Welcoming Jesus into our Neighborhood
I’m ticked! Seriously upset. I planned to write a cheery feel-good story about how my family celebrated St. Nicholas’ Day on Dec. 6th to honor the faith of this ancient Bishop of Myra. I planned to tell how we loved to come together to put a variety of tasty homemade cookies into bags and secretly deliver them to our neighbors, hanging the bags on doorknobs, ringing the doorbell, and running away. But right now I’m too upset.
From its founding six years ago, I’ve been the Volunteer Coordinator and one of the leaders of our local winter warming shelter. I have been unbelievably blessed to get to know so many amazing folks struggling with homelessness. Their stories are often heart-breaking, yet their desire to thrive in the middle of chaos inspiring. I’ve also had the joy of getting to know hundreds of volunteers eager to help their neighbors living outside. I’ve seen some of the best my little town has to offer.
So why am I so upset? I just received an email telling me that another property owner has “criminally trespassed” two more of our neighbors. I know for a fact that one of them was innocent of the accusations and likely the other was as well. But “those people” are bad for business. They make us feel uncomfortable. They remind us that even in this lead up to Christmas, everything is not OK.
I received this unsettling news right after reading Christine Sine’s Monday Meditation, Jesus is Your Neighbour. Christine’s Monday Meditation reminded us to look for Jesus in those who are already in our neighborhoods. This is such an important reminder. Yes, we are to bring Jesus into every encounter. It’s also true that Jesus is already present, just waiting to be revealed.
My town, while not tiny, is small enough to also be my neighborhood. It is one of the most thoughtful and giving communities I’ve lived in. But something is oozing to the surface this season, something we’ve seen here and there in the past but now seems emboldened to sit on the surface for all to see. What’s going on?
What lies behind our fear and anxiety? In the Western world the pot has been stirred by ongoing war in the Middle East. Refugees, fleeing for their lives, have flooded into country after country, resulting in fear and suspicion. As our emotions simmer, news outlets eager for headlines have stirred our hearts until fear of the other has risen to the surface.
In many ways we’ve taken the easy way. Instead of examining our changing emotions, we’ve mostly embraced them. Instead of questioning the headlines and how we react to them, we’ve entered a cycle of anxiety, headlines, fear, more headlines “confirming our fear”, deeper anxiety, and on and on the cycle goes.
I have a feeling this is not unlike the political and social atmosphere Jesus pierced when he emerged from the womb. The Romans ruled, the religious elite collaborated with the government, and the people waited eagerly for a savior. We see this expressed in Mary’s song:
He bared his arm and showed his strength,
scattered the bluffing braggarts.
He knocked tyrants off their high horses,
pulled victims out of the mud.
The starving poor sat down to a banquet;
the callous rich were left out in the cold.
The Message Luke 1:51-53
Here is the promise of the Prince of Peace come to set right current injustices and restore wholeness to the world. And yet, in times like these it’s difficult to trust God. We become so overwhelmed and caught up in the politics of fear that we forget the one who calms the storm. And when we begin the cycle of forgetting God we also forget to look for the image of God in our neighbors.
So today, in the middle of my anger and righteous indignation, I’m stopping to remember. I do have a Savior who rises above all the rhetoric of hate.
- I have a Savior who was born in less than ideal conditions because the community had no appropriate home for him.
- I have a Savior whose birth was celebrated by those excluded by the “righteous” and embraced by foreign dignitaries seeking peace.
- I have a Savior whose birth stirred up such anxiety among the ruling class that innocent babies were slaughtered in an attempt exterminate his rule of justice and mercy.
- I have a Savior who himself became a refugee, fleeing to a foreign land, escaping violence at the hand of the powerful.
- And I have a Savior who showed us the way of love: love of God, of neighbor, of outcast, of persecutors and enemies. A perfect love which casts out fear.
As I’ve been writing and remembering, my anger has decreased. There is still action to take, but now I can take it recognizing that not only do those who were wronged bear the image of God, so do those who perpetrated the harm. In order to welcome Jesus into the neighborhood I must begin by first welcoming him into my mind and heart. Once I’ve done this I’m ready to see those whom God created and declared good in the light of love.
God is love. When we take up permanent residence in a life of love, we live in God and God lives in us. This way, love has the run of the house, becomes at home and mature in us, so that we’re free of worry on Judgment Day—our standing in the world is identical with Christ’s. There is no room in love for fear. Well-formed love banishes fear. Since fear is crippling, a fearful life—fear of death, fear of judgment—is one not yet fully formed in love.
We, though, are going to love—love and be loved. First we were loved, now we love. He loved us first.
If anyone boasts, “I love God,” and goes right on hating his brother or sister, thinking nothing of it, he is a liar. If he won’t love the person he can see, how can he love the God he can’t see? The command we have from Christ is blunt: Loving God includes loving people. You’ve got to love both.
1 John 4:17-21 The Message
This post is part of our 2016 Advent series.