God Shows Up

by | Dec 11, 2023

Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.

John 1:14

There’s a hidden gift of the PC(USA), an online journal on justice called Unbound which is Presbyterian in its roots but ecumenical in its approach. The editors pulled together a Womanist Advent Devotional called Another Starry Black Night—sorry; I should have sent this to you earlier! But you can catch up pretty quickly.

I took the title of this column from the devotional’s Christmas Day entry, written by Rev. Traci Blackmon, Associate General Minister and Vice President of Justice and Local Church Ministries for the United Church of Christ. Christmas is proof that in God’s timing, God showed up for us in Jesus Christ. But the essay that resonates for me today is called “Body Language,” written by Shantell Hinton Hill, a Disciples of Christ minister working with the Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation. She writes about the priest Zechariah, who spent his life praying to God, seemingly without answer. Indeed, his prayers were preceded by hundreds of years of unanswered prayers of his people. And though his yearnings—for peace, for salvation, even for children for himself and his wife Elizabeth—extended beyond childbearing years, he persevered in his priestly duties. As Rev. Hill wrote:

. . . [T]he people of Judea were struggling under the weight of a tyrannical regime of a king who had no honor. According to religious and historical scholars, King Herod ruled his empire with an iron fist – using security measures to both suppress the contempt of the people and stop them from protesting his authority…………………… It is against this backdrop that Zechariah maintained his commitment to his priestly orders and continued showing up to serve in the temple.

Advent is a season of expectancy, but when things are especially conflicted, and it feels like our prayers are going unanswered, we wonder if God is listening, or even if God cares. Lately I have been troubled by the many acts and attitudes that make me think we have lost the ability to honor the humanity in others. Rage erupts into not just violence, but humiliation and burning vengeance. Government officials seek retribution rather than caring for the people they are supposed to serve. Even advocates for justice seem to get so caught up in their cause that they lose sight of the persons involved, glossing over acts of rape or reducing individuals to collateral damage or involuntary martyrs.

There are all sorts of reasons to mourn the loss of our sense of shared humanity. For me, in this season of Advent, I think how God loves us humans so much that God would become one of us in Jesus Christ. If God cares that much for us, and if Jesus calls us to see him in even the “least” of us, how can we fail to appreciate the divine spark in each person?

Practically speaking, I see the little ways we choose efficiency over appreciating all that God has put into each life. Lately I’ve thought about how difficult it is to recognize all the ways we identify ourselves, especially in the spectrum of gender identities and disabilities. I confess that I have not spent much time trying to understand the many ways people see themselves and their sexuality, and one thing I know about being disabled is that every one of us is disabled in a different way, and things change as time goes on. So how do we easily categorize people if there are almost as many categories as there are people?

The only thought I have right now is that we need to slow down and choose to stop and listen to others, and accept how they see themselves, rather than look for the most expedient way to organize them into manageable boxes. I like to think that this can be done in church more than most of the rest of the world, even if that means we don’t get everything done that we think the world expects of us.

Now I’m probably the last person to suggest we slow down and just enjoy the people God has put in our life. Maybe like every other preacher, we preach what we need to hear. In any case, some of us are better than others at connecting with people one-on-one, and others can see more clearly systems and concepts that impact many lives. Obviously there is value in both perspectives: we cannot see the person without understanding how the brokenness of the world impacts them, and we lose our effectiveness in advocating for systemic change if we dismiss the people we claim to be speaking for.

As we look ahead to the promise of Jesus’ birth, may we take the time to consider the humanity of Christ. May we remember that God showed up for all of us—in a poor, displaced child in an occupied land, born after many centuries of pleas for justice. That little child grew up to tell his friends that we now must show up—and see what God sees in our fragile but intricate humanity, what God sees and loves so much as to join us in our human state. May we take the time and trouble to see the humanity in each other, and to love God’s children as we love ourselves. And in so doing, may we be bearers of Christ’s peace.

with love,