The Vulnerable and the Uncool
Jesus' grand entrance into our world is a story of being vulnerable and without social capital. It begins with a young girl in a marriage arrangement, one that she would most likely have had little to no choice in, who gets pregnant when she shouldn't. An unplanned teen pregnancy. She's from a village with a bad reputation in a conquered land under tyrannical foreign rule. Coming from that village (Nazareth) she would have had little money and less chance of outside help (the saying of the day was, 'Can anything good come out of Nazareth?'). Worst of all, her fiance wasn't the father, and they both knew it.
We often skate over the danger Mary found herself in when she chose to accept God's call to motherhood, but Joseph would have been within his legal rights to have her brutally executed in the public square. God's entrance into our world could have been cut short before anybody even knew it had happened. Even if Joseph had done the decent thing (as he was apparently planning to) and ended things quietly, Mary's father could have tossed her out of his house and left her with no recourse at all. One single choice put Mary's entire existence in peril, and Jesus' with it.
Isn't it strange that God was willing to be so vulnerable? To take on an existence so deeply fragile? But, we argue, God picked the right couple to welcome his son, the one made up of a powerfully faithful woman and a man humble enough to hear God speaking in dreams, despite societal pressures. A woman who was willing to have her character dragged through the mud, and a man who was willing to risk becoming a joke for raising some other guy's kid. God knew that Joseph would step up for Mary against all odds. Right?
Sure. But Mary didn't. Even Joseph didn't. For all God's good planning and intervention, the danger was real. And God was willing to take that on—almost as if shedding light on His vulnerable children might have been an important part of the story. God saw Mary in her poverty and obscurity, but it's important to remember that nobody else did. Nobody that Mattered, anyway. She was one of millions being overlooked and exploited by the ruling powers of her day. When God the Son became her offspring, he inherited that powerlessness, that stigma and that bottom-rung social class.
We love to sanitize the Nativity—sweet baby and mother mild, benevolent human father and angelic host. But God's choice of human parents is important. He chose people who got ordered on a months-long journey by a foreign dictator and didn't have a choice but to obey. He chose people who didn't have the capital to provide themselves with good lodgings in a crowded city and ended up giving birth in an outbuilding. He chose people who the reigning world order overlooks and disregards, people that those in power consider dispensable and unimportant.
Because to God those categories don't exist. No single person is dispensable, unimportant or able to be overlooked. God chooses each of us, not as a mass of faceless numbers, but as exquisite irreplaceable individuals. We are all uniquely valuable in the eyes of God, no matter what the world around us says. The stressed-out mum. The homeless guy. The disenfranchised youth. All precious, unique and irreplaceable. We don't have to be cool, and we don't have to be powerful. God sees each of us—and wants us to see each other!—as more valuable than we can possibly imagine.
How deeply foreign that feels to us now. As we observe the darkness and hope of Advent, let's live as those whose value is beyond measure and as those who are surrounded by value beyond measure. A new world is coming. Let's live like it.
Image: Flight Into Egypt by Henry Ossawa Tanner 1923