The vulnerability of God

Christmas Eve 2012

Marian Free


In the name of God who gave up all power and authority to create and then to re-create us. Amen.

I often think that the infant in the cradle, “wrapped in cloths”, distracts us from the reality of the situation. We are drawn to the baby as we are drawn to all babies and our hearts are filled with love and a longing to wrap our arms around the child. In the depictions of the Nativity, we see a loving family, comfortably gathered and surrounded by the shepherds and wise men who come to worship.

What we don’t always see is the raw, naked vulnerability of the child – the child who is God and who at this point in time is completely powerless to control his destiny and who is utterly dependent on those around him – on Mary and Joseph, on Herod and the political circumstances of the  country which he finds himself.

Thinking of God as a defenceless child can be startling and a little confusing. It goes against our expectations and forces us to see God from an entirely different perspective. A vulnerable, powerless God does not conform to our concept of a God who is omnipotent and all-powerful, who directs and determines, who judges and condemns. To think of God as a helpless baby challenges everything we might have thought about God. And yet, from the inception of Christianity this is one of the images of God – a God without power, a God unable to intervene and God unable to force God’s will on anyone.

In fact, from the very beginning of the Judeo-Christian faith, the image of God is of a God who instead of keeping all authority to himself, chooses to give that power to humankind. In the Garden of Eden, God the creator gave humanity the freedom to choose. God who could have determined the future of humankind, ceded that power to human beings who used that power to choose to compete with, rather than serve God.

When it all went horribly wrong God chose, not to force humankind to change, but to trust humankind to change themselves. In order to do that, God put himself in our hands and risked everything in the hope that we would rise to the occasion, in the hope that our response to the infant Jesus and to the man, would serve to bring salvation to the world.

God still depends on us to get it right, trusts us to return the world to the idyllic state of the garden. God is still powerless unless we co-operate. The vulnerable God in the cradle depends on the people around him for his survival. The powerless God depends on us to change the world.

The powerlessness of God is demonstrated in the vulnerable and suffering of our own time. Until we accept the vulnerability of the baby, the helplessness of the child in the manger, we will not recognise our responsibility to be those who empower God’s saving work in the world. We will not change the situation of

–       the children of Syria and throughout the Middle East who are dependent on warring parties sitting down at the negotiating table and committing to a lasting peace.

–       the children of Niger, the Sudan and countless other nations who are dependent on our goodwill for food,

–       the millions of children who are victims of the AIDS epidemic who are dependent on education programmes and access to health care,

–       the children working in sweat factories and mines, who are forced into slavery and prostitution who are dependent on enough international advocacy will to set them free,

–       the children of Sandy Hook whose lives along with the 20,000 other young people killed by guns in the US are totally dependent on the will of a nation to give up a love affair with guns.

Until we are willing to change our lives, until we are willing to give us some of our comforts, until we are determined to engage our political leaders and to confront world leaders, until we in our turn become vulnerable and dependent on each other, God remains powerless to intervene in world affairs. Because God is dependent on us, God can only do what we are prepared to do in God’s name.

Next time you look in the manger, see beyond the comforting image of a well-fed, well clothed, well-loved baby and see in that child’s eyes, the eyes of God doing the only thing God knows how to do to change the world around – to give himself utterly and completely to us, hoping against hope that we will give ourselves to God and to each other.



Let us pray

Holy God,

give us grace and courage to acknowledge our contribution to the suffering in the world. Help us to become vulnerable as you became vulnerable that we may be part of the solution and not of the problem.

Powerless God,

make us aware of your presence in and around us. Help us to have the grace to open ourselves to you, that your presence may be made known through us.

Living God,

be with all who live life in the shadow of poverty and despair,

especially those in our own community whose needs often are overlooked

as we look further afield in our desire to ease the suffering of others.

Give hope to the lost and support to the powerless and make us sensitive and responsive to needs and concerns of those around us.


Healing God,

in Jesus, you shared the pain of the sick, you knew what it was to face death. Be with all who at this time are in need of comfort and healing. Encourage and strengthen those who are ill and recovering from surgery, support those who are dying and be with all whose task is to bring about healing.


Dying and rising God,

as you shared our existence, may we strive to share yours, that at our end we may             join you and all the saints for eternity.


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