Jesus was born naked, vulnerable, and yet crowned with the power of heaven and earth.. Are we ready to have Jesus crown us with faith this Christmas?
“To you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” ~ Luke 2:11-12
After an amazing semester at divinity school, I am catching up on sleep, decorating our home for our Christmas celebration, and taking time for reflecting on being exactly where I am today. As a candidate for ordained ministries, it seems that we spend a lot of time preparing to be who we are meant to become, and so I find myself trying now to savor each moment in this process for what it is. As I write Christmas cards to friends and family, I try to take the time to write personal messages, and to reconnect with people in my heart in a simple, open way.
Sometimes at my desk I have been peeking out the top of my glasses at a Netflix series called “The Crown.” The series tells the story of how Elizabeth Mountbatten-Windsor became Elizabeth II, the Queen of the United Kingdom, in the 1950s. She was crowned queen on June 2nd, 1953, but as the series shows us, her changing from Elizabeth, the daughter of the King of the U.K., to Elizabeth, the Queen of the U.K., was a process that took time. Eventually, being queen took hold of who she was, and transformed her and her family.
Does the world transform us, or does God?
It is interesting to watch the struggles of this young woman trying to make sense of who she is as she prepares for responsibilities that she never really wanted. Her father had become King George VI after his brother, Edward VII, surrendered his claim to the throne in 1936. Elizabeth was only 23 when she was crowned, and so she spent much of her early adult life learning how to be both an adult and a monarch. Wrestling with the responsibilities of being the crown, the sovereign of a nation, and of being a wife and a mother in a complicated, wealthy family, weighed heavily on this quiet, simple woman.
I would guess that the producers of this movie saw that the story could speak to today’s young adults who are struggling with their own passages into adulthood. The responsibilities of work and family weigh on them, also, taking on the power and attraction of a new career, while still feeling young and vulnerable on the inside – with just a tiny bit of the resources that a queen has. All of us are people being transformed, no matter what our circumstances. The question is, are we being transformed by the world, or by God?
Mary transformed by a new king
Mary, the mother of Jesus, faced similar questions about who she was in the midst of transformation when God’s angels visited her one night. She was a very young woman at the time – probably no older than about fourteen years old when she was betrothed to Joseph, if she was following Jewish traditions. A betrothal in Mary’s times was not quite like an engagement in our times – it was more of a contract between families, which gave a man legal rights to a woman as a wife, while the details of where they would live and when they would have the wedding celebration were worked out.
When Mary was found to be pregnant with a child, her world and Joseph’s world was being transformed in two ways. Not only was her new marriage in jeopardy, but her very body was about to transform who she was. Like the recently married Queen Elizabeth suddenly taking on the responsibilities and the relationships that went with being crowned. Mary was being changed by being the mother of a new king – the Son of God, Jesus Christ, brought to her as her child by the Holy Spirit.
The crown of faith brings freedom and responsibility
As someone seeking to enter ordained ministries, I feel a similar transition taking place – a new “crown” of responsibility and relationship with God awaits, but the relationship with God to which I have been called is real already. I am “betrothed” to the church – not yet fully through the “marriage” process, yet committed to it and changed by it – “pregnant” with the possibilities that God provides us in the Holy Spirit. Something new is being born in me, for God’s sake, and for the world’s sake – and just like anyone who is called to by God in faith, my life is already transformed forever.
Once God has touched us in faith, we cannot be “untouched” by God for the rest of our lives. Like Mary, we cannot “unhear” God’s challenge to be open to the freedom and responsibility that a life in faith provides us. Mary realized that God had touched her uniquely in all of history, and that she had a choice as to how she would handle it. Mary humbly fell to her knees and offered herself obediently and thankfully to be God’s servant, even though she didn’t understand completely the responsibilities falling on her. Joseph put aside the judgment of the world, and supported Mary being touched by God’s living presence.
Celebrating a simple royal faith
The birth of the king Jesus was unlike any other in history. Announced by angels to forgotten shepherds in a nearby field, the Messiah, the savior of Israel and the world, had arrived – in a manger, wrapped in swaddling clothes! Some of the most vulnerable people in society dropped everything to see this vulnerable new king – born not into fine robes and blankets in a palace, but into a manger, the simplest of places among animals, the child of an equally vulnerable young woman, and her patient husband.
No cathedral would do for crowning this king; no orb and scepter of mere metal and jewels would do. He was anointed not by fine and fragrant oils but by God’s Holy Spirit, crowned by the very voice of God the Father as God’s reigning Son, seated on his throne after using his vulnerability to offer healing and liberation to the world from sin and death forever.
This new king appears on an old piano in our home every Christmas, the center of a manger scene, celebrating the arrival of royalty in our family’s house. It is a simple, frail scene of utmost simplicity and weakness. Yet before it I kneel, and give thanks to the One who crowns us at Christmas with faith, hope, and love.
May you have a blessed Christmas, one that draws your most vulnerable self into a growing relationship with the God who became uniquely vulnerable for our sake. Have faith!