I used to attend an artsy Catholic church.  Every Advent season they’d suspend a statue of a person from the ceiling, presumably representing Jesus, diving downward on a 45 degree angle toward the pews.

It was a compelling image – not really a common image for Jesus in our churches – but one well worth considering as we move into Advent this Sunday.

I’ve been thinking a lot about vulnerability these days.  What must it have been like for God to make God’s self vulnerable in Jesus; to take on flesh, to become a child refugee, to give up glory for weeping and pain and other of the less-desirable bodily functions, to become vulnerable to temptation, to disease and to humanity?

What was that descent, that downward dive like?

And how are we called to follow Him in that?

Now don’t get me wrong – I’m all for setting some boundaries for safety – and there’s good reason to do that, especially in the sometimes abusive cultures of society and even the Church.  Recklessness isn’t what I’m getting at. At the same time, I am asking the tough question about how have I – how have we – just painted ourselves into safe, comfortable roles such as pew-dweller, priest, pastor, professional, religious practitioner or the like  – instead of following Jesus and fully embracing our common humanity, fully embracing community, risking deep hospitality – and all of the open heart-filled messiness, muck and difficulty that dive entails?

Diving can be scary.  You can belly flop (and when you’re diving from the high board, man can that hurt!) or even worse .  No, you don’t always hit the ground gracefully.  It’s even tougher when you don’t know what you’re diving into.  Many of us have been hurt and are cautious.  It’s not always east to believe that the dive down will be well worth the risk, even if it most often is.

It’s interesting the Jesus – in two of life’s most pivotal events – His birth and death – embodies those moments in acts of great vulnerability and surrender.  Born in a peasant stable and killed on a Roman cross, the image of this messiah, this Savior, this King is hardly culturally intuitive and glorious.  It is deeply counter-cultural when one compares it to the upwardly mobile and unholy wall-building that is so common in so many places, including the Church.

With God’s downward mobility, with that risk, came redemption.  As we approach Advent, I wonder if us following Jesus in His risky downward mobility might not be the first step to ‘let every heart prepare Him room’, as the old carol so succinctly phrases it.

Advent is not traditionally a season of giving up something.  In fact, with the cultural Christendom-Christmas impulse, it has often become a season of getting, rather than giving up.  Even when it is about giving, it tends to be about a yearly symbolic act of charity – and not about a deep re-orientation towards notions such as downward mobility and holy vulnerability.

So this year, I guess I’m asking myself (and by extension all of you) what is it that can be given up in our lives? Perhaps more importantly, what is it that we can open in ourselves to encourage a deeper sense of vulnerability with those we love – and, heaven forbid, those we really have a hard time loving – even our so-called ‘enemies’.  How might we give up our ‘roles’ and our masks and live deeper into humanity?  How might we be called to live into a deeper sense of hospitality – to even open up our home and our heart.

If I – if we – can even begin to touch on the answers to some of those questions, perhaps Advent might become a place of holy descent into darkness, diving closer to the Light.

 

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