Recently, I’ve been thinking quite a bit about vulnerability. The dictionary defines the word vulnerable as ‘capable of being physically or emotionally hurt or wounded’. The thesaurus gives the following alternative words – defenceless, helpless, insecure, perilous, tender, unguarded. When our society is compassionate, it sees the vulnerable – the young, the elderly, the ill – as those to be protected and perhaps even pitied. Often, it wants to enable these people to develop so that they are no longer vulnerable. But when societies are not so compassionate, when they are cruel, then the vulnerable can be ostracised, forgotten, persecuted, and despised.
I wonder why it is that sometimes, when faced with the vulnerability of others, we find it difficult to deal with. We don’t always want to see the weakness of others. Maybe it’s because it reminds us that we too can be, and often are, vulnerable. We too have those times or areas of our life which are vulnerable. Sometimes we’ll try to hide this – the angry person who snaps at others before they’re snapped at themselves; the always busy person avoiding their loneliness. But sometimes we can’t hide our vulnerability and we have to let others see it. It can take a lot of courage to let others see our vulnerability, to ask for help, to accept the care and compassion of others. Yet, in seeing and responding to the vulnerability of others, we too can start to be more honest about our own vulnerabilities – we can share them together, find strength in holding each other’s cares and concerns.
The thesaurus has one other word for vulnerable – human. In other words, each and every one of us is vulnerable. And Advent is a good time to reflect on this, for Advent and Christmastide is the time when we remember how our God became human, became as vulnerable as it is possible to be – a baby, poor, a refugee. God chose vulnerability as a way to reach out to humankind. God, who could have sent powerful angels or chariots of fire or bolts of lightning, chose instead to enter the world quietly, chose humility, chose our life. It is almost too amazing to take in.
So, as you prepare for Christmas, and perhaps you become more aware of your own vulnerability – feeling frazzled, feeling overwhelmed, succumbing to winter bugs – remember that it is in our vulnerability that God comes close to us, holds us, lives with us. Immanuel – God with us.
And did it happen
that all of this was meant to be,
that God from distance should
choose to be set free
and show uniqueness
transformed in weakness,
that I might touch him and he touch me?
(Wild Goose Worship Group)