We have just come off a most brutal presidential election. Even the provocateur himself acknowledged the brutality and viciousness of the fight. More than likely, your social media feed has been a source of agitation for the last couple of years. I suspect that some of you see friends and family members in new lights (or perhaps in new shadows). All of this seemed to me to be a very public manifestation of fear seeking security in strength and power.
Switching gears to the more mundane, I had the pleasure and the pain of coaching my sons’ flag football teams this weekend in a holiday tournament. I say the pleasure and pain because, while it is a pleasure to coach my sons and their friends, and while there are many manifestations of friendship and sportsmanship, there is always a desperate and depressing undercurrent at these events.
There are the chest-pounding displays of strength, the grown men making young boys cry and the “bad boys” intimidating with cheap shots and trash talk. Beyond these, however, there is this subtler mindset palpable among many parents. “I’ve got to get my son on the best team or they will fall behind.” All of this seemed to me merely a more ordinary manifestation of the same fear seeking security in strength and power.
Of course, we do not post our 2-7 coaching records at the weekend tournament on Facebook because that is not strong! All of this talk of winning and getting stronger brings with it a desperation and depression. We find ourselves in this “either you or me” battle for survival. We look out at the world and see threats. We look at trends and trajectories and grow anxious about our place in this world. We notice all we do not have. Everything feels scary. It is moving faster than we can keep up, and we seek security in strength to relieve our anxiety.
It is an exhausting state of mind. Being engrossed in it for a weekend, I was more than a little depressed. Then, I read the Christmas story. Not the Red Ryder BB gun Christmas Story. I am talking about the Christmas story handed down in the gospel of Luke’s opening chapters.
From beginning to end, this is a story of God working through weakness. It is a story of God’s power working in quiet ways and through weak people. The powerful names mentioned in this story are mere foils and historical markers for the true redemptive work that was being born. The heroes of this story are born in obscurity. They are Galilean peasants, not warrior-kings. The Savior is born to a young virgin in a stable with a trough for a bed, not in a palace. His birth is announced to lowly shepherds in nearby fields, not to the masses from the mountaintop. The sacrifice of two doves offered in the Temple for his consecration is the minimal requirement allowed for poor families. Two godly – though materially insignificant – characters offer words of prophecy over the newborn to the wonder (and pain) of his bewildered parents.
The story of Christmas is one that challenges our love of strength. The theological reality we celebrate at Christmas is termed the Incarnation. That is, the mighty God entered into our weak humanity in the person of Jesus. In Jesus, we have a radical overturning of our world’s value system. The king is a nomadic peasant from the backwoods of Galilee, not one ruling from a palace. The poor and humble receive the Kingdom of God, not the proud and strong. The Kingdom of God comes through an unjust death, not through military victory. The good news spreads and shapes the world through the Holy Spirit working in ordinary and unexpected people, not through power and political influence. The Christmas story is the story of God’s power entering into and working through our weakness.
This weakness could be my own. I do not project it on anyone else. However, if during this harried and hectic season, you begin to feel the desperation and depression that comes with trying to be strong, come back to this story. Remember its radical departure. God worked through the weak! He still does.