Celebrating the birth of Jesus: the God who became disabled in man.

It is hard for me to conceive of the god of the philosophers.  You know this god – omniscience, omnipresent, omnipotent and all other “omni” type monikers.  Weakness, contingency, and other creaturely traits don’t fit within the vocabulary, which speaks of this god.  The unmoved mover was Aristotle’s chosen name for this deity, last Thomas Aquinas would Christianize that name and use it as proof for the existence of God.   But the unmoved mover is just that – unmoved, the cause of all causes.  It doesn’t even watch the world as it goes spinning into chaos.  Plato, in his Timeous, went to great lengths to construct a world where this god wasn’t touched by this world, a world of decay and imperfection.   Moral and spiritual darkness, a world in decay without hope or joy shouldn’t impinge upon or concern the god who is.  If, and that is a big and unbelievable if, this god should become, heaven forbid, god incarnate he or she would take on the form of superman, perhaps resembling Nietzsche’s uberman, if not certainly Aristotle’s Magnanimous Man.  He or she would be without defect, without blemish, the sum of physical greatness and mental perfection.

Yet, this is not the God we celebrate on Christmas.  We celebrate the God/man who took on the flesh of a baby born in scandal to poor Jewish parents.  In the broadest of terms, he was born into a socially disabled family.  Disabled by income and by the premarital pregnancy, Joseph and Mary had found themselves at the margins of religious and political life.  Born into the world, the baby Jesus was at the mercy of a teenage parents and even the vary empire who had forced his parents to travel so far for a census.  No one can look at a newly born baby and say this is the sum strength, power, and magnificence for even babies born to be king shit their diapers and suffer colds.  But to celebrate Jesus’ birth isn’t merely the celebration of the birth of some king, it’s the celebration of God coming to earth.

God!  The God who is the ground of all being.  The God who encompasses all of space and time with room to spare, the God who created existence with a word, that God took on this flesh.  Our creeds tell us this was an equal parts event both fully God and Man.  How to explain that event escapes the capacity of language.

For that God to take on this flesh meant that self-imposed limitations must have taken place – limitations not from necessity but out of love for the creature.  How else could we explain it?  Limited God, dare I say it (?), became disabled for our-sakes.  Isn’t that what Paul is getting at in Phi. 2:6-8?  It says,

who, though he was in the form of God,

did not regard equality with God

as something to be exploited,

7 but emptied himself,

taking the form of a slave,

being born in human likeness.

And being found in human form,

8 he humbled himself

and became obedient to the point of death—

even death on a cross.

Jesus gave up the privileges of being God by taking on flesh.  True, unlike those who have disabilities, God chose to enter our world in this way.  For all “able bodied” are disabled spiritually and are unable to see the Light.  God brought the Light to us, as close to us as possible.  Jesus came to us, a tactile God, so that we might feel, touch, hear, and be given ears and eyes once again to see and hear the good news that God has come into the world.

If all of this is true, then any pretense of coming to the level of those with disabilities is demolished not reinforced.  It is demolished in that our disabilities prevent us from seeing correctly. Only in Christ’s divinity, is he both able to meet us as we are and yet see us as we truly are.  That is to say, he meets us in the flesh, in our weakness and contingency.  He smiles, cries, becomes angry, and lives the life of a human being.  But unlike us, he sees us.  He sees us for who we truly are.  We cannot see each other for we cover ourselves up with lies and deception.  The clothes we wear are more than the ones we put on everyday.  Our vision of one another and God is at best only partial.  We need one another so as to share with one another the partial, fragmented vision of God we each hold. The vision God has given us is a mosaic and we each, no matter what physical or mental capacity one might have, hold a fragment of the mosaic.  We cannot know what the full picture might be until we are all tied to one another, bound in the bonds of friendship.  Friendship, that’s what Christ gave to us.  The god of agnostics or the god of philosophers or the god of deists remain foreign to us as strangers but the God who became incarnate 2000 years ago came to be our friend.  So let us this Christmas not give in to the demands of consumerism but free ourselves by entering into friendship not merely with God but with Jesus who became disabled for our sakes.  Perhaps if we can accept friendship with God, we can accept friendship from those with disabilities.

Resources for Theology and Disabilities

Brock, Brian; John Swinton (2012-09-06). Disability in the Christian Tradition. Wm. B.Eerdmans Publishing Company. Kindle Edition.

Hauerwas, Stanley; Jean Vanier. Living Gently in a Violent World: The Prophetic Witness ofWeakness (Resources for Reconciliation) (Kindle Locations 45-47). Kindle Edition.

Hans S. Reinders. Receiving the Gift of Friendship: Profound Disability, Theological Anthropology, and Ethics (Kindle Locations 610-611). Kindle Edition

Heuertz, Christopher L.; Pohl, Christine D. (2010-02-25). Friendship at the Margins: Discovering Mutuality in Service and Mission (Resources for Reconciliation). InterVarsity Press. Kindle Edition.

Nouwen, Henri J. M. Adam; God’s Beloved. Orbis Books. Maryknoll, 1997

Reynolds, Thomas E. (2008-04-01). Vulnerable Communion: A Theology of Disability and Hospitality Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

Vanier, Jean. From Brokenness to Community. Paulist Press. Mahwah, 1992.

Theology and Down Syndrome:  Reimagining Disabilities in Late Modernity by Amos Young

The Bible, Disability, and the Church:  A New Vision of the People of God by Amos Young

The Disabled God:  Toward a Liberation Theology of Disability by Nancy Eiesland

Resurrecting the Person:  Friendship and the Care of People with Mental Health Problems by John Swinton

No Easy Choice by Ellen Painter Dollar

The Disability Studies Reader by Lennard J. Davis

Disability. By Thomas Reynolds. Found in the Christian Reflection series published by Baylor.