Thursday, December 19, 2013

Vulnerability (Luke 2:6-8)

While (Mary and Joseph) where (in Bethlehem), the time came for her delivery. She gave birth to her first born, a son; she put him in a simple cloth wrapped like a receiving blanket, and laid him in a feeding trough for cattle, because there was no room for them at the inn.

I want to draw attention to what is not in this scene, yet our minds place there anyway. I think this colors how we receive the Nativity of Jesus. There is no stable but only the mention of a manger. There are no angels either, although eventually we find them with the shepherds. There are no wise men, nor a star, we need to steal them from Matthew's gospel. While this translation mentions cattle to describe what type of manger served as a bed, there are no sheep, donkeys, or cattle. Luke, the minimalist, gives us only a mother in labor, a husband doing his best, and emerging life. 

It's easy to miss that human history was torn open and the Holy joined our common lot in blood and flesh. So easy in fact that while some of us know better we still turn the blind eye. Such ordinary and dire circumstances do not attract our attention. It is too plain and in need of some print fabric and glitter. Albeit, the glitter should be used sparingly.

I tip my hat to whoever wrote the Gospel according to Luke. The family is completely vulnerable with but a thin blanket between the newborn and the wilds of this world. The infant has an unprivileged beginning which is raw and unsettling in its weakness. Luke holds our gaze on the unadorned as to say if you want to find the incarnation pay attention to the overlooked and uncelebrated. 

Stripped bare of every cliche we might throw into a more robust birth, we are forced to focus on the new born and the miracle of life among darkness and fear and uncertainty. For christians we are asked to see in this wrinkled, bald, and hungry baby the glory and fullness of God. Jesus' birth challenges our notions of the Sacred as impervious and invincible. It reminds us that the Heart of the Universe is as exposed and as susceptible as is any refugee infant.

The scene, however, doesn't only expose, it also invites. It invites us to strip off our facades and our persona and to join the holy family in the sheer ludicrous act of exposed vulnerability. A tough invitation for those who are queer and spent a large part of life shoring up our sense of helplessness in the face of the heteronormative tsunami. 

I wonder what it would be like to be gay without the sanctioned stereotypes through which it is deemed appropriate to be gay. The U.S. television show from some years ago, Will and Grace, played between two poles: Jack the "shallow party boy" and Will the "empathetic professional." Through the female characters, Grace and Karen, we also were taught the appropriate roles of the "fag hag." To be queer is largely to be known through the stereotypes associated with gender and sexual diversity. What would it be like to simply be known as human?

Luke indicates that the Nativity brings with it an unnerving invitation to reconceptualize our notions of the Divine and of ourselves. What if we were to respond to Luke's invitation and strip away the stereotypes, joining the Holy in being experienced in all our fragility, risking brokenness? What of ourselves do we encounter when the guise through which we engage the world is removed? Do we find something, or is there only an aching void? Underneath the costumes we wear is there a true self, a false self, or no self at all? Once the layers are peeled away and we are revealed for all to see is it a Darth Vader moment, or is there something of substance? 

This is the razor's edge of vulnerability. Our true self may appear to some as great substance and there is acceptance. To others our inner self may look more like Vader and we are rejected. This is also the risk of Luke's rendering of the Nativity: the Sacred comes in such a way that we can take great joy, or we can completely ignore the Sacred, as if nothing of import happened on Luke's solitary Bethlehem plain.

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