The Advent season draws our thoughts to the miracle of the Incarnation, “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14) – or as the Message colorfully paraphrases it “The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood”. Our salvation was not wrought by Jesus swooping down from Heaven in a single day to fix our troubles and then ride off into the sunset. He was “born of a woman”. He was made like us “in every way”. As a child he “grew and became strong”. As an adult he went to synagogue, got hungry, slept, cried and celebrated weddings. In every way he lived the day to day realities of a first century Jewish peasant. As Christians, we are called to proclaim the good news of what Jesus did and to serve as he served, but we are not simply to do the things Jesus did – feed the hungry and proclaim the gospel, welcome the stranger and pray for the sick – but to do things in the way that he did. The Incarnation is a model of ministry. This is particularly apparent to our family. We have packed boxes and moved to a new ZIP code. We have sent our change of address notifications and I’ve updated my computer’s weather notification. We’re moving into the neighborhood to minister as part of a new congregation and community. As a pastor becoming part of a particular community and serving a particular congregation is the way my vocation is exercised. What is true here for pastoral ministry is also true for the “ministry of reconciliation” given to all Christians. The ministry of all the baptized is done as part of a particular culture, place, and time. Ministry is not “Us” helping “Them”. Christians are not to be sequestered from the world; that is we are still “in” the world though not “of” it. We all follow Christ among our friends and neighbors, classmates and co-workers, and amid the funerals, ballgames and PTO meetings we point to Christ.
As one early disciple explained:
The Christians are distinguished from other men neither by country, nor language, nor the customs which they observe. For they neither inhabit cities of their own, nor employ a peculiar form of speech, nor lead a life which is marked out by any singularity. … inhabiting Greek as well as barbarian cities, according as the lot of each of them has determined, and following the customs of the natives in respect to clothing, food, and the rest of their ordinary conduct, they display to us their wonderful and confessedly striking method of life. They dwell in their own countries, but simply as sojourners.