Moving into the Neighborhood

“And the Word became flesh and lived among us…” (John 1:14a)

 

The images of the New Year are familiar to most of us: the ball dropping in Times Square, a baby crawling in as the old year, an ancient figure with a long beard, departs. The beginning of the New Year is also marked by reflections on the past twelve months and resolutions to do better in the coming twelve. For many of us, the coming of a new year is like turning a new page in life.

In chapter 1 of his gospel John is also describing a new beginning, but one much more profound than the start of a New Year. Here is the awe and wonder of the beginning of a new era in the history of the world—the event of God coming to us in human form.

In verse 14, John proclaims the stunning news, “And the Word became flesh and lived among us.” I love the way Eugene Peterson translates this verse in The Message: “The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood.”

In the original Greek, the phrase literally means “to pitch a tent.” So, John is telling us that the Word, the One who existed before the creation, the One from whom all life comes, has pitched his tent in our midst and moved into the neighborhood.

Think for a moment what this means: God knows first-hand the pangs of hunger, the grief of losing a loved one, the pain of a lost friendship, and all the other human feelings and experiences that we know. By choosing to dwell among us, the God who created the universe is declaring God’s deep and abiding love for us.

The poem by Howard Thurman (below) is perhaps the most eloquent and powerful vision of what in means to have God move into the neighborhood. The birth of Jesus at Christmas is, you see, not an end of anything. It is the beginning of a whole new way of understanding the world, each other, and ourselves.

So I want to encourage us to go out, each one of us, and carry God’s gift into the often difficult, challenging, frustrating, yet wonderful world for whom the gift has been given. You see, God’s incarnation is also a call to action—to move out into our neighborhood and local communities and embody the good news of the gospel. And we in the church are the delivery system for the work of finding and healing, rebuilding and peacemaking.

As we start the year 2016, I want to invite us to imagine that the Lord is here pitching a tent, and is going to stick around in Bergenfield. Here is my prayer: “Lord, give us ears to hear, and imaginations to envision the possibilities of your reconciling and transforming work in here our location and circumstance. May your Holy Spirit shape us more fully as a community into the image of your Son Jesus Christ!”

 

Grace and peace, Mark

When the song of the angels is stilled, When the star in the sky is gone,When the kings and the princes are home, When the shepherds are back with their flocks, The work of Christmas begins: To find the lost, To heal the broken, To feed the hungry, To release the prisoner, To rebuild the nations, To bring peace among brothers,To make music in the heart.

- Howard Thurman, an African-American theologian, educator, and civil rights leader