The Birth of Jesus is the Death of Self-Sufficiency
By Beth Demme
In 1944, a German Catholic priest named Alfred Delp spent his final Advent in a Nazi prison. A few weeks before he was hanged, Father Delp described the Virgin Mary as “the most comforting of all the Advent figures.” He wrote:
Advent is the promise denoting the new order of things, of life, of our existence. We must remember today with courage that the blessed woman of Nazareth foreshadows the light in our midst today. Deeper down in our being, our days and our destinies, too, bear the blessing and mystery of God. The blessed woman waits, and we must wait too until her hour has come.
In the midst of Father Delp’s hopeless situation, he wrote of courage, light, blessing, and mystery. I probably would have felt abandoned to the darkness, but Delp saw himself waiting as Mary waited. He believed that just as Mary’s pregnancy ended in a miraculous birth, so too, his tribulation would end in a miraculous re-birth.
As Father Delp’s life neared an untimely and ugly end, Mary’s example reminded him of an important truth. Even in tribulation, he, too, deep down in his being bore the blessing and mystery of God.
You, too. Your days and your destinies, too, bear the blessing and mystery of God.
My personal tribulations seem minor, even petty, compared to the specter of a Nazi execution, but the power of Mary’s example remains. Even in the midst of my troubles and imperfections God loves me and lives in me.
For nearly 2,000 years, Christians have been trying to find the right words to describe what happened between humanity and God at Christmas and Easter. The word atonement, literally at-one-ment, is the best we’ve come up with. We become one with God through Christmas and Easter, but in a way that defies our sensibilities.
Both Christmas and Easter have an element of helplessness about them.
The Christmas celebration is about the birth of a baby, a human in its most helpless state. At Easter, we have the crucifixion—Jesus, fully human, nailed to a cross and, again, helpless. He takes on the very posture of a man who is surrendering and vulnerable, standing naked with his arms open wide.
And yet, helplessness is anathema to human instinct. We strive to become self-sufficient.
As a mom, part of my job is to help my children grow increasingly self-sufficient. From holding their head up, to walking, to potty-training, to talking, to school, to relationships, to driving, to managing money, etc., we help our children become less and less helpless.
These skills (and the loss of helplessness) are essential for survival, but they can get in our way when it comes to God.
We fool ourselves into believing we don’t need anyone or anything. We become our own little gods. We make life about achievement, independence, and security.
At least, I know I do.
I don’t want to have just enough to meet my basic needs, I would prefer to have a little (a lot!) extra. I want to be secure rather than helpless.
The birth of Jesus is the death of self-sufficiency because it’s God taking action to do what I cannot do—heal the broken bond between God and humanity, between God and me.
Mary was vulnerable as an unwed mother. Jesus was vulnerable as a baby in a manger. Maybe I can be vulnerable, too. Perhaps the Christmas story means I can stop striving for independence and, instead, embrace my helplessness.
Maybe this Christmas it’s time to live like my days and my destiny, too, bear the blessing and mystery of God.
What about you? Do you see how you bear the blessing and mystery of God? Do you strive for independence and security? How does Christmas change that? Tell me about it in the comments, in an e-mail, or on Facebook.
More Like This From Beth:
- The Problem of Self-Sufficiency
- Why I Love the Fall of Humanity
- God Can Work With Anything, Even Nothing