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Won’t You Be My Neighbour?

For all the debate about how early you can put Christmas decorations up, it doesn’t take long for them to come down. I wonder if that isn’t part of how we tell the story: it’s a lot of build up to one moment on one night when everyone’s there, just like in a traditional creche or nativity scene. That one moment captured, a tableau into which we’ve poured the whole story. And then we’re done.

But it’s just the beginning of a story, not the end. As the legendary preacher Howard Thurman observed “when the song of the angels is stilled, when the star in the sky is gone, when the kings and the princes are home, when the shepherds are back with their flock, the work of Christmas begins.” Yes, after all that work preparing, there’s work to be done after Christmas. Just ask the Gospel of John.

The Gospel of John doesn’t have a birth story for Jesus. Neither does Mark, incidentally. Mark jumps right in with John the Baptist announcing the arrival of the adult Jesus who’s then baptized by John, spends some time in the wilderness and heads into ministry. All business, that Mark.

But John gives Jesus a more cosmic beginning. John talks about “the Word” that was in the beginning, that was with God and is God and was part of the creation of all things. That “Word” has become flesh and bone, one of us. But not just a figure set apart, present but disconnected. No, this is about being one of us. As Eugene Peterson puts it in The Message, a contemporary language paraphrase of the Bible, “the Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighbourhood.”

“And moved into the neighbourhood.” This is a new way of looking at our relationship with God. It’s not just about “come, let us adore him,” it’s about welcoming a new member of the community and getting to know them and engaging them and being open to them engaging us.

We’re not always good at that. Especially if the new neighbour’s “different.” And there are so many ways we can be different. We’re really good at noticing the different and we’re really good at using the different to separate, negate, disconnect and exclude.

But here’s God saying “I’ll be just like you.” Not exactly the same, of course, that can’t be done. But here’s God saying I’ll be just like you and show you how love is alive in you and how sharing that love will make a better world: better relationships, better care, better, well, living.

Christmas is the annual reminder that God’s here, living next door, just down the street and across town. Maybe don’t put that part of Christmas away. Keep out a decoration or two that reminds you that the love in that manger in Bethlehem is in you and in your neighbour and in everyone you meet.

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