We are vulnerable and we know it.
We have seen high tech space shuttles disintegrate, leaving no trace of human remains; skyscrapers collapse; stock markets plummet, rearranging retirement plans; companies bought, sold, and moved with life-wrecking swiftness; viruses spread, kill, and mutate; radicals believe that their god has told them to behead us; babies snuffed out in the womb because their timing was inconvenient; the earth poisoned, polluted, and warmed to its destruction; health disappear at the reading of a blood test; careers end with the slip of a tongue; hurricanes rearrange life for millions; governments fail to deliver financial responsibility; and nations bring the world to the brink of war.
Any serious person who thinks about the way the world is and seems to be headed, has reason to feel vulnerable. We do all kinds of things to cope with our vulnerability. Some of us numb ourselves to it by way of too much TV, sports, novels, eating—you can fill in the blanks. Some of us busy ourselves to avoid serious thought about life. Some of us power up and create safe zones, our protected space. We guard our space and wall ourselves in from unwelcomed intruders and inconvenient people. We live between fearful avoidance and posturing tough. But we’re still vulnerable.
Why We Love Mary
Mary is a picture of vulnerability. Look her up in your pictorial dictionary. How tall is she? How old? Where is she standing? What is she wearing? What color is her hair? How is it fixed?
At the Nelson Art Gallery in Kansas City, you can see Mary through the eyes of artists. Many artists. And in the composite, she is a mature adult, wears velvet dresses (usually a deep red), lives in a larger than average home, has a chair by the window through which light cascades softly, and she likes to read. This is the Mary of classic art. And she appears to be fully in charge of her space.
But we know better.
Mary is in junior high. She wears Wal-Mart or Old Navy clothes at best. She can’t read because girls of her day rarely did. Her parents make all the decisions that affect her life, including the one that she should be married to an older man named Joseph. We don’t know if she even liked him. She lives in a two-bit town without a McDonald’s or a stoplight.
And one night, into the bedroom of this child comes the brightly beaming divine messenger whose name means, “God has shown himself mighty.” She stands there in her flannel nightgown, her hair braided by her best friend, wearing Big Bird house shoes. If you ask me, this is divine overkill. Resplendent angel vs. precocious child. Messenger of Most High God vs. girl barely past puberty. Holy wattage vs. candlelit bedroom. Might and glory vs. weakness and vulnerability.
Is she defenseless? I think so.
Overwhelmed? Most likely.
That’s why we adore her. We can get our human arms around Mary. She’s like us. She has had overwhelming stuff happen to her. She has faced life with little power to make it turn out the way she planned. Forces beyond her have rearranged her life. She’s the Matron Saint of the Vulnerable. We can get our arms around Mary because she seems to know how we feel.
One More Vulnerable Than Mary
But Mary may not be the most vulnerable one in the story. There is one who becomes even more vulnerable than she—the God who becomes dependent flesh in the womb of a vulnerable Mary. This story may seem to magnify Mary, but it’s really about God—and the vulnerability of God.
God the Creator, becomes creature.
God, the breath of every living thing, becomes embryo.
God, whose hand scoops out oceans, floats in a fetal sac.
God, whose voice splits cedar trees, cries for mother’s milk.
God, who crushes king’s armies, can’t walk.
God, who feeds all living things, is hungry.
God, who is sovereign, cannot defend himself.
God, full of glory, poops and pukes.
On the day that Gabriel came to visit Mary, on the day that the Holy Spirit came upon her, on the day that the power of the Most High overshadowed her, on that day—
God became vulnerable.
How vulnerable? Herod hunted him. Hometown folk reached for rocks to stone him. Pharisees criticized him. Family members thought him nuts. A friend turned on him. Liars testified against him. Rulers chickened out on justice and caved in to the demands of a lynch mob.
City folk spit on him. Soldiers crucified him. Dying thieves mocked him. Pious leaders mocked him as he died. That’s how vulnerable God became that day in Mary’s womb. What happens to us has already happened to him.
He came into our vulnerability. He meets us there.
I forget that. I prefer Gabriel, messenger of “The God who shows himself Mighty”—with a capital “M.” When I am vulnerable, I want to behold a delivering, transforming, world-altering, situation-changing, putting-me-back-in-control God. I ask God to meet me at the intersection of Fixed and Finished.
But God has chosen to meet us in the vulnerable Christ, revealing himself at the point of our vulnerability.
“Where meek souls will receive Him still, the dear Christ enters in.”