Advent is a beautiful season to celebrate the God become Human, and we often times paint these tidy manger scenes that just nod to the humanity while highlighting the divinity. I'm all for emphasizing the divinity of Jesus because I need him to save me from my messy humanity, but also, Jesus became a messy human. Artist Scott Erickson did a series on the God with us, and I was so moved when my best friend Shannon told me to look up the artwork. Jesus was fully God, yes. And Jesus was fully human. It's a paradox. As my professor Brad Harper used to say, "Live in the tension."
Look at this.
It's a powerful image, right? This fully human, fully God Jesus grew up to love people like crazy. And those people loved him and then let him down all the time. I was struck by that as I was praying over some recent hurts. Matthew 16 and Mark 8 recount a powerful moment in the Apostle Peter's life when he first declares that Jesus is the Messiah followed immediately in the narrative by his biggest rebuke in Scripture. Matthew's account gives some extra bonus points to him from Jesus before the takedown. "I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven" (16:19). There's always a paragraph break before Matthew and Mark go on to describe Jesus telling his disciples about his immanent death which leads Peter to blunder in and say, "Don't say that, Jesus." The juxtaposition is intentional and significant. Jesus has just celebrated Peter for his recognition of Jesus as Messiah, and he even gave him this huge gift and responsibility of leadership. Four verses later Jesus says to Peter, "Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man" (Mt 16:23).
I sat with that one in my meditations yesterday. Can you imagine the human emotion of disappointment in that relationship? Sure, Jesus is God and knew Peter would fall short, but in the moment, it had to hurt to rebuke Peter like that. I was thinking about it in relationship to how hard it is for me to speak truth to students when they are doing dumb things that lead to hurting themselves or others. I had the emotion of disappointment with a couple students recently, but I also have great hope for those very same students. Peter gets a great redemption arc in church history - John's gospel actually gives a beautiful ending of reconciliation after Peter's later denial (don't forget this other moment isn't his only glaring mess up).
I love that there's always grace for Peter and room for him to repent and reconcile with Jesus because I need that message for when I mess up. I also need to know that Jesus was hurt when Peter was so dumb. I need to know that Jesus can empathize with my hurt and disappointment when I invest in the lives of young people and they lie to me or disregard my advice. I also need to know that Jesus meets me in my humanity and uses me as a tool to help so many students to grow and receive grace. I just finished reading Mark Batterson's book on hearing the voice of God, and I was convicted of how I not only get to listen to God speak to me through others but that I can be sensitive to when the Holy Spirit is using me to speak to those around me. I mentioned last week about Natasha Sistrunk Robinson's convicting book, and I'm pairing the lessons to intentionally celebrate the students who've sought me out the past week to not only encourage me through the Holy Spirit but to hear what God would say to them in my home as well.
For example, Maggie had counted the days between this photo and the last time we said goodbye, so I know that God has done wonders in growing her over the past 462 days, and I can only say good things about how delighted I am that she's chasing hard core after Jesus. She's stopped by four times in four days to share bits of beauty in how God is growing her.
You see that joy on my face? It's the pure joy of someone who sees her legacy is secure in the person who will inherit her name and likeness. Maggie has made basically no mistakes in her life, but I know she will stumble a time or two in the years she has left on earth. I hope it's only two stumbles, and I hope she lives another two hundred years, but my point is that I'm confident that she's on a trajectory of chasing Jesus, and I have no sorrows in that. Maggie has never hurt me so far, but if she does, I know that there will be grace and reconciliation.
A different student sat in my house this week and confessed some pretty weighty failures, but through the miracle of communion and Jesus's sacrificial love, that disappointment is left at the foot of the cross so we can both grow closer to Jesus. I get the privilege of being the intentional encouragement of young people committed to the full human experience of actively pursuing spiritual growth and holistic health. I don't take that lightly. I'm so grateful for the fully human model of Jesus who showed me that I can celebrate the good decisions, rebuke the bad ones, and offer grace all over the place for the messy people around me who can extend the same grace back to me when I mess up and need to grow.
In three days, I'll celebrate the advent of Jesus in human form with Christians around the world, and I'll watch The Sound of Music with the Welterlens, and I'll be profoundly moved by the miracle of a God who would enter into humanity to not only save me but to learn experientially how to better empathize with me. I'll also ask that same God for a mighty miracle - to fully restore all function damaged in my body from a spinal cord injury. I mentioned the forty days of prayer a few weeks ago, and I'll be posting different psalms here beginning the day after Christmas and leading up to my birthday with the hope that you would pray through them aloud with my name and ask for God to move in my body in a mighty way again. Please share this post with any prayer warriors that you know who would join in this commitment to petition God for restoration in my body. You can sign up for email updates by scrolling to the bottom of this page and subscribing to the mailing list so you get a reminder when each psalm is posted.
In my full humanity, I wish you a happy Christmastime, and I hope you get the chance to reflect on the messy birth we commemorate this week that leads to the best redemption imaginable.