“The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood.”
—John 1:14, The Message
It’s that time of year again. Time to prepare for Advent and Christmas, looking for a new take on the old story, trying to find some creative ideas to get the juices flowing. But, as we all know, those ideas can’t be too involved because the months around Christmas are busy. As you and your congregation begin to prepare for this important season, may I make one suggestion? Leave room to think deeply.
I love the Advent/Christmas/Epiphany season, but it can often be a blur. Maybe I’m unique in this, but I suspect not. So I encourage you as you do your planning to ask yourself this question: How can we better help our congregation pause and catch the radical, world-altering truth that God came here to live among us in the flesh? Or, as Eugene Peterson says, Christ “moved into the neighborhood.” When we start grasping the enormity of that statement, we begin to grasp the enormity of the grace extended to us.
God became like us so that we might relate to the wholly and holy other, so that we might hear and touch God. God became like us so that we might know that God in the person of Jesus Christ knows what it is like to be here on earth, to grieve the loss of dear friends, to be disappointed in the failings of those nearest us, to be misunderstood, to be rejected, to be laughed at, to know physical pain but also great joy. God became like us so that we may know God more fully.
God is a missional God. God had a mission to redeem the world. Christ began fulfilling that mission in the redemption that he showered upon those around him. He began to redeem the world when he cared for the people he met, when he touched them, when he sat down to eat with sinners, when he walked on “the wrong side of the tracks.”
As followers of Christ, then, we need to continue to walk in his footsteps. In this season we are called to be a missional people. We are called to “move into the neighborhood” and be a witness to the truth of the gospel. During this season we are called to continue Christ’s work of redemption here and now, even as we await with deep yearning the fullness of redemption when Christ comes again.
There are many ways to help your congregation think deeply. You might look at various Scripture passages that answer the question of who Jesus is (“Who Do You Say I Am?” p. 18). You might examine the words of the angels and the songs that erupted in response, which speak of the yearning for Christ to come (“Angels and Songs” p. 3). Maybe you’ll choose to create visuals that connect with the message and bring the gospel alive in a different way (“Visual Choir” p. 20).
As we think deeply about the changes that resulted from Jesus “moving into the neighborhood,” may we also hear the challenge presented by John Cook about how we celebrate the Lord’s Supper (p. 48) and begin to understand the impact of the incarnation on how we address the stuff of earth (see Meyaard-Schaap’s “The Word Became Flesh” p. 24). Consider also sharing the poetry of Jenni Stephenson, with the provocative line “Word incarnated in flesh in a weaving dance buffered by blood and water” (p. 9).
We do all this deep thinking because we are seeking our own transformation as we work toward developing what John Witvliet in his Q&A refers to as “an Advent-shaped life” (p. 46). This thinking deeply and seeing the impact of Christ’s advent on the world and our own lives can only result in our own missional living even as we yearn for the day of Christ’s return. Maranatha! Come, Lord Jesus, come.