It used to be that only my mom who would say stuff like this to me. But nowadays — pretty much everyone does. Maybe you’ve noticed this, too? After almost every single conversation I have now — even if I just met the person five minutes ago — it always ends with something like:
“Stay safe!” … “You be safe out there!” … “Have a safe Christmas!”
Let’s face it: Safety is on everybody’s minds right now. And rightfully so in many ways! Today’s pandemic is, by all accounts, a situation unlike anything we’ve ever faced before as a planet. We need to try our best to be wise and prudent. We need to support and look out for one another. We ought to protect the most vulnerable among us. And in that regard — this call for safety and security is good… so far as it goes.
But here and now — as the Church once again returns to Bethlehem and contemplates the Word-made-flesh — God Incarnate — the Christ Child who is born today for the salvation of all the world, I’d like to offer this blunt reminder:
Christmas isn’t safe.
Sure we’ve tried our very best to domesticate this Sacred Day — We’ve done a bang-up job of reducing it down to consumerism, bad Hallmark movies, sparkly decorations and hot cocoa… but the truth of the matter remains, no matter how we try to slice it:
The Incarnation was and continues to be a grand, Divine risk.
It is the ultimate act of vulnerability. The Almighty God, creator of heaven and earth, of all things visible and invisible — chose to send his Son into our broken, violent, DANGEROUS world… not as a warrior clad in heavy armor, or an untouchable angel of light… immaterial and beyond the reach of our hammer and nails…
No — God appeared to us as a defenseless little baby.
Let that fact really sink in!
Jesus was born into a society where cruel, paranoid kings jealously defended their thrones — where bitterly divided religious groups constantly argued and debated — where social unrest boiled over into everyday life. A world where people lied, cheated, stole, lusted, bickered, judged, and hated…
Just like the world we find ourselves in today — the world Christ was born into was not safe. In fact: It was downright perilous.
Why would God do such a thing? Why would he risk sending His only Son into such a fallen and dark world? Doesn’t God want to hedge his bets, prevent liabilities, and guarantee success? Doesn’t He want to play it SAFE?
Why this Divine Risk?
Well, because when it comes right down to it: Love isn’t safe.
We all know that to love anyone at all demands a tremendous risk. It’s dangerous business to stick your neck out and invest in a relationship with someone — with a friend, a spouse, a son or daughter, an estranged family member. It’s a risk because you might end up getting hurt. You might get rejected. They could betray you, ignore you, or use you. And even the best of relationships — the most holy marriages, the closest friendships — must part ways in this life, don’t they? We all face death. And that separation, that loss hurts so deep.
Because we actually really loved that person. Would we ever dare to say it would have been better not to have loved — better to have stayed SAFE?
Of course not!
CS Lewis once said it this way: “I am a safety-first creature. Of all arguments against love none makes so strong an appeal to my nature as ‘Careful! This might lead you to suffering.”
But then he says this:
Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly be broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, soft, dark, motionless, airless — it will change. It will not be broken. it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable.
He ends with this sober warning:
The only place outside Heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all the dangers and perturbations of love is Hell.
Here we come to the answer to our question: “Why did God bother with such an ultimate, Divine Risk?”
The reason is: God loved us TOO MUCH to stay safely locked away in Heaven. He saw our grave danger. He knew that we were lost if He didn’t do something to rescue us! He saw our struggles. Our burdens. Our pain. So he leapt down from Heaven and became truly Emmanuel: God-with-us.
God stuck His neck out for us in such a definitive, vulnerable way. Our response must be equally vulnerable. But I have to warn you:
Being a Christian isn’t safe.
It’s not safe to raise a traditional family in today’s fiercely secular world.
It’s not safe to get married in the midst of a hook-up culture.
It’s not safe to enter seminary and discern the celibate priesthood in a culture obsessed with pleasure.
It’s not safe to leave your job and your home to enter a monastery or convent.
It’s not safe to be a missionary — whether in a foreign land or your own family!
It’s not safe to serve the poor and homeless.
It’s not safe to stand up for the lives of the unborn.
It’s not safe to sacrifice in secret for the salvation of souls.
It’s not safe to pray visibly in public without getting judged or made fun of.
It’s not safe to follow Jesus.
But it never has been… and it never will be.
The bottom line is: This newborn King who we worship and adore tonight — this tiny, defenseless child, grows up, and calls for committed, sold-out disciples to follow Him unreservedly. We might cling to the safety of half-hearted, self-preserving faith — but it will fail us in the end. It won’t be enough.
Jesus tells us clearly enough that whoever tries to save their life — whoever puts personal safety and security as their top priority! — will lose their life, and whoever loses their life…. will save it — will keep their life truly safe!
So don’t be afraid to love this Newborn King the way he deserves to be loved! Lean into your vocation and take the necessary risks of love. It’s only by losing yourself — emptying yourself just as the Son emptied himself in becoming man — that you will find real security.
Jesus lovingly beckons to each one of us, saying — “Come! Become vulnerable with me. Learn to love from Me. I will send you into dangerous places: Into people’s lives, into their homes, into their hearts, into their mess! You will love them there, just as I have first loved you in your mess! Do not be afraid. I’ll be with you to support you and guide you. But you will not be safe. Your heart might get broken. You might be rejected — in fact, you’re sure to be ignored and snubbed, laughed at, maybe even martyred! But you will be with Me. I am EMMANUEL… God with you. Is that not enough? That your Lord is with you? That I am in you, and you in me? In Me, you will always be safe. I am your one sure, everlasting Refuge. I am your only Salvation. I am your only Security. I am your only Safety.”
O Come, let us adore Him…