Rachel’s Letter – December 2015
If – at about 5.30pm on 24th September – you’d told me that, ten minutes later, I’d be lying on a Manchester street in absolute agony, I’m not sure I’d have believed you. But I guess that’s the point with most accidents: we never quite anticipate them. I think that, even in the aftermath of the accident, I couldn’t have anticipated how serious the injury would be. From the moment I hit the pavement, I knew my arm was broken, but as far as I was concerned it was just a broken arm. Two months later the arm is still not healed and I’ve been told to expect up to twelve months of rehab.
The world is a fundamentally fragile place. Those of us with very settled, comfortable lives can pretend that it’s not, but we’re wrong. The unexpected and the awful happen all the time. The travails of my arm are small beer compared to the horrifying events that took place in Paris recently, or the ongoing and seemingly endless violence in the Middle
East and other parts of the world. While our 24-hour culture generates extraordinary levels of anxiety and uncertainty, our world is a troubled (and, yes, beautiful) place.
Yet in the midst of this fragility, we’re invited to prepare, once again, to meet God in the form of a baby. If our society has turned Christmas into a festival of excess and consumption, the simple heart of the festival is vulnerability. It never ceases to amaze me that God’s answer to the fragility of the world
is to offer us yet more fragility. He does not send armies, he does not send the Biblical equivalent of a superpower. He does not enter the world as a superhero. He dwells in the world as one of us.
In so many ways this God who dwells with us in Jesus Christ is utterly absurd. The blood and guts of our broken world hardly seems to be redeemable through the intervention of a peasant baby who’ll lead a pretty undistinguished life. God’s strategies and tactics are clearly not those many of us would choose.
Hope rarely has the character of what we’d choose. Instead of lavishing the world with simple solutions, the God in Christ calls us into responsibility. As I’ve often pointed out, the only power a newborn has is to elicit a loving response from us. S/he cannot feed themselves, dress themselves and so on. They are dependent.
This is an extraordinary risk from God. For we can, as a community and as individuals, choose to refuse this invitation to love. In truth, how often do we spurn this invitation? More often than not, I suspect. We treat the world as not only a fragile place, but as a truly fearful place. Yet one of the meanings of the God who comes to us as a vulnerable babe is that it is not irredeemable and good news and hope is found in the most surprising places. This Advent and Christmas, let’s be alert to God’s irrepressible creativity and the part we are called to play in it.