chagall 1

Behind all the frenetic holiday activity that surrounds us this time of year is the powerful, beckoning reality that the creator of the universe, the Alpha and the Omega, entered into the midst of his own broken creation as a flesh-and-blood baby—tiny, vulnerable, fully human, and living in a specific place and time.  God manifesting himself in a concrete, physical way.  God losing all of his power in order to save what he loved.  God dying so that he could live in each of us.  Really, we celebrate a holiday of unfathomable paradoxes.  God present and God powerless.

This contrast makes me think of Paul recounting in 2 Corinthians how Jesus said to him, “My grace is sufficient for you for my strength is made perfect in weakness” (another paradox).  In a culture that glorifies individuality, it’s tempting  for those of us calling ourselves Christians to interpret this as an invitation to a private and personal interaction—us admitting our weakness and failure to God and then opening ourselves to the outpouring of the Holy Spirit like some kind of super power that charges us up and makes us ready to save the world.

But if the church is the body of Christ—each of us different parts of a collective whole, each of us reflecting various aspects of Christ’s character in a unique way—there’s another way to view that promise.  Especially in light of the constant reminders throughout Scripture that God likes to do his work through people—so much so that he became a person himself.  This is not to say that God’s power, healing, presence, wisdom, and love can’t come to us directly, but more to say that he seems to prefer bringing it to us through others.  Which is an incredible kindness and grace because it draws us out of the isolation and loneliness we are so prone to.

In my moments of weakness and failure, often the last thing I feel capable of is connecting with God or feeling his presence.  So in times I’ve been unable to pray, others have prayed for me.  In times I’ve been cynical or discouraged, others have spoken words of hope.  In my inability to forgive, others have modeled grace and love.  In moments like these, the power of God is not some laser beam hitting me directly, effecting some type of radical transformation.  Rather, it is reflected prism-like through another member of the body, calling me back into relationship, back into the fold, back into the love of Christ.  Yes, the life of Christ resides directly in us, but the very nature of Christ—relational, personal, and incarnate—calls us to dependence on him through dependence on others.

This is not an easy thing.  Many of us cling to our independence and self-sufficiency like Gollum to his ring, ready to dissolve in the fire before we’d ever let go.  So Jesus did that for us.  He let go by washing the feet of his disciples.  He let go by allowing himself to be betrayed and captured.  He let go by dying on the cross.  And this letting go, this chosen powerlessness, is what allowed his life and power to be present in us.  Thus, when we stray, the Shepherd calls us back through the voices of our friends, our family, our brothers and sisters in Christ.  And he uses us to call them back in return.

Recently, I read an account of a woman working at a college as a psychiatrist who, after one of the students there committed suicide, said, “I cannot save them. I am not here to save anybody or to save the world. All I can do – what I am called to do – is to plant myself at the gates of Hope. Sometimes they come in; sometimes they walk by. But I stand there every day and I call out till my lungs are sore with calling, and beckon and urge them in toward beautiful life and love.”  I was deeply moved by her words and struck by how well they describe the role of Christians.  We do not have the power to save.  If we are honest, we don’t even have the power to call out until our lungs are sore day after day.  Not as individuals, at least.  But as the body of Christ, we can take turns.  On some days, I might be the person calling out to others.  On other days it will be someone else calling out to me.  All of us calling out Christ, all of us hearing his words in each other’s voices—God’s presence, the beautiful life and love we all long for made manifest in the midst of our weakness.