1/31/2021 Christmas Reflection
The Vulnerable Images of Christ
Before moving onto the reflection, here is a video of people who wanted to greet you all a Merry Christmas! Make sure you have the volume turned on - the volume button is on the bottom right corner of the video player. Click the center of the video to play.
"The Vulnerable Images of Christ"
We are greeted with various images throughout the Christmas season - some of which may include bright lights hanging on houses, snow, presents, a man with a beard and red suit, and reindeer. You may encounter images specific to your own context when it comes to the season of Christmas. For Christians, a common image we encounter is some sort of manger scene. These manger scenes usually contain Jesus, Mary, Joseph, and three magi bearing gifts, an angel, and some animals. What is interesting to note is that no where in the Gospel of Matthew, which mentions these magi, is the actual number of magi that visited Jesus. The depiction of three magi emerged from the statement that three gifts were given to Jesus. Furthermore, the narratives do not explicitly state that animals were present at the time of Jesus’ birth. This was inferred in Luke’s mention of a manger. Matthew does not mention a manger at all, but a house.
Comparing and contrasting the birth narratives of Matthew and Luke is fascinating. However, we can miss a central consistent image in both narratives that can inform our faith today. That central image is that of a baby boy. Can you imagine baby Jesus crying in the manger? Can you imagine baby Jesus pooping and peeing, with Mary and Joseph having to clean and take care of Jesus> Can you imagine baby Jesus being fed by Mary? Can you imagine baby Jesus falling and scratching his hands or knees? Can you imagine baby Jesus giggling and smiling? When the angels, magi, gifts, and animals are stripped away, we are left with two individuals trying to take care of this baby - a baby that is supposedly God incarnate. What does that mean for our faith? I invite you all to meditate on the following paintings by Scott Erickson. [https://linktr.ee/scottthepainter]
For me, these images speak to a holy vulnerability, which brings me comfort in the midst of these stressful times of the global pandemic. We worship a mighty God, but not in the sense of a triumphant King, an oppressive ruler or tyrant, or a God who is infinitely distant from humanity. Instead, God’s mightiness and (em)power is found in God’s grace, exemplified in the totality of Jesus' life, death, resurrection, and teachings. God’s mightiness is exemplified not only in God meeting me where I am at in my struggle, but in God also experiencing the struggle through the incarnation. It is this mightiness that saves the world and weaves a story of humility, grace, compassion, and love into each and every one of our lives. It is this mightiness that achieves true transformation.
The image of holy vulnerability is carried throughout Jesus’ life. It is not solely an image of the empty cross either. Early Christians, depicted Jesus as the shepherd who guided the sheep. Let us remember that shepherds were considered outcasts of society, and so imagine what this image meant to people who felt like outcasts. It is this outcast who is indeed the Messiah. I invite you all to ponder on the following image that was created by April Ngai and Amanda Lee:
On this Christmas day, I want us to take in these images of Jesus - images that are opposite to what a majority of people hoped for during Jesus’ time. These images would be considered scandalous. But within each of these images is a powerful message that moves us to become vulnerable and honest in our own faith. These images give us a message that God is indeed with us where there is a mutual sense of care. Mary and Joseph cared for God and God cared for people. Therefore, we too, in building the kingdom of God here on earth, must care for God by caring for people. This is what Christmas is about. I invite you all to reflect on the following questions.
Closing Reflection Questions
How do the images above inform your faith?
Do the images above make you feel uncomfortable - if so, why?
How can you embody a holy vulnerability during this Christmas season?
Take this time to pray to God, and practice that vulnerability, while also understanding that God is with you in the midst of your prayer - in the joys and even in the concerns and struggle.