Over the past few months I’ve spent a lot of time reading through the texts of the season of Advent, and the more I read the more I am struck by the sheer vulnerability of it all. Holistically, the season of Advent culminates in the arrival of God in the form of a very vulnerable Jesus. Paul reminds us of this vulnerability in Phil 2, writing, “though [Jesus] was in the form of God, [he] did not regard equality with God something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness” (NRSV). As one of us, Jesus was vulnerable to our experiences of joy, love, peace, temptation, hunger, pain, and death. And what is more vulnerable than new life? A newborn is fragile, delicate, dependent, limited, and precious. It is fair to say, then, that Advent is a time of preparing for vulnerability.
With that set of lenses on, I looked back at the texts of Advent and saw vulnerability in every story. Isaiah 64:1-9 depicts a desperate Isaiah crying out for God to tear open the heavens and come down, but he also knows that when God comes down we sinners come face-to-face with a holy and just God, and that isn’t always a safe space. So Isaiah ends his desperate prayer with the request that when God shows up that God would remember we are family, not sinners. I imagine he ended his prayer with one eye open to see if God would strike him with lightning and his fingers crossed behind his back so that God wouldn’t be angry when God showed up. There is much vulnerability in a human begging for the presence of God to break out of the heavens and be here, among us.
Mark 1:1-8 continues in week two by reminding us to prepare for the coming of Christ with confession and repentance. In order to be ready for the transformation that Christ brings, we should meet him with honesty and humility regarding our own lives so that from a position of confession we can grow and heal.
The theme continues into weeks three and four as well. Isaiah 61, and later Luke 4, proclaim good news for the vulnerable of the world: the oppressed, marginalized, brokenhearted, captives, prisoners, and those who mourn. For these the coming of the Messiah is much needed and welcomed news. Finally, Luke 1:26-38 shows us the vulnerability of Mary as she welcomes news that will forever change her life and position her in such a way that she can only have faith in God in absolute vulnerability. Joseph, her family, her religion, and her culture could have turned on her for the news of an unexpected pregnancy, and she was willing to risk that vulnerability from a place of faith in God.
In every week of Advent I have been blessed to see how preparing for the presence of God leaves both parties vulnerable. To be with us God had to risk everything, eventually even life itself. To be with God we are expected to be open, honest, and trusting as we vulnerably await God’s in-breaking and acceptance as God’s family. From beginning to end, the relationship we have with God is grounded in vulnerability, and considering our world and culture go to such extremes to prevent vulnerability, cover up weakness, and hide failures, a message of vulnerability might be just the message we need this Advent.