God in the 'Hood
Ask most people what Bible passages they think about in connection with Christmas, and they will often point to the well-known story of Mary & Joseph, the angels and the shepherds, from Luke 2. Some people will throw in Matthew 2, and the story of the Wise Men, and the Christmas Star, the wicked King Herod and the murder of the innocents. Those are certainly great stories, and they for sure give us the details of Jesus' birth. But that's not my favorite Christmas Bible verse.
The scripture verse I like best at this time of year is John 1:14. Most translations will say something like, "The Word became flesh, and dwelt among us. And we beheld his glory - glory as of the Only Begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth." But I especially like the way that the Bible paraphrase "The Message" puts it: "The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood."
When you think about it, that's a pretty good way of expressing exactly what Jesus did when he came to earth. Here's what I mean.
Moving into a neighborhood reflects a choice. It's possible to accidentally pass through a given area or section of town, but you don't MOVE IN unless you mean to do so. Moving into a neighborhood means you chose it - and you probably chose it for a reason. There may be many different reasons why someone would pick a given neighborhood, but obviously, it doesn't happen by accident. You have to do some planning, some preparation, and spend some time and effort in the process.
The Bible says that God sent Jesus "when the time had fully come" (Gal. 4:4). In other words, it wasn't some kind of last-minute, half-hearted effort. It was a deliberate choice that the Father and the Son made to enter into our humanity, to provide the example of how we ought to live and the atonement for when we could not. Jesus chose to become like us, so that we could become like him.
Every neighborhood has its own blessings - and challenges. We all recognize that there's no such thing as a perfect neighborhood; we also know that every neighborhood also has its own unique advantages. If all we do is complain about problems, we will miss the good gifts around us.
When Jesus became human, he willingly accepted the limitations of his humanity. He couldn't be everyone at once any more. He accepted the frailties of a physical body. He voluntarily limited himself so that he could fully experience the human condition. But he also received the blessing of feeling wonder at the beauty and marvel that is creation, and could understand from personal experience the love of the Father for his children.
Neighborhoods invite relationships. When we live close to others, we build relationships. Not every neighbor becomes a best friend, but we understand the value of good neighbors and looking out for each other.
As a "neighbor," Jesus has entered into our lives, and he invites us to enter into a relationship with him. Really, that's what Christianity is - not going to church, not keeping a bunch of rules, but being in a relationship with Jesus, sharing life together. As the commercial says, it's not complicated.
Jesus said that one of the two most important commandments was to love our neighbors as ourselves. He demonstrated that truth by becoming a neighbor to us, and inviting us to become his neighbor and friend, both now and into eternity.
Jesus in the manger. God in the neighborhood. Merry Christmas.