Eyes to see
Finding Immanuel as immigrant, wanderer, child
In what form will you find the Christ child this year? The fact of the Incarnation in a weak and helpless babe says something significant about where we focus our search. I am convinced that it is part of our call to exercise a "preferential option" on behalf of the poor, weak, sick, and marginalized. The long arc of biblical thinking and theologizing has to do with seeing God's care for those who have no other helper. Indeed, Jesus is understood as that helper for all who fail, by the world's terms, to save themselves. More accurately, we understand that Jesus is that helper for all.
The Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori,
26th Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Chruch
One of the strangest yet most moving expressions in the New Testament is a verse in the Letter to the Hebrews (11.16): God 'is not ashamed to be called their God'. The writer is talking about the history of God's people. When they have been faithful to God, faithful in keeping on moving onwards in faith rather than settling down in self-satisfaction, when they are true pilgrims, then God is content to be known as their God. He declares himself to be the God of pilgrims, of people who know that their lives are incomplete and that they are still journeying towards the fullness of God's promises. Visiting refugee camps in the Middle East, as I did this October, brings home so powerfully what it is to be literally and absolutely homeless, not able to be confident in any resources, inner or outer. People in these terrible circumstances will never be complacent, they will always be looking for a future. They are in the most obvious way those whom God is not ashamed to be with, people whose God he is happy to be. He is at home with the homeless. But it is also an image of God's relationship with all those who are homeless or wandering in other ways.
What an odd expression, to say that God is not 'ashamed'! It's as though
we are being reassured that God, in spite of everything, doesn't mind
being seen in our company. Most of us know the experience of being
embarrassed by someone we are with - children are embarrassed by
parents, parents by children; I have sometimes found myself walking down
the road with someone who is talking loudly or behaving oddly, and
wishing I weren't there. But God is not embarrassed by human company
when that company is turning away from self-satisfaction and ready to
move on. We might think that God would be 'ashamed' of human company
that was imperfect, confused, even sinful. But God is happy to be the
God of confused and sinful people when they recognise their own
confusion and face the truth of their need. That's what the great
parables of Jesus in St Luke's Gospel are so often about, especially the
Pharisee and the Tax Collector.
So at Christmas, God shows that he is not ashamed to be with us. He has
heard our cries of weakness and self-doubt and unhappy longing, he has
seen our wanderings and anxieties, and he is not ashamed to be alongside
us in this world, walking with us in our pilgrimage. And because he is
content to walk with us, we are challenged about whose company we might
be ashamed to share. So easily we decide that we would be ashamed to
share the company of the sinful, the doubting or the outcast. But God,
it seems, is not ashamed to be seen with such people. If he is ashamed
to be called the God of any human group, the text from Hebrews strongly
suggests that he is most 'embarrassed' by those who think they have
arrived at the end of their journey, who think they have already
attained perfection (compare St Paul's angry and scornful words in I
Corinthians 4.8 - 'Already you have become rich!'). And it is clear why
God would be ashamed to be the God of such people: they behave and speak
as if they didn't really need God, as if they didn't really need grace
and hope and forgiveness.
God loves the company of those who know their need, and that is why he
comes at Christmas to stand with them, to live with them and to die and
rise for them. He is the God who blesses the poor - not only those who
are materially poor, but those who are without the 'riches' of
self-satisfaction and complacency, those who know all too well how far
they fall short of real and full humanity. And so we are to pass on that
blessing to the poor of every sort, those who are without material
resources and those who are 'poor in spirit' because they know their
hunger and need. Let us ask ourselves honestly whose company we are
ashamed to be seen in - and then ask where God would be. If he has
embraced the failing and fragile world of human beings who know their
needs, then we must be there with him.
May God give us every blessing and joy in the Christmas Season.