born from below
Rev. Shalom AgtarapPastor | First United Methodist Church of Tacoma
From John 1:1-14
Christmas Day has arrived and God’s own self is among us once again, way too close for comfort and yet the deepest source of comfort, if I am honest. John’s prologue is a poetic way of saying the same Spirit that gave birth to creation is giving birth again, coming closer, always closer, always in the flesh, and particularly in most vulnerable flesh among us.
The Word comes among us and makes it very plain: You want to meet Christ? Look into the face of the person closest to you, particularly the most vulnerable. If you want to come alive, look into the face of the one who is suffering, whose head is bowed low, whose heart is breaking. When I begin to notice what breaks their heart, I can begin to find my own heartbreak and connect our stories. The more I am with my neighbor, the more I come alive and experience the nearness of God.
Every act of being human closes the gap. Intentional eye contact, being curious about the sibling on the street, asking why there are perpetual helpers and perpetual ones “in need.” This closes the distance. When I am desperate to meet Christ, I look into the face of the person closest to me.
And when I am really desperate I look into the face of the person who interrupts my meal who needs to use the restroom. The person waiting for a bus in the rain. The hardest thing for me to do in this time when I have received abundant gifts of family, feast, and fun — is to look into the face of another who hasn’t received much of anything.
I feel this every day I enter the building at 621 Tacoma Avenue South. There are usually two women sleeping out back where I park, and they remind me of truths I conveniently forget when I’m in my own warm bed: affordable housing is beyond reach for many, and the wet and cold winters in the Pacific Northwest are brutal. I feel the tension of walking into a building that is quiet and often underutilized, while life is teeming —with its suffering and beauty —just on the other side of the door.
I wonder if this is why the Logos chooses to descend at Christmas.
I wonder if the Word takes on flesh because God has compassion on our not-quite-aliveness and desires only to infuse us with more. More love. More connection. More justice. More for more people.
I so often want to do more. I want to protest. I want to be active. I want to it on behalf of others, the very dear ones I’ve invoked here. But the invitation of this day is that before we do for, can we be with? Yes, before Jesus gives his life for us, Jesus is with us. The Logos dwells and abides.
When I begin to despair—about another person sleeping out in the cold on Tacoma Avenue, more hipsters on the Hilltop, and my own inability to meet my neighbor with compassion—I remind myself of the human work needed now and these beautiful lines by Howard Thurman:
When the song of the angels is stilled,
when the star in the sky is gone,
when the kings and princes are home,
when the shepherds are back with their flocks,
the work of Christmas begins:
to find the lost, to heal the broken,
to feed the hungry, to release the prisoner,
to rebuild the nations, to bring peace among the people,
to make music in the heart.
The Work of Christmas by Howard Thurman
This is what is necessary. This is the work of Christmas that closes the gap and helps us claim the name of Christ.
Dwelling Among Us
Is there a word or phrase stands out to you? What is it calling forth?
What are the gaps in your life and in our city? If Christmas is not primarily an invitation to work harder at making connections but an invitation to resist less to God’s desire to come closer, what would this mean in your life?
Connect with one person at your Christmas celebration(s) with whom there is a gap. Come closer. Consider what you are doing to resist that connection. Stop resisting, let it go, close the gap. Pray this prayer: Emmanuel, born from below, come. Help us lessen our resistance to your desire to come closer, especially through those who are different than us.