THERE GOES THE NEIGHBORHOOD!

IMG_0051 - CopyWe must have resembled a scene out of the Beverly Hillbillies. Our minivan was packed front to back, floor to ceiling, with furniture, boxes, and suitcases. More boxes were strapped to the luggage rack on top. A fake fichus tree took up the passenger seat next to me blocking my view to right. The only thing missing was Granny sitting in her rocking chair on top. We were in the midst of a cross-town move from north to south Phoenix, a move we were attempting to undertake all by ourselves.

          My wife, Babs, was following me in our station wagon, equally packed with various belongings. Upon arriving at our new abode Babs parked her car, hopped out and began calling out directions in order to assist me in backing into our new driveway. I had temporarily stopped in the middle of the street awaiting Babs’ directions when, in perfect timing, our new neighbors (you know, the ones with whom we’d really like to leave a good first impression) backed out of their own driveway and pulled up directly behind me not realizing what we were attempting to do. Instantly Babs sprang into action running up to the driver’s window of our neighbors’ car in order to explain to them that we were trying to back our over-stuffed van into our driveway. In her excitement, however, her unfortunate choice of words conveyed an entirely different scenario.

          “You’d better get out of the way,” she shouted loud enough for everyone up and down the street to hear. “My husband can’t see very well—he’s loaded!”

          As I desperately tried to conceal myself with the leaves of a fake tree I watched in the rear-view mirror as our new neighbors abruptly turned around and sped off in the opposite direction. I can imagine them muttering to themselves something like, “There goes the neighborhood!”

          The memory of this embarrassing moment came to mind when I read a description of another move, one with eternal consequences.

“The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood.” – John 1:14 (The Message).

I love the contemporary wording of this famous verse because it paints a profound picture of the incarnation of Christ. God left behind the “ivory towers” of heaven and moved into the blighted neighborhood of planet earth. He is Emmanuel, “God with us,” not somewhere out there looking down on us from a distance, but living with us in our messed-up world, right in our own “hood.” Yet for those of us who have accepted Christ as Lord, the incarnation is even closer. Through the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit the Word continues to become flesh and blood, living out His life in and through us.

          Yes, the miracle of the incarnation of Christ is a daily occurrence, and as we move about our neighborhoods at work or play, the “flesh and blood” of Jesus is revealed for the world to see. It is a wonderful blessing to let our neighbors see Jesus in us. But at times, due to other items we might have packed for the journey, our living demonstration of Christ could be a little embarrassing. While Babs and I were unpacking from a more recent move, this one accomplished through the aid of professional movers, we were amused to discover that they had carefully wrapped up one of our trash baskets, still filled with trash!

          Is there any baggage other than Jesus we carry around that might be a little less desirable to exhibit? When others look at us do they see the Lord or are we so jam-packed full of worldly possessions that He remains hidden from view? Do some of the things we treasure actually cover the incarnated “flesh and blood” of Christ with trash? It is one thing to ask the Lord to dwell in our hearts, to take up residence in the neighborhood of our lives; it is quite another thing to allow Him to renovate the premises, tossing out items that get in the way of His ministry, bringing in new furniture with which He is more comfortable.

“But now you must rid yourselves of all such things as these:  anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator…Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.” – Colossians 3:8-14.

There is yet another chapter to this story of the continuing incarnation of Christ. The Word has become flesh and blood and moved into the neighborhood of planet earth. The Word daily incarnates Himself in the flesh and blood of His followers. And the Word compels His followers to move out into their neighborhoods carrying Jesus with them as they go. In so doing our neighborhoods are once again invaded with the flesh and blood of Christ.

          It is the aim of the simple church movement to leave behind the steepled, stained glass towers of the institutional church and move into the sin-blighted neighborhoods that surround us. As we do so we carry with us the compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience, forbearance, forgiveness, and love of the Lord. Through our Christ-like actions the flesh and blood of the Lord is again incarnated into planet earth, and those who are touched by our love will proclaim, “The Word has become flesh and blood and moved into the neighborhood!” So we take Jesus with us and have church everywhere we go, at home, at school, at work, at the local coffee shop, even at the pub down the street. Even now I can see the devil reversing course and high-tailing it away from us. Even now I can here him muttering to himself as he glares at us in his rear-view mirror, “There goes the neighborhood!”

          As we celebrate this very special season let us not only praise God for becoming flesh and blood and moving into the neighborhood of planet earth and taking up residence in our hearts, let us also ask Him to help us find ways to continue His incarnation through us into our own neighborhoods. Thank you, heavenly Father, for Emmanuel, “God with us,” Christ in us, Christ through us, and, we pray, into our neighbors as well.

Bill, a child of God, and part of His continuing incarnation

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