I am not a hopeless romantic, to confuse me for such would be like confusing a color for a square. Proof of this fact is not in short order, but one story will suffice. Last week, we got into a conversation with friends about our first dates. I turned to Jill and asked if she remembered what we did on our first date. She quickly answered, “Yes, we ordered carry out pizza and watched the World Series.” Admittedly, I might need to sign up for a romance tutor, but I have also learned relationships are less about that stuff than we imagine.
One of things Jill and I have often done together is go to concerts. I have two favorites, Death Cab for Cutie during the Plans tour and the Avett Brothers this year. It is great to gather with other lyric-singing fans and spend an evening listening to live music. The thing is, concerts are not the height of music for me. The beauty of music is in the bonds it creates and the memory it holds. A particular song has the power to transport. The brevity of a concert is nothing to a consistent sound track to life.
I think often about the incarnation, the coming of Jesus into our world. This decision as Phillipians tells was a decision to leave glory and become a servant. God became flesh and dwelled in our neighborhood. God notices and is attentive to the deep human quandary in such a way that God becomes man. This is the ultimate act of listening and being present with creation. In Exodus, we read about a God who turns his ear towards the Israelites. These cries for liberation compelled God to action, just as the groans and cries of all of creation compelled the sending of Jesus.
Jonathan Wilson Hartgrove, in The Wisdom of Stability writes, “Marred though it may be, our world has not been abandoned but rather embraced by a God who saved us by refusing to leave the place where we are—by drawing closer, even, to our self-inflicted violence and suffering on the cross. . .The incarnation is the ultimate testimony to the revolutionary power of stability.”
The Creeds say very little about the life of Jesus. It is birth, death, and resurrection, but this leaves us in the high moments. The life of Jesus cannot fall off the page nor can it be turned into a moral slogan where we use Jesus as an archetype for our daily quandaries. The incarnation shows us God’s consistent decision to love us year by year, day by day, moment by moment. It is the vulnerable way of a God who comes near.
This kind of decision is not the way I am formed. It is much easier for me to work in short bursts of love and kindness. These moments allow me to care for and take care of another person on my terms. It holds the other at an even arms length. We are allowed to foster a sense of relationship, but no one is asked to be vulnerable or to make real space for the other.
The decision to a consistent love requires a full incarnation. It demands that we make ourselves open and vulnerable to the other and it invites us to stability. As green as the grass looks on the other side, we are called to embrace a people and a place. Any serious relationship is based in this kind of commitment.
The teachings of Jesus centered around this way of life. Around forgiveness, hospitality, patience, peace, and the love of enemies. In a world of rights and individuality this way of life makes no sense. It is weakness and foolishness, but in the Kingdom of God it is the power of God. These kinds of practices offer us to relate to the other in the highs and lows of relationships.
In college, I read Rodney Stark’s book The Rise of Christianity. The book developed how the Christian movement grew from a small sect to a world religion. One of the key themes was the consistent decision of the early Christians to love and care for those around them.
Stark tells of the early Christians who gain the reputation as those who took care of people, even their enemies. He describes an epidemic early in the 3rd Century. Contagious disease tore through the community and at times the area doctors would run to the hills to escape the certain death sentence. The Christians, however, stayed and helped those who were ill, They would gather up the bed ridden and hold them in their arms. These acts were part of the particular way of the early Christians. Their consistent decision to love the world sparked something.
The embrace of a community of people in the ordinary space of human life is the call of the Kingdom. We are to inhabit the ordinary spaces of life with others, so they can find in us a consistent commitment. Just as God is known by steadfast love and kindness, we must be a people known for our faithful, commitment to all people.
They will know us by our love.