This Advent I’m delighted to bring you a variety of voices – authors, pastors, theologians, and philosophers – each of whom has a unique and beautiful take on a particular passage of Scripture related to the Advent season.
My prayer is that these reflections would help guide your devotional life as you participate in this season of holy waiting.
Without further ado, here’s today’s reflection from pastor Steve Austin. A gentle warning for those who struggle with mental illness or are close to someone who does: this post talks about suicidal ideation.
Fragility * An Advent Reflection by Steve Austin
“This is what you’re to look for: a baby wrapped in a blanket and lying in a manger.”
– Luke 2:12b (The Message)
“…we wait; and hope appears if we truly desire to see it.”
How long had Israel been looking for the Messiah? They’d been waiting for a very long time on the military powerhouse to come and sit on the throne and–with God–smash their enemies to bits.
Can you imagine what the Wise Men must have thought when the angels surrounded them in a field, God’s glory blazing around them like fire? What a grand announcement it would be!
But wait. What?
God wanted them to look for a baby in a blanket, lying in…a manger? A manger? Like cows and chickens and donkeys, oh my?! I’m sure the shepherds thought those angels must have been smoking something. This announcement made no sense.
In essence, the angels told the shepherds to look for fragility.
Look for vulnerability, they said, it will lead you to courage.
Look for weakness, they nudged, it is there you’ll find the glory of God.
Keep your eyes peeled for gentleness, the angels declared, because the world is hardened enough.
As someone with a diagnosed mental illness, I live in the tension of “embrace fragility” and “in this world you will have trouble.” For the longest time, those two concepts seemed to go together like oil and water. Don’t you have to be strong if you’re facing trouble?
Nearly dying by suicide changed all that for me. When I woke up in an ICU hospital room after surviving a suicide attempt, the last thing I wanted to be was vulnerable. I’d mastered the art of sweeping pain under the rug and permanently affixing my “Isn’t Jesus lovely?” mask for the world to see.
But after undergoing years of therapy, needing medication because my brain isn’t quite wired like everyone else’s, and being forced to ask for help, I can tell you that vulnerability is the only path to freedom.
Don’t take my word for it. Look at the life of Jesus: from his birth to the cross, we see Jesus embracing his own fragility.
In addition to that, he is constantly surrounding himself with those who were anything but strong. A blind man, a woman with a bleeding problem, a guy overcome by demons, and a man who’d been crippled for nearly four decades.
“Embrace fragility,” it seems, was the mission statement of Emmanuel.
And isn’t that Good News? We all feel fragile and vulnerable, shakily scared of uncertainty. But peace is waiting on the other side of all this turmoil.
Advent is a corporate acknowledgement that we cannot deliver ourselves. In our own vulnerability, we recognize our lack. We honor our wait for deliverance from our grief and groaning, but we wait with hope because we already know Goodness is on the other side. And as we expectantly wait for deliverance, we also celebrate God remaining present with us through every facet of the human experience.
“My peace I give to you,” Jesus said. But when he promised us peace, it wasn’t to replace difficulties, but in response to them. It was the assurance that He would be with us through every experience.
The world is groaning under the pressure of its own woundedness, and even though the peace of God doesn’t always make sense, peace is an assurance that in the midst of hell breaking loose: shootings and riots and wars and demonizing of “the other,” Emmanuel is with us in our fragility.
We feel terrorized. We are heartbroken and afraid. Shame keeps us hiding from each other and trying to hide our fragility from God, but God is not uncertain or afraid. I think Heaven weeps, but God knows the beginning from the end. Peace is the stubborn trust that things will get better one day. Our waiting will be worth it.
This Advent season, if you’re in the midst of the mess, it’s typical to get disillusioned by despair and allow your doubts and frustration to grow. But God isn’t intimidated by our humanity, and he doesn’t move away at the sight of our wounds. In fact, in the middle of our own personal hell, we find Emmanuel, wrapped in a blanket, showing us how to be fragile.
Steve Austin is a former pastor who made his bed in hell and found God there. He is dedicated to reaching those who are hiding from God and the rest of us. To find out more about Steve’s speaking, writing, podcast, and coaching, check out catchingyourbreath.com. He resides in Birmingham, Alabama, with his wife and two kids, and loves all things peanut butter and chocolate. Follow Steve on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and YouTube.