God, vulnerable

Behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you, for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” And he rose and took the child and his mother by night and departed to Egypt. …

Then Herod … sent and killed all the male children in Bethlehem and in all that region who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had ascertained from the wise men.

(Mt. 2:13-16)1

Human babies are imperfectly developed at birth. Whereas a calf, for example, struggles to its feet almost immediately, human babies remain dependent and vulnerable for a worryingly long time.

We see this illustrated in child abuse cases. If parents are inclined to be cruel, their baby is utterly defenseless.

Christmas is about the incarnation of God as a wee baby. The doctrine is a stumbling block for non-Christians. But without it, the deity we worship would remain invulnerable:

Why do the nations rage
    and the peoples plot in vain?
The kings of the earth set themselves,
    and the rulers take counsel together,
    against the Lord and against his Anointed. …

He who sits in the heavens laughs;
    the Lord holds them in derision.

(Ps. 2:1-4)

Psalm 2 can be read as a commentary on Herod’s machinations. King Herod sets himself against the Lord and against his Anointed One. But God is always one step ahead of Herod, diverting the Magi ("being warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed to their own country by another way") and then warning Joseph.

Other babies are slaughtered, but the Anointed One emerges unscathed. He who sits in the heavens — i.e., beyond the reach of impotent potentates — laughs.

Maybe. Or maybe God weeps with the inconsolable mothers of Bethlehem, whose babies were snatched from their arms and dashed against the rocks. Maybe God’s heart is in his throat, as Joseph races to Egypt with Herod’s hot breath on the back of his neck.

For God knows that Jesus’ first escape is not a final escape. The rulers will continue to conspire against the Lord’s Anointed One. Ultimately Jesus will be delivered into the rulers’ hands and they will have their way with him.

God, by definition invulnerable — vulnerable. He who sits in the heavens weeps. The rulers hold him in derision.

The God of Psalm 2 is a source of great comfort. When we suffer, we do not despair. We know, ultimately God is in control.

Likewise, the Gospels are a source of great comfort. Matthew’s Gospel begins with an account of Jesus’ providential escape from Herod. It ends with an account of Jesus’ miraculous escape from death.

But I don’t know how anyone could worship a God who is impervious to loss and suffering — a God who is untouched by our pain. In a perverse way, God’s vulnerability is also part of the good news.

Matthew emphasises the vulnerability of this dependent human baby, Jesus.

The Anointed One is also the Vulnerable One. And this is not some clever tale, fabricated by a manipulative evangelist. It is a fact of history, understood only in retrospect, as the first Christians contemplated the broken body of their Lord.

1Unless otherwise indicated, scripture is quoted from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version.


2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Bridgett
    Dec 18, 2007 @ 10:30:27

    Impotent potentates: nice.


  2. William
    Dec 26, 2010 @ 14:31:07

    It is very hard for me to hear about a child who has been mistreated, it is also hard for me to hear of a woman being mistreated, this hurt I atribute to a lesser being harmed by those who are greater and instead of being a protector, they are a aggressior, now if a rational human can have as much concern for another as I do, someone I have never met, just through the media do I have a connection and the knowledge of the unjust occurance, amagine how much concern our Lord and his father “God” our creater has for these children and woman harmed when they are so inocent. But because of our true reason for our existens down here is to test our true character and our free agentcy being the number one aspect to that, our Lord and our creater can not interfer in any way our actions no matter how bad those actions are. We will all someday be shown how important this was.


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