“Order please,” my 4-year-old daughter asked, marker and notepad in hand.
“I’ll take a grilled cheese,” I responded.
She went away to the play kitchen, returning a few minutes later with a plate of plastic foods and Legos.
“Yummy,” I said, pretending to eat, “The best grilled cheese yet.”
“Mommmmmmy,” Susannah rolled her eyes, “That wasn’t grilled cheese.”
“Oh … what was it?”
She launched into an epic story – a parable, if you will.
“Well, Mommy, you can’t eat grilled cheese because we don’t have any grilled cheese. The Susannah and Simon Diner got really busy today. Everyone wanted grilled cheese! So, we made A LOT of grilled cheese. Stacks and stacks of grilled cheese. Grilled cheese up to the sky! THEN a giant, giant monster came. He ate up ALL the grilled cheese. Then the diner caught on fire and the monster ran away.”
Then this little storyteller said matter-of-factly, “And that’s why we had to move in with Jesus.”
“Wait, what?” I said, stunned at this sudden plot twist. “You had to move in with Jesus?”
“Yes. Simon and me slept in his nice comfy bed.”
“You took Jesus’ bed?” I said a little appalled, “Where did Jesus sleep?”
“In the attic,” she said, “He gave us his bed.” Then she cleared my dishes and went back to the play kitchen.
Scholars may disagree, but I believe this child of God has a pretty good grasp on Incarnational Theology. Isn’t “we moved in with Jesus” just a different way a saying “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us”? (John 1:14) So, if you have ears to hear, listen: when your grilled cheese is eaten by monsters, when your diner burns down, when your life gets turned upside down, you can move in with Jesus. When we face pandemics, injustice, division, grief, loss, and uncertainty, Jesus moves in with us.
As we move closer and closer to Christmas and the celebration of the birth of Jesus, I am finding much comfort in the mystery of the Incarnation – that the God of all things chose to come down to this messy, chaotic, broken, and wounded world to live with us. What kind of God do we serve? A God who is “with us” in the mess. Modern English Bibles translate the beauty of John 1:14 differently and I love them all:
- The Word became flesh and made his home among us (CEB)
- And the Word became flesh and lived among us (NRSV)
- The Word became a human being. (NIRV)
- And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us (KJV)
- The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood. (MSG)
- That’s why we had to move in with Jesus (New Revised Susannah version)
Jesus has moved in with us, in our neighborhood, in our homes. What a beautiful reminder, especially as we’ve surely seen a lot more of our homes in the last 2 years. Personally, I’ve seen a lot more of my home than I care to. If your home looks anything like mine, then it’s also a giant messy chaos of toys, laundry, and things that don’t belong where they currently are. My husband and I joke a lot, as he’s had the opportunity to travel for work this year. He’s been to cities all over the country, but I’ve been on this block, between 7th and 8th Ave. It’s a good thing it’s a nice block.
It’s a good thing Jesus is here, with us in this house, with us on this block, with us in this mess. Christmas is a good time to remember that in the multi-faceted crises of the last 2 years, Jesus moved into our homes in very real ways. Jesus is always with us, of course, but we don’t often take notice of Jesus in our everyday life spaces. Instead, we’ve relegated Jesus to sanctuaries, Sunday mornings, and Bible studies. Yet, when the COVID-19 crisis hit, churches were forced to close the doors of buildings and open up ministry online. Instead of worshipping in sanctuaries, we worshipped on livestreams. Instead of sitting in pews, we sat on couches. Instead of dressing in our Sunday best, we wore our pajamas. Instead of putting on our “fine” faces, we faced God just as we were, right where we were. Jesus moved in with us.
Our everyday spaces have become holy spaces. Families huddled around computer screens. Pets laid in laps. Children played on the floor. We grabbed bread items and juice items from our pantries, as pastors blessed Communion elements on a screen. Some prayed in the silence. Some prayed above the noise. All brought their weariness to God. Jesus moved in with us.
In a very real way, the crisis has forced us to be with Jesus in the places where he met people during his earthly ministry. We have only a handful of biblical stories about Jesus inside a place of worship, but we have story after story of Jesus inside homes. Jesus visited Mary and Martha’s home (Lk 10:38-42). Jesus stayed at Zacchaeus’ home (Lk 19:5). Jesus healed at Peter’s home (Mt 8:14-15). Jesus preached and healed in his own home in Capernaum (Mk 2:1-12). In Jesus’ own home, so many people crowded in that, perhaps, Jesus did give up his bed to them (he certainly gave up his roof).
In each of these narratives, Jesus encounters a person or people in crisis – a spiritual crisis, an identity crisis, a health crisis, and a community crisis. Jesus moved in amid crisis.
In each of our narratives, Jesus moved in amid crisis. Even though we were all living through the same crisis on a global scale, our individual situations were different. Some lost loved ones; some lost jobs. Some worked on the front lines; some worked from home. Some were lonely; some craved a moment alone. Some were weary from overwork; some were weary from boredom. Some faced health crises; some were caretakers. Some faced racial injustice; some learned to be allies. In each and in all, Jesus moved in.
Somehow, through livestreams, zooms, production, and technology glitches, we figured out how to bring worship into the homes of our church family. Somehow, separated physically from one another, we found ways to care for each other more intensely than ever before. Somehow, in ways we never thought possible, we expanded our mission work to care for the ever-growing needs of our community (food, goods, and services). Somehow, in ways that only God’s knows, God was ever more present. Somehow, this crisis has opened our eyes to see God working outside the sanctuary walls. Somehow, Jesus has moved in, and Jesus intends to stay.
The question for the Christian Church after the storm is this: do we intend to stay with Jesus, or will we go back to where we once lived? Will we accept how God has transformed us? Will we allow ourselves, our churches, and our ministries to be made new? As a Pastor in this time of great change, I am both excited for the opportunity and terrified of leading change. We now find ourselves in an in between space. Some of my church family regularly worship in the sanctuary, while many worship from home. For much of 2020, we focused on online worship at home. For much of 2021, our focus shifted to offering a safe worship space in the sanctuary, while live-streaming that worship to folks at home. In 2022, we need to find a way to inhabit both spaces. To recognize that Jesus is at home in all the places where we are. To find ways to come together as a community of faith in worship, service, education, and mission from all those spaces.
I confess that I do know what this will look like. I confess that I don’t understand technology enough to know what’s possible. I confess that I don’t know what the future will look like. But then again, 2 years ago I didn’t know how to produce a worship video for livestream either. 2 years ago, I proclaimed on March 11, 2020 that there would never be a reason to close a church building and not offer worship in the sanctuary. God proved me wrong, and opened up a new world of possibilities. So now I wonder what surprising things God will do next.
For God has moved in with us to show us that nothing is impossible if we have ears enough to listen, hearts enough to love, and minds enough to transform. This Christmas, may Jesus move in right where you are. May God be “with you” in the beautiful mess. May God surprise us once again.
Next time my daughter asks for my order, I’m going to request the surprise special. For I choose to live into the knowledge that God, “by the power at work within us, is able to accomplish abundantly far more than we can ask or imagine” (Ephesians 3:20).