When we think of Jesus, we might immediately think of him as Lord and King, the sovereign of nations, the high and exalted ruler above all creation. But in this time of year, we remember that Christ did not come to this earth with triumphal strength. Jesus came as a weak little baby. He purposely divested himself and became just like us – vulnerable and subject to weakness. “He made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness” (Philippians 2:7). The incarnation is an astounding doctrine. Such a doctrine really ought to inform our church ministry and how we operate with one another.
Weakness tends to be one of those things we don’t like. We don’t want to be vulnerable. We fear being taken advantage of if we are exposed. So, instead, we value self-sufficiency, independence, and holding our own. Strength is a value we can buy into. The Apostle Paul struggled with his weaknesses. Yet, he learned not only to accept human weakness, but to actually value it. It wasn’t easy, especially since Paul had to hear from Jesus himself: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” It was then that Paul made the decision: “I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses… For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:9-10).
From a biblical perspective, weakness is not a bad thing. In fact, it is through the weak that God delights to work. “God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong,” was Paul’s message to a Corinthian church that esteemed strength and looked down on weakness (1 Corinthians 1:27). Weakness and strength are not moral or ethical terms. To be weak is simply to recognize reality. The goal of life and ministry, of both pastor and parishioner, does not really demand strength. I always chuckle when a church tells me they are looking for a “strong” pastor to lead them. Um, maybe they should get their job description from Scripture. Vitality and vigor among pastor and people are not the goal but by-products of dwelling together in Christ as real people without pretense or posturing. It is when we insist on strength that we get things like hypocrisy and two-faced behavior. We keep up appearances so that we can avoid being seen as weak.
Weakness is vulnerability. And vulnerability demands reality. In order to become real people in a real church we must embrace our collective weakness. Until we can get to that point, there will continually be an emphasis on manipulation and technique to produce strength. Black and white thinking takes over the unreal church. The lone ranger and rugged individualist who seem to have it all together are held up as the model. But Scripture will have none of this. True community comes through weakness and vulnerability.
We cannot truly understand ourselves until we can admit our weakness and our inability to understand everything. Indeed, one of the great mysteries of Christian faith is that God himself exists as a perfect One in a community of Three. Embracing weakness allows us to embrace the mystery of God and the Gospel. This compulsion that so many have to nail every theological statement down in neat packaged solutions is to treat weakness and vulnerability as some disease to be cured. The obsession for clear answers to every question only creates anxiety, which, in turn, produces irrational behavior. An anxious church makes decisions with no sense to them because they are always trying to gain the high ground of certainty through strength.
If we want to live into our weakness, then we need to drop the pretense and admit how we are really doing, feeling, and even believing. For, no one can truly live life to the full in a fantasy world constructed of our own strong making. Weakness allows us to experience true community, significant relationships, and connection with God. God became a baby. He embraced weakness and vulnerability. Let that thought marinade in your heart and soul in this season so that the New Year will bring a truly new life.