For Advent 2020, we are following the themes in the book Honest Advent as we think about the gifts we can give Jesus in celebration of his birthday. As we saw in the previous post, in Week 1, we are giving him the gift of our vulnerability. To understand what vulnerability looks like, and how we can give Jesus the gift of our vulnerability, we’re going to take a look at Jesus’ encounters with four people.
To read about the first one, open a Bible to John 3:1-10.
There we meet Nicodemus who is a member of one of Israel’s religious ruling parties called the Pharisees. Nicodemus is very curious about Jesus, and wants to have a private meeting with Jesus under cover of night. Why at night? Because of the track record of the Pharisees interaction with Jesus. The relationship was not good. Normally the air between Jesus and the Pharisees was ice cold because the Pharisees were constantly trying to trip Jesus up so they could accuse him of blasphemy or treachery. They were super jealous of Jesus’ popularity, and wanted to take him down. What was worse was that Jesus would confront them, point out their hypocrisy, and he always got the upper hand in their debates with him. So they hated him.
But not all of them. Some Pharisees were curious, like Nicodemus. He thought there was something genuine, something different about Jesus, and Nicodemus’ wondered if his Pharisee buddies were wrong about this guy. But there’s no way Nicodemus was going to risk his reputation by challenging his friends directly, or by getting sighted in public with Jesus. So a covert meeting is what it will take for Nicodemus to have a real conversation with Jesus.
The conversation is…well…weird. Jesus is characteristically mysterious, teaching in parables and metaphors, talking about people being born a second time, pushing Nicodemus to think deeply and figuratively. Pushing Nicodemus outside the box of the typical religious thought of the day.
You know what Nicodemus says? “I don’t get it”. “I don’t understand.”
Those are amazing words coming from him. Nicodemus is a Pharisee! That means he went through years of biblical and theological training. He is a scholar. In that society of first-century Palestine, think about how upside-down this is. The peasant turned prophet, Jesus, is schooling the Bible professor, Nicodemus. Look at verse 10 where Jesus boldly says to Nicodemus, “You’re Israel’s teacher, and do you not understand these things?” That’s a burn. Many people would hear that and start seething angrily inside, thinking “This peon is trying to make fun of me? No way!” Many people would shoot back at Jesus with a burn of their own and walk out of there. Even if they truly didn’t understand Jesus.
But rather than be embarrassed, rather than save face, rather than get angry, Nicodemus is an example for us of vulnerability. No matter if think we are spiritually advanced and biblically literate, we need to be vulnerable before God. We need to be teachable, remembering that we don’t have him all figured out. There is always more to learn. And we should take the posture of learners! Are you showing vulnerability by being a learner? What a gift that is to the people you interact with. What a gift that is to Jesus.