
He loves righteousness and justice;
   the earth is full of the steadfast love of the Lord. 
By the word of the Lord the heavens were made,
   and all their host by the breath of his mouth. 
He gathered the waters of the sea as in a bottle;
   he put the deeps in storehouses. 
Let all the earth fear the Lord;
   let all the inhabitants of the world stand in awe of him. 
For he spoke, and it came to be;
   he commanded, and it stood firm. 
The Lord brings the counsel of the nations to nothing;
   he frustrates the plans of the peoples. 
The counsel of the Lord stands for ever,
   the thoughts of his heart to all generations. 
Happy is the nation whose God is the Lord,
   the people whom he has chosen as his heritage. 
The Lord looks down from heaven;
   he sees all humankind. From where he sits enthroned he watches
   all the inhabitants of the earth— 
he who fashions the hearts of them all,
   and observes all their deeds. 
A king is not saved by his great army;
   a warrior is not delivered by his great strength. 
The war horse is a vain hope for victory,
   and by its great might it cannot save. 

Truly the eye of the Lord is on those who fear him,
   on those who hope in his steadfast love, 
to deliver their soul from death,
   and to keep them alive in famine. 

Our soul waits for the Lord;
   he is our help and shield. 
Our heart is glad in him,
   because we trust in his holy name. 
Let your steadfast love, O Lord, be upon us,
   even as we hope in you. Amen.

Ask yourself —  Am I willing to be vulnerable and boldly claim God worthy of praise and trust?  Can I truly celebrate the babe in the manger without being willing to claim God’s power loudly and publicly?  Can I not only speak to others about God’s power in my life but also with truth exclaim trust in God that is backed up with my thoughts and actions?  What can I actively do to secure deeper trust in God?   

 

Prayer: Loving God, You came to us in the most vulnerable state – a naked babe laid in straw.  Thank you for this entrance.  Thank you for the example of what it means to be dependent and exposed. Help us find the willingness to be fully reliant on You the way You were beholden to Mary for her maternal care. Amen.


Day Six: 

We now shift our focus from Jesus as an infant to Jesus as an adult where we see that Jesus is still as vulnerable as on the day he was born -- but now in a different way.  This passage details one event in the ministry of Jesus where he is confronted by a woman at a dinner party, which violates several social norms of the day, and places him in the center of controversy and scandal.  Jesus is vulnerable as He places compassion over law and questions the Pharisees.  This vulnerability is mirrored in the very woman causing the stir.  She also places herself precariously as she seeks Jesus.  It is important to remember that Jesus continuously chose to be vulnerable to love and connect with those around him.  Think about this choice as you read the passage.  Focus on the exchange between Jesus and the woman, and Jesus and the Pharisee, then gauge your reaction to each. 

Luke 7:36-50 – Jesus, when one of the Pharisees asked You to eat with him, You went into the Pharisee’s house and took your place at the table. And a woman in the city, who was a sinner, having learned that You were eating in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster jar of ointment. She stood behind You at your feet, weeping, and began to bathe your feet with her tears and to dry them with her hair. Then she continued kissing your feet and anointing them with the ointment. Now when the Pharisee who had invited You saw it, he said to himself, ‘If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what kind of woman this is who is touching him—that she is a sinner.’

You spoke up and said to him, ‘Simon, I have something to say to you.’ ‘Teacher,’ he replied, ‘speak.’ ‘A certain creditor had two debtors; one owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. When they could not pay, he cancelled the debts for both of them. Now which of them will love him more?’ Simon answered, ‘I suppose the one for whom he cancelled the greater debt.’ And You said to him, ‘You have judged rightly.’ Then turning towards the woman,

You said to Simon, ‘Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has bathed my feet with her tears and dried them with her hair. You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. Therefore, I tell you, her sins, which were many, have been forgiven; hence she has shown great love. But the one to whom little is forgiven, loves little.’ 

Then he said to her, ‘Your sins are forgiven.’ But those who were at the table with him began to say among themselves, ‘Who is this who even forgives sins?’ And he said to the woman, ‘Your faith has saved you; go in peace.’

Ask yourself —  What strikes me about the difference in the vulnerability of a babe in a manger and a man choosing to expose himself to ridicule or worse?  There is boldness in this story:  Am I willing to be bold, and yet, vulnerable for the sake of love?  How can I make the choice to be more vulnerable for the sake of relationship and connection?  To whom do I refuse to show my true self?  Why?  Is this because of their character or because of my own hang-ups?  To whom can I easily be authentic in their presence?  Why?  What can I do to actively engage with a more authentic self?

Prayer: Loving God, You came to us in the most vulnerable state – a naked babe laid in straw.  Thank you for this entrance.  Thank you for the example of what it means to be dependent and exposed. Help us find the willingness to be fully reliant on You the way you were beholden to Mary for her maternal care. Amen.


Day Seven: 

Prayer: Loving God, You came to us in the most vulnerable state – a naked babe laid in straw.  Thank you for this entrance.  Thank you for the example of what it means to be dependent and exposed. Help us find the willingness to be fully reliant on You the way you were beholden to Mary for her maternal care. Amen.

 
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Think about your devotional experience this past week. Has anything stood out? How would you define “vulnerability” after you’ve explored it this week? What does it look like for you to be dependent and exposed, just as Jesus was when He entered this world?  Ponder the ways you might become more reliant on God, and thank Him for sending his Son.

Catherine HortonComment