We visited New York City the February after the September 11 attacks. Five months after the skyscrapers fell, there was still thick dust covering the surrounding streets. It was a mess. Huge, tall tarps blocked the work sites – for safety reasons, I’m sure. We still needed to see it, though. We needed to see the devastation first hand – so, we climbed up on a ledge to peek over. I had never seen anything like it.
I had watched the news coverage. I had listened to the eye-witness accounts. I heard the horror stories and my heart was filled with sadness and fear. I simply didn’t want to believe that people could do such terrible things. But that evening, as I stood on the tips of my toes, I was overwhelmed by the enormity of it. Heartbroken.
How can we live in a world that has this kind of suffering? This kind of evil? How can we bear it? Because, to be honest, it’s just too much. Right?
For an Advent devotional, N.T. Wright recently wrote, “The foundation of all biblical visions of God’s purposes for the world, and how they are to be implemented is that the Creator God wants his world to be full of his glory, which means among other things full of true justice and generous mercy. This is not just a vision for a far-off distant time. We are not expected to sit on our hands and wait for it to happen beyond the sky by and by. Even in Old Testament times it was perfectly possible for kings to do justice and love mercy; they often failed, but the best of them didn’t do too badly. And part of the point of the resurrection narratives in the gospels is that in the risen Jesus God has already launched his new creation. Jesus himself is both the start of that new creation and the Lord who gives his own Spirit so that his people can continue the project. You see, from Genesis 1 onwards it’s clear that the Creator God wants to rule his world through wise, image-bearing human beings.”
I don’t know about you, but the reality of that is really, really heavy.
This is my favorite time of the year. I love it all. And yet, it’s easy for me to gloss over what Advent calls us to. It’s so easy for me to miss what it meant when God became flesh and walked among us. It’s easy for me to forget the mess that he got himself into.
The incarnation – the act of God “moving into the neighborhood,” is so much more than a manger scene. It was dangerous. It was costly. It was painful. To say the least, it was uncomfortable.
In many ways, the world Jesus moved into looked a lot like the one we live in today. My goodness, the images from Aleppo are hard to look at – they experience 911 daily. People living in fear for their lives, without homes – completely displaced. On the brink of giving up. And while the world looks physically different than it may have 2000 years ago, it’s the same fear and pain residing in the hearts and minds of people. It’s a mess out there. It’s a mess IN there.
And, into this, we are called to be image-bearers of Christ. The ones, on whom, the responsibility lies for doing the same work that Jesus would do.
Y’all. That’s for real scary.
There are more people living in slavery than in any other time in history.
Children are being abused.
Poverty rates world-wide are staggering.
Genocide is happening. Right. Now.
The neighbor across the street is depressed.
Your cousin just had a miscarriage.
Your friend’s marriage is struggling.
It’s just too much. The mess is too big.
I think, though, that I have fallen into the camp that says, “well, I can’t fix it all, so I’ll just smile at that stranger and that’ll at least help.” And I feel better for a moment.
What does it look like to be an Image-Bearer? Well, it’s certainly not something that can be checked off of a list. “Hey, I bought that person coffee in the drive-thru behind me. Awesome, I’m done! I did it! I was an image-bearer! Now I can cuss at the stupid drivers in front of me in traffic.” Or, “I put some money in the red kettle at Wal-Mart. Check! Okay, I’m done – now I can go put the beat-down on my lazy co-worker – or yell at my kid for getting a stain on her pants.”
As Image-Bearers, God is depending on us to “continue the project.” To show generous mercy. Not just once in a while – but as a complete way of life.
I’m praying for more courage to do the uncomfortable – even the dangerous. I’m praying that God will continue to mold my heart to be more compassionate toward others and less irritated with them. I’m praying that, through the work of His Spirit, my heart AND my feet will be moved. I’m praying that the heartbreak I feel for this world and the pain that others are experiencing will not paralyze me. I’m praying that I will be an Image-Bearer in my actions AND in my attitude (that might be the hardest – I’m kind of a hot-head.) I’m praying that I won’t settle for just buying that cup of coffee (though, I think those small acts of kindness go a looooong way) but that I will step out and do more than what I feel I’m capable of doing, because then I know it’s the work of the God who alone does such wonderful things (Psalm 72:18).
May we all live out the incarnation of Jesus each day and be His hands and feet. Just as He came to a world that was in a mess, may we be willing to get messy. Really messy.