“The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood.” (John 1:14 The Message)
Neighborhoods are interesting places. Growing up we knew many of the neighbors around us. Behind us lived our mechanic who kept our cars running for many years. Across the street was a retired couple, he worked for the railroads and helped me with a research project on trains in the sixth grade, while she always handed out pencils and a nickle for halloween. Our neighbors, as well as the next two houses down, had kids the same age as me and my brothers. We played countless games of backyard baseball, and even broke a few windows (which still provide some great stories to share). We all knew each other by name, and in an emergency, could count on one another.
There are still neighborhoods like that today, and families that make getting to know neighbors a priority, but it’s not as prevalent as it was during my growing up years. Honestly, the first couple of neighborhoods we lived in after getting married we did a poor job getting to know neighbors. It was mostly in and out of the house quickly with very little interaction. We are trying to do much better in our current neighborhood developing friendships and sharing life. Why? Because sharing life with neighbors is important and can be a powerful way to bless and be blessed by others. It’s easy to be uninvolved and simply share the same general space of land in the world, however, that doesn’t seem like Jesus. Jesus was one who moved into the neighborhood to be in relationship with the creation.
God has always desired relationship with the creation. That seems like a very self-explanatory statement, however, it’s true. God has always desired relationship, and in reality, our very existence is because God desired relationship. There are many theories of how the world came to be, but the true story of the world says that God created everything that exists. God didn’t create because God was bored or needed served. Instead, God created to share love. God as trinity (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) had so much love shared between the Godhead, that in order to make love complete, God wanted to love another. God created, therefore, to share love with the creation and be in relationship. This relationship meant active participation, as God rested on the seventh day not to take a break, but to release the creation to be all that it was created to become, and to remain actively engaged with the creation. (In this sense, the seventh day of creation has never ended, for God continues to enjoy fellowship with the creation.)
Humanity, of course, messed up. We ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. We sought after our own gods, worshiping the creation instead of the creator. We thought that we could take the place of the LORD our God, and make the best decisions for our lives. We broke the relationship. We cheated on our first love. We separated from God’s loving relationship.
But God didn’t abandon us to our own sins. While sin leads to death, God didn’t allow us to simply die. God refused to give up on us, even though we deserved every punishment. God continued to pursue relationship. Scripture shares this true story of the world: God’s covenant with Abraham and his family, God’s rescue of Israel from Egyptian slavery, God’s covenant at Sinai forming Israel into a new people, a kingdom of priests and a holy nation, and even a return from exile. However, even that wasn’t enough, so God went one step further. God took on flesh and blood and moved into the neighborhood. The Son became incarnate, and Jesus came to be one of us to redeem us and restore us into rightful relationship. God desired relationship so much, God became our neighbor.
It’s easy to lament the problems of our current world. Wars and rumors of wars. Trade disputes. Famine and disease. Civil and domestic unrest. We could easily declare the world is falling a part, and we might even be correct. We could even wonder why God doesn’t do something about the situation, but perhaps God has. We, as Christians, are temples of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit resides inside of us, which means that wherever we go we literally take God with us. When we enter a place of hopelessness, we bring the God of hope with us. When we enter a place of disease, we bring the God of healing with us. When we enter a place of unrest, we bring the God of peace with us. We could easily exclude ourselves from the greater culture, afraid that it will corrupt our families, and move into tiny Christian communes. The idea makes sense. However, to do so would be to abandon our calling. God desires relationship with the world, and as temples of the Holy Spirit, God desires for us to help usher in that relationship. We are tasked with moving into the neighborhoods. We are tasked with taking hope to the hopeless. We are tasked with developing relationships to bless others in Jesus’s name. God wants to move into the neighborhood, and plans to do it through Christian people.
That’s a scary proposition. We may wonder if God has risked it all depending on us humans. We are doomed to fail, because we always seem to mess things up. However, we must remember, we are not going alone. God is going with us. God is already present. We are simply joining God in the neighborhood where God already resides. Therefore, we can take on flesh and blood, and become present to those around us in the name of Jesus, offering hope to a trouble world.
May we follow the example of Jesus, and move into the neighborhood.