Down & Through

I recently attended a conference in Washington, DC in the midst of a scorching summer. In stark contrast to the outside temperature, the conference center was frigid. In order to warm up a bit between sessions, I either had to descend three escalators to reach the balmy outdoors, or I could sit in a windowed corner of the conference center on the third floor where the sun shone in.

During one of the breaks, as I am sitting enjoying the relative warmth in the windowed corner of the third floor, I hear a chirping overhead. I look up to see a small bird trapped inside the building. The bird, with futility, was trying to get outside by flying against the windows. Every minute or so the bird would rest on a perch, then seek again to exit through the glass. If one window pane did not work, the bird would fly across to the next. I so badly wanted to help the bird, but these windows were not the kind that open up. I also realized that this bird would never trust me enough to guide it down into the belly of the building towards the doors that lead outside. To look towards the windows, the bird could see the outside, right there! To look towards the escalators it was dark. How could it ever make sense to this bird that down was indeed the way out?

It hit me as I thought about all of the ways that I could try to free this bird, that I often react in the same way as this bird. How often is the way out, actually down? But how often do I, with futility, try to fly against a closed window pane?

There is a lot of language in Scripture that talks about the need to go low, to go further down and in before we can go up and out:

  • No one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. (John 3:13)
  • Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. (John 12:24)
  • Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted. (Matt. 23:12)

Jesus had to come down from the Father to make a way for us to go up; the grain must first die in the dark underground soil before it can burst forth into the light; one must first be humbled in order to be exalted. Is there anything going on in your life right now where the liberated way is actually down and through something first? – a sickness, a hard conversation, a deeper examination of privilege and race in our communities, lament over the brokenness in our world, the process and journey of just peacemaking in the midst of conflicts…

I find I am often mistaken about a clean, linear way forward. May we not be confused and disheartened like the bird when sometimes the way forward is down and through.

The Incarnational Christ of Christmas

Today I was talking with a friend who is currently without a home. He told me that he is never comfortable going to meet people in unfamiliar places. He continued to say that he is much more comfortable with people coming to places that he frequents and into places that he is comfortable with. I can relate, I would much rather spend the night at home, or in familiar territory, than to strike out into a place that is unfamiliar. I am more comfortable when people come into my space.

Reflecting on this, I was moved afresh in celebration of Christmas this week of what Jesus has done for me. He knows that I am comfortable in my sin. He knows that I wouldn’t want Him or desire Him apart from His pursuit of me. He left the comfort of His home to come into my space.

As I was talking with my friend, another group came up and began talking with us. One of the men asked my friend, “have you been good?”. That is where we can all go, and that is what the naughty-or-nice-checking-his-list-twice Christmas has taught us. That is what every religion tries to teach us: “Be good.” But Christ came, knowing that we can’t be good, all the time, in every way. He came to place His Spirit in us, to place His righteousness in us. He came into our space. He is knocking at the door of our hearts, asking to be let in (Rev. 3:20).

That is Christmas. The incarnational Christ, coming to earth, because God so loved the world (John 3:16). I grew up hearing about a different Jesus. I heard the decree to “be good”. However, the command to “be good” is like putting the cart before the horse. In my twenties, I met others who came into my space, they told me about a Jesus that didn’t want my good works, but a Jesus that wanted to do a good work in me. A Jesus who wanted to breath true life in me, to live life as it is truly meant to be lived. Jesus pulls the cart…Jesus made the cart!

This Christmas don’t settle for the naughty-or-nice-checking-his-list-twice Jesus. This Christmas celebrate Jesus – God who took on the form of man (Phil. 2:5-11). Celebrate and give thanks to God who came into our space. Ladies, gospel yourselves this Christmas – Jesus came into the world so that we could flourish in life now, and so that we would even have the desire for a better, lasting home, as well as the way to get there (John 14:6-7). This Christmas, and everyday, Christ’s Spirit in us now compels us to go out into the world. His Spirit in us compels us out of our place of comfort (just as He did for us) into other people’s spaces, as ambassadors of this gospel.

Truth: “Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you had known me, you would have known my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.’” ~ John 14:6-7