By: Emily Messiter
“Where are you right now?”
One of the luxuries of having a phone is that it really doesn’t matter where you are – distance and location are no longer big obstacles for communication. But it seems that frequently when I have an actual conversation over the phone, this question comes up: “Where are you right now?” There’s something valuable about knowing a person’s surroundings. It’s his or her world for the moment, and having an idea of what that looks like serves as a welcome into it.
Here’s my world while I am writing this blog: I’m sitting in a cute living room, in comfy clothes, with the most precious baby fast asleep in my arms. I have a clear view of outside where a peaceful, light snow is falling, making the grey skies a little more bearable as I wonder when the last time was that I saw some sunshine. In between sips of coffee my thoughts dart between how I’m getting a little hungry and how cute this little baby is and how so much has changed in the past year and how I have to send that important email and how I’m not quite sure what I’m doing with my life.
It is so easy to get caught in my little world. Even when I’m loving and serving with all my might, I am tempted to focus on my thoughts and agenda, desiring to establish stability and predictability. I love Pope John Paul II, but when he says, “Life with Christ is a wonderful adventure,” I am equal parts inspired and terrified. Adventure sounds uncomfortable and risky. When I’m in the mood for an adventure I won’t use my turn signal when I’m turning onto my driveway. (It’s ok, I promise, I live on an isolated country road so usually there’s no one else around!) As much as I crave excitement and newness, I often find within myself this paradox: discontentment with what I believe is “too ordinary,” but fear of the ramifications of disruption and change.
You’ve heard the narrative of Jesus’s birth so many times, but have you ever stopped to think about where you see yourself on that glorious night in Bethlehem? On a retreat this past February, I prayed through the Gospel and realized how much I relate to the shepherds of the story. I imagine myself as one of them: going about my own business, just me, my sheep, and my shepherd friends, when the skies literally open, revealing a multitude of angels covered in the glory of God. I am immediately filled with fear. Ok so this is not a typical night. What the heck is going on? You SO have the wrong person here. But the first words I hear from an angel invite me to a new response: “Do not be afraid. I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.”
There is something terrifying about Him breaking into my life. I was just a simple shepherd. I knew how to make a decent life. I could be lost in the ordinary of the day-to-day. But He appeared, and my soul felt its worth. While I am inclined toward familiarity and self-dependence and quiet security, He chooses to be born into my world, into what is familiar to me: the smell, the animals, the nighttime chill. I know it well. And He chooses to know it too. And so as His glory shines, I find myself running with haste, leaving behind all that I know to find the Good News in the flesh.
Staring at Him in the manger, I somehow know that there is more than my simple world. He makes me feel worthy. Significant. Valuable. This feeling deep in my stomach…it’s not fear anymore. It’s a thrill of hope. Beholding Him, everything has somehow changed. I am known; I am a simple shepherd welcomed in by the Savior of the world. As night turns into morning, I must return to my fields with my flock. But as I retrace my journey, each step is different than it was before. There is hope now. There is joy now. Questions abound…what does this mean for my simple life? Will I see Him again? What will He do? Who will He be for me? A quiet assurance puts my heart at peace…He will be with me always. Emmanuel. God with us.
I relate so much to the shepherds because God broke into their ordinary world to show them that there is more. Even though they weren’t the ones who spent time tracking the movements of a great star in the sky, had an audience with another king en route to Bethlehem, and arrived with some pretty great birthday presents (a HUGE consolation to someone who is not the first to jump on board with a crazy adventure and who really struggles with the love language of gift giving!), the shepherds were simply receptive to the work that God, who loves us first, initiated in their lives. They didn’t waste time questioning why they were the ones who received the proclamation of the angels. They just chose to respond, journeying to Bethlehem and sharing the good news they had heard with Mary and Joseph. And then they returned to their work, glorifying God along the way. I want to live like that – I want to receive Jesus into my daily life, content with where He has me in this moment while fully embracing the adventure of walking through each moment of my life as someone who is known and loved by the Savior of the world.
Here are some ways we can practice this in Advent:
Read through the first two chapters of Matthew and Luke’s Gospels. Find who you are in the narrative… Mary? Joseph? A shepherd or Magi? Prepare yourself for Christmas by knowing the state of your world that Jesus is coming into.
Next time you’re belting out “O Holy Night” with Celine or Mariah or Josh, take some time to pray through the lyrics. There’s some seriously good stuff in there. My favorite lines are “….Till He appeared and the soul felt its worth / A thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices.” Do you know your value in Christ? Where do you need Him to restore your hope? Are there weary parts of your world that are longing for joy?
Remember that Jesus didn’t come to just hang out in our world for a while, but to bring us into His world – the Love of the Father. Recognize what keeps you chained to your world, and how Jesus is inviting you to leave those things behind for Him. Maybe this looks like less time on social media, deciding to not buy that super cute sweater that you really want but don’t need, making prayer a priority before heading off to work, or buckling down to study for finals.
Let’s keep welcoming Him into our world, and allowing our lives to be transformed by His Love this Advent!