Be Incarnational Love

I went to see The Help a while back with a couple of friends. On our way out of the theater, one of them asked what prejudice we might have in our modern society that 50 years later will be unfathomable. Thinking that there was a time in American history when persons of a darker skin tone were not considered human was unfathomable for me. I was still a bit speechless from the journey of the characters through the movie and found myself searching my own heart: Who are the marginalized today that will make us look foolish?

With Advent season here, I have been thinking about this question again. I have some specific answers, for me, that are not attractive, but here goes. I am very uncomfortable with nursing homes that smell like stale urine and bland food, where it seems that we store old people who have outlived their usefulness, where residents might wander up to you and kiss you or scratch you without knowing who you are (or who they are). I also don't do well with people who are mentally ill or mentally handicapped. Their stories can be difficult to understand and their moods sometimes unpredictable. I also find it difficult to be around them when they don't "behave" appropriately in public. This discomfort began when I was in high school and there were often mentally handicapped adults on the bus home who were acting out sexually which was both gross and embarrassing.

I find myself ashamed of these prejudices, but it is really that I am awkward and uncomfortable more than truly prejudiced. I don't know how to be in the presence of these individuals, how to relate to them. What do you talk about to people who will not understand? How do you live among people who cannot do what you can? Each of these groups are so different than me. I care for myself. I know who I am. I find purpose and worth in my work. I understand social norms and boundaries and when I cross them, I mean to, usually. Perhaps this self reliance and pride is what made me struggle so much after losing my job. Perhaps this self determination and arrogance is what gets in the way of my relationships with people that I care about. Perhaps these traits also make me more reserved and resistant to surrender.

And then I think about Jesus. I thought about him at church on Sunday, about how little I know him. What I know about him is the difference he has made in my life and the lives of others, but I couldn't pick him out of a lineup. I don't know where he lives that I could send him a letter, or know his email address for that matter. I don't know what he likes to do in his free time, if he even has any time he isn't speaking things into creation & changing hearts from stone, or if he has "time."

When I think about what his life might be like, figuring it has to be more amazing than I could even imagine, since his ways and thoughts are higher than mine, I wonder why he loved us so much, how he loved us so much. He left his glorious existence with the Father behind and slipped into the temporary & feeble flesh of man. He chose incarnation to demonstrate his love for us.  Choosing this, he knew most couldn't understand him, wouldn't accept him and instead that we would scratch him, curse him, refuse him. He is so much more than all of our goodness piled together, and yet he tolerated us. He really didn't tolerate us; he spent time with us. He ate dinner. He celebrated. He taught. He laughed. He worked. He suffered. He sacrificed. He died. He rose. He loved. He promised.

Our sins don't put him off, our humanity doesn't gross him out or our messiness embarrass him. Jesus entered into the mess of humanity on purpose, lovingly. And I wonder if incarnation wasn't to be a one time event over 2,000 years ago, if perhaps he wants us to follow where he leads.

While I love Jesus and pray that he changes my heart, digging out the sin that hides there, in this season of Advent, I have been praying specifically that I might trust him, the way he trusted the Father, that I might not be afraid of stepping into the messiness of others lives, and instead do as Jesus did, so that I can show them that they are loved, too.
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Whose messiness do you have trouble stepping into? Is it the child with the runny nose whose parents don't seem to mind her carefully enough? The homeless man who needs a bath and clean clothes? The mentally ill woman who wanders the streets clutching a doll as though it were her child? The family from a foreign culture whose food smells funny and speak a language you cannot understand? The Christian who is snarky and self righteous? (Uh-oh, there is another prejudice for me!)

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