Following Jesus Into the Neighborhood
I love the arrival of advent. The older I get, the more I love it. I’m a midwest girl too, and right around the start of advent is when the weather here really starts to descend into full-blown winter. The days are short and cold. The last of the leaves swirl together with the first snowflakes, and people begin disappearing from the sidewalks, parks, and front porches. The landscape is grim, bare, and dark–and then advent breaks through! The celebration of Jesus, come to us, the light of the world. Our Savior and King come to earth, moving into our neighborhood.
When I started on staff with Sonlife, my whole life and routine changed. I had always loved the community I lived in, but previously spent most of my waking hours in the community where the church I served at was in. I deeply loved (and love) that community. But when I started working full-time out of my home, I felt, in a way, like I really moved into my neighborhood. I serpentine my way through the streets on runs, I camp out at local coffee shops, I take meetings at restaurants on main street, and ride my bike to the community rock gym every Wednesday night. I’ve always slept here, but I feel like I recently moved in.
The more time I spend in this (truly) beautiful community of mine, the more people that I meet that trust me with their stories, the more I see the darkness and sadness and desperation that permeates this place. I’ve had a number of conversations with new friends–precious, precious people loved by God–about how they use “manistesting” to create positive changes in their life, crystals to protect them, and mushrooms to find deeper meaning and purpose in life. I met a young woman casually at the pool this summer reading a book about witchcraft–she grew up in the church, was disenfranchised by it, and was recently exploring whether or not she might be a witch. Practical strangers have told me about their struggles with self-harm, the abuse they endured as children, and cried in my arms over the sexual assault they’ve fallen victim to. This is my neighborhood. It’s dark.
One of the things I love about Sonlife is how everything we do, teach, coach, and train is centered around the person of Jesus. And it never gets old to me. When we talk about Jesus, the most basic, central truth to understand–that everything else is built on–is that he was both fully God and fully man. Jesus, God incarnate, King of Kings, Creator of the Universe, uprooted himself and moved into an earthly neighborhood (John 1:14). And that neighborhood was dark. Like mine is dark. Like yours is dark. But he came and planted himself in the middle of it. He had work to do here.
Jesus engaged the darkness–not participating in it–but with compassion and truth breathed life into a weary people. He not only died for the people walking in darkness (Isaiah 9:2), to make us right before God–but he also lived for them, giving us a perfect example to follow of how to walk in our dark neighborhoods with our eyes fixed on the Kingdom of God.
Then his work was done! And he left earth’s neighborhood to return to the right hand of the Father. But not before sending his disciples–and now all of us, into ours. That we might now be, through the power of the Holy Spirit, the light of the world in dark places.
What is your neighborhood like? Where are the people like? What are their dreams and hurts and vulnerabilities? While we are not God incarnate as Jesus was, we still have all the things that were available to him–scripture, prayer, and the Holy Spirit. Step into your neighborhood with fresh eyes this new year. Follow in the footsteps of Jesus. Be his hands and feet –and a flicker bearing the light of the world– in yours.