The irony of Christmas as a race to the top – a series of envy-inducing Instagrammable moments – is its direct inversion of the baby-Jesus-in-a-manger story. We can easily give that story the Christmas-letter treatment: add a nice filter to the scene, linger on the shepherds and angels, skip over Mary and Joseph as refugees fleeing King Herod’s massacre of local kids, and it’s cosy enough. The airbrushed version of the incarnation.
The spirit of that “incarnation”, though – the alleged enfleshment of God – is not positivity but vulnerability. That the invulnerable Creator of everything opts to enter into the chaos and fear involved in being human. To submit to danger and constraint in order to redeem. To go low in order to lift up.
The grown Jesus will go on about this upside-downness quite a bit. The last will be first, and the first will be last, he’ll say. Whoever wants to be great must become the servant of all. The birth of Jesus fires the starting gun on a race to the bottom.
Vulnerability is a risk, but also an enormous relief – a release from the various arms races we didn’t sign up for but find ourselves running anyway. Christmas (and Christianity) invites me to be honest about all the ways that I am not Insta-ready, all the ways my life is not fit material for a Christmas letter.
It takes someone brave to break the silence, to break ranks in the arms race, to own up to failing at what everyone else seems to have sorted ages ago. But just as the race to the top becomes a vicious circle, the race to the bottom can begin a virtuous one. Vulnerability calls forth vulnerability; confession calls forth confidences, and mutual trust.
Christmas is God breaking ranks and doing vulnerable first – making it safe for us. There are few more absolute pictures of vulnerability than a newborn. Christmas invites us into a new honesty – with ourselves, with one another, and (if you credit the story) with the God who chooses to be vulnerable.
From a reflection in the Sydney Morning Herald by Natasha Moore