Sunday, November 23, 2008

New neighbors

We're moving, The Lovely Joanne and I, to a house. It's been a lovely year here at the apartment, but we have really, really wanted to get into a place we could call our own. So we've finally managed to find a house we could afford, got a mortgage, the whole deal, and are moving.

We won't have the cute little yap-yap dog across the hallway, or the people downstairs who smoke strange-smelling cigarettes at night, or some of the other wonderful amenities one finds in an apartment building. I'll miss them all! But we have a new set of neighbors -- some people we have met and most we haven't had a chance to meet but want to, as soon as we can.

This happened to the Son of God 2,000 years ago. The Message Bible says in John 1:14, "The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood." We see this today as one fulfillment of what was said in Isaiah 7:14, "All right then, the Lord himself will give you the sign. Look! The virgin will conceive a child! She will give birth to a son and will call him Immanuel (which means ‘God is with us’)." God came to live within his creation -- living in a physical world, becoming flesh and blood and bone, but still God -- as Paul tells us in Colossians 1:19, "For God in all his fullness was pleased to live in Christ".

This is an astounding truth, and of all the astounding truths of Christianity, probably the greatest one. That God, who is the maker of everything there is, would decide to limit himself by descending into that creation (a little like crawling inside a tiny soap bubble, to give you a sense of perspective) and then allow himself to suffer and die at the hands of his creation, is just plain beyond me. But the Bible says it's true. Amazing. Impossible to get a grip on. Blows my limited imagination all to smithereens. But true. Wow!

This current Advent season is the time of year we Christians use to stop and try to understand the implications of this ancient prophecy come true. The date of Jesus' birth in the flesh isn't known, although there is some historical evidence that points to December; and the date itself isn't important. Advent is more than Christmas itself, since Advent includes teaching about the Second Coming (parousia, in the Greek) as well as the first. Still, this birth was something very, very special, because when it happened, the angels jumped into physical space to announce it: "Suddenly, the angel was joined by a vast host of others—the armies of heaven—praising God and saying, 'Glory to God in highest heaven, and peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased.' " (Luke 2:13-14) . Now, you don't get that kind of angelic action happening a lot in the Bible, but it's there at special times (see Job 38:7 and Luke 15:10 for examples). So for the angels, the Son of God becoming flesh was a very big deal -- so maybe it should be for us too. It brought the creation back into touch -- literally -- with the Creator, and made the salvation of all humanity possible through his death.

Over the next 33 years or so, Jesus got to know his neighbors really well. He got very close to a select few, and they told their true story to many more who believed, and, well, the rest is history as they say. But with that one bold stroke, he changed it all: by coming into the creation, he brought it back to himself once and for all, and nothing would be the same again. We're God's neighbors now, and in effect, we get to live in his neighborhood, and can get to know him. We can have coffee with him on the front porch. Invite him over for a meal. Ask him questions. Introduce him to the guy next door with the huge dog and the parrot. Let the kids crawl up on his lap. Become his friend. After all, he went the enormous distance between eternity and humanity, first, to become our neighbor. Are you getting to know him?

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