If you opened this up after reading the title, I thank you for letting your curiosity get the best of you.
So, what’s going on here? I think I can sum this up pretty quickly. First, the Birth of Jesus: God comes to us in the form of a small baby. It goes well beyond salvation, forgiveness of sins, etc. It shows us that God is found in unlikely places. God works in and values things that the world doesn’t – like the humble instead of the grand; vulnerability instead of power.
And John the Baptist…..his whole message can be summed up like this: PAY ATTENTION. Pay attention because God is near; the Kingdom of God is at hand. Pay attention because God doesn’t reveal himself in the things the world pays attention to.
Which brings me to the New Year (2013)…..a lot of people are making goals and resolutions. I don’t. But I do reflect, and lately I’ve been doing a lot of that. I reflect on tragedies that happen in small elementary schools, small towns, inner cities, and suburbs. I reflect on arguments between politicians and differences over solutions to fix big problems in this world. I reflect on arguments over correct theology. I reflect recent, sudden deaths of people in my life. I reflect on how cancer takes so many people before their time. I reflect on the struggles my wrestlers go through in the midst of our season.
The truth is, I’ve been wrestling with a lot in my life, and I bet that it’s true for people all over. I try to make sense of not only everything that’s happening in the world and what my Christian faith has to do with it all, but also where to go moving forward – in my work, in my relationships, and honestly, just in each day – one step at a time.
Let me be very blunt for a second. We have this preoccupation in our society with “big problems.” We like to get caught up in the big issues, and how everything is going to possibly fall apart. And we have this obsession with trying to fix those big problems. We get fixated on arguing about what legislation, law, or reform will solve things, and we believe in the lie that we will make it all go away.
Frankly, I think our church and Christians get way too caught up in pointing fingers on who’s to blame for the problems in our world. We get way too fixated on advocating and taking hard stances on human solutions and passing them off as being “prophetic” and bringing God’s “justice” to the world. We get too caught up speaking for God, and honestly, trying to be God ourselves. And the whole time God is saying: PAY ATTENTION.
Engaging in the world’s problems and working for justice is certainly a part of being Christian, and being the church in the world. But what does it mean when we spend all our time trying to fix a health care system and lobby for gun control, and we don’t realize we’re marginalizing those who we label as offenders? What does it mean when we spend all our time talking about how the government should be providing for people, when the church doesn’t lift a finger itself? What does it mean when we spend all our time proclaiming how the rest of the world should be the church, and we aren’t being the Church?
In all my reflection, I feel that we’ve lost a sense of paying attention to the simple, the humble, the things and people in our spaces around us. And for me, that’s what I think God is telling us in the story of God coming among us as a small baby of humble beginnings, and in the story of a “voice crying in the wilderness.” Pay attention to the small things, the unlikely things.
Pay attention to your family and friends.
Pay attention to people at work, in your neighborhood, on the street.
Pay attention to people who are angry, without hope, in despair.
Pay attention to people who are hurting and in pain; suffering and mourning.
Pay attention to people who are asking us questions about faith – even skeptical ones.
Pay attention to people without compassion or caring; who are selfish and cold.
Pay attention to them, look them in the eye and really see them. And love them. Reach out to them. Care for them. Listen and talk with them.
Pay attention to need for both accountability and grace in God vision of justice….and in ours.
It won’t be perfect. It’ll probably scare the hell out of you because well, entering into the reality of our world is scary. Heck, nothing profound or big will come out of it most the time. But, it’s what it means to be the church, and what it means to be a person of faith.
And those of you who lead God’s people, who serve in ministry: PAY ATTENTION. Pay attention to the things and people immediately around you; be fully present in and with them. And be courageous enough to talk about them with others with accountability and grace in the words you say.
I’m going to take that as a challenge for myself this year and really wrestle with it. And perhaps, that’s exactly where God is and has been telling us he’ll meet us the whole time….now that’s a crazy thought, isn’t it?!