The daily newspaper is a lot heavier and bulkier at this time of year, packed with wads of glossy Christmas advertisements and flyers. When I grab the newspaper out of the mailbox each morning, I usually toss the flyers into the recycle bin without looking at them.
But last week, my eye caught a flyer advertising a “gift of security” – a fancy home alarm system. “Give your family peace of mind this Christmas,” the bright, shiny piece of paper urged. “Install an alarm system that will make them secure.”
We live in a society obsessed with the need for security. More and more homes have alarm systems. Increasing numbers of video surveillance cameras watch us in public places. Airport procedures, border crossings, and passport applications have all become much more rigorous.
The “war on terror” also reflects this obsession with security. We are told the greatest threat facing the Western world is terrorism. And the way to make the world safe and secure from terrorists is to kill them. Our military forces, so it goes, are fighting to destroy terrorism so that all of us will live with more safety and security.
Distressingly, we are learning that the war on terror is actually increasing insecurity for others, as well as for ourselves. We have forgotten that our own security is intimately linked with the security of others. “We can’t isolate ourselves within an armed fortress,” says Ernie Regehr of Project Ploughshares. “Instead, we have to be active participants in transforming the world into a place where interdependence is not regarded as a threat but as the fundamental ingredient of community.”
But back to the alarm system. There’s something profoundly ironic about the marketing of security systems – and the pursuit of security at all costs – at Christmas time. The Christmas story teaches us something very different about security. The Jesus whose birthday we celebrate came into the violent and dangerous world in total vulnerability. He had no assurance of security – his birthplace was a stable and his bed a manger. His people lived under an authoritarian occupation. While still an infant, his family had to flee to a foreign land because the king wanted him killed. Yet, a security company dares to promote an alarm system as the perfect Christmas gift!
When Jesus grew, he chose vulnerability as a lifestyle. He carried no sword, possessed no worldly goods that required protection, and surrounded himself – not with bodyguards – but a ragtag bunch of marginal folk. He taught his friends not to harm their enemies but love them and do good to them. He told them that they would find security by serving others. He embodied vulnerability when faced with arrest, torture, and death.
For Christians, the message of Christmas is that our security is found not in alarm systems, military might, or a war on terror, but in casting our fears upon the One who demonstrates that security is found in relationship, in sharing, and in reaching out to others – indeed, in vulnerability. Perhaps this message can be our Christmas gift to the world.