(Artwork by Joey Novak at The Minimum Bible)
Note: Continuing our year-long journey of “tough conversations,” this is the final installment of our three-part series on pain and doubt. Missed the first two parts? Read them here and here.
It may seem odd to have the last of a series on chronic pain coincide with the beginning of Advent. But in an important sense, Advent and chronic pain have to do with the same thing: bodies. And not just bodies of any sort, but scarred, stretched, scorched, splotched bodies.
During Advent, we wait expectantly for the incarnate God to dwell among us in fullness. God-in-the-flesh, in a body. God with us—Emmanuel. But the incarnation has to do with more than the en-flesh-ment, the embodiment of God. It also has to do with an encounter between God’s body in Christ and our bodies—that moment when these undeniably beautiful yet so very broken bodies come face to face.
So when we celebrate the Advent season—as we anticipate the arrival of the incarnate God—we bring our weak and fragile bodies into the presence of the One who literally gave his body for us. “This is my body, which is for you” says Jesus in the Gospels (Luke 22:19). In these few words, Jesus memorializes the chronic state of his body’s pain and brokenness—for us.
And there you have it. During Advent, we do not simply await the Messiah in a manger, but the God who comes in human form for the sake of communion, for the sake of taking up our pain within God’s very self and transforming it. What we celebrate during Advent is God’s refusal to minimize the significance of our bodies, pain and all.
So my prayer for you and your ministry this Christmas, wherever it may be and whatever form it may take, is that you are able not only to point toward the incarnation, but to live and minister incarnationally—to lead from a position of chronic weakness, and create space for others to do the same. It seems so counterintuitive when everyone around us is asking us to be more authoritative, more decisive, more charismatic, more . . . well, like a leader.
But as the apostle Paul reminds us, we haven’t any other option. All of our weaknesses, frailties, and pains are chronic. Even Paul was only temporarily able-bodied, forever tormented by a “thorn in the flesh.” So during this Advent season, take a moment to enter the presence of the incarnate God whose initiatives do not depend upon the strength or capacity of our bodies, but whose power is made perfect in our weakness (2 Cor. 12:9).