So as we’re entering the Christmas season of cheer, I have death on my mind. I have on my mind the names of dead men—of Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, Rumain Brisbon, Ezell Ford—just 5 of those killed by police in recent months, unarmed young black boys and men. I have in my ears the cries of those black and brown voices who are threated by police, not always protected by them. I have on my heart the weight of a real history of inequality and injustice, of state violence against black bodies, of popular pathologizing of black minds, of criminalization of black communities.
And I wonder: What does the Word-made-flesh have to say to our world this Christmas season? This December, as we watch our sensationalist news programs and see our Christian acquaintances exchange acerbic commentary across our computer screens, what does the Word-made-flesh have to say? What does it have to say but that which it has always said in the largest possible letters?: Immanuel, God with us.
That Word says that God is compassionate. Compassion means to suffer with. God suffers with. He sees our pitiful position. He hears our hurts and our long songs of lament. He has made Himself woundable and He is wounded. Scripture says, “Jesus saw the large crowd and had compassion on them” (Mark 6:34); it says that “During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with loud cries and tears” (Hebrews 5:7); it says that “Jesus wept” (John 11:35); it says that “Since the children have flesh and blood he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might … free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death" (Hebrews 2:14-15).
So even now we may entrust our laments to Immanuel. We may cry to him in our pain and know that He hears us, and that He feels that pain too. We may mourn for our neighbors, our brothers, our sons and know that we do not weep unseen and alone. God is with us, suffering with us.
And it would be enough unexpected grace to know that God cared from a distance. But the Word of Immanuel preaches a greater message still: God with us, not only in compassion, but in real presence. God makes Himself present. God with us. God, the high and holy one, with us, the lowly and wicked ones. God, the unbounded and infinite one, with us, the fragile and feeble ones. God, the powerful and majestic one, with us, the human dust particles on one of His tiny planets in one of His little galaxies. God with us.
The Word-made-flesh says particularly that God is with the weak. It’s why He came to us. While we were yet powerless, while we were still sinners, His enemies, God came to be with us. And the consistent picture of Scripture is that God is with the weak, and this picture comes into crystal clear focus in the Incarnation. Listen to the song Jesus’ mother sang (Luke 1:46-53). “...He remembered the humble state of His servant… He has scattered those who are proud… He has brought down rulers from their thrones, but has lifted up the humble. He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty.” Over and over and over and over again God has spoken of His concern for the weak, for the poor, for the outcast, for the outsider. But in these last days He has spoken by His Son, and He has said in no uncertain terms that He is on the side of those without power.
God goes to the suffering, God meets the lonely, God cries with the crying, God overthrows the rulers, God exalts the lowly, God liberates the oppressed, God punishes the unjust, God comforts the poor.
Oh, that we might be like this, our God! Oh, that we would be less impressed by the powerful and more impressed with the poor! Oh, that we might love justice and labor against injustice! Oh, that we would love like He loves! Oh, that we would go where He goes!
But we are hard-hearted. We will not listen to each other. We would rather post scathing blogs than have a conversation. We will lock our doors against those who say they feel unsafe. We will travel across town to avoid hearing a nuanced story. We will blame the dead and ignore the living. We will not choose charitable speech. We will offer contempt instead of compassion. We will distance ourselves from those who disagree. We will yell far that people are racists; we will loudly accuse people of race-baiting.
Will we let the Word-made-flesh speak to us this Christmas? Will we hear His message of compassion, of presence, of solidarity with the weak? The second Person of the Trinity humbles Himself; He shrinks Himself down to dwell in Mary’s womb; He binds Himself to humanity with an umbilical cord; He gasps for air and cries for milk.
Will we see in His humility a call to be compassionate, to be present, to be in solidarity with the weak? Will we wonder not only at the miracle of His physical body, but at the miracle of His Spirit-ual Body, the Body which we are?---and will we honor that miracle by dwelling together in the bond of peace?