Our family has moved a handful of times, with the challenges of relocation falling not only on our shoulders, but on the delicate shoulders of our children as well.
Part of the challenge of moving is the disorientation we feel being in a new place, with new people and a new culture. Old places are comfortable, known, explored and experienced. New places are strange, unknown, unexplored and can leave us feeling vulnerable as we fumble forward searching for the familiar.
The people we encounter are also different. We are suddenly strangers—unknown to others. Sometimes this is accompanied by fear, sometimes by indifference and, hopefully, sometimes by warmth and best-intentioned curiosity. In our efforts to be known, we look for mutual experiences and common ground.
Cultures shift in subtle ways from city to city and town to town, noticeable in shared activities, restaurants, focal points and gathering spaces. All of it originates from conscious or unconscious decisions formed over generations that say, here in this place, this is who we are.
We move for any number of reasons—work, family, health, retirement, cost of living. But as disorienting as moving can be, for the most part we are simply trading one comfortable living situation for another. With the exception of missionaries and those called to live in areas of extreme poverty, we do not often leave behind riches to inhabit places that are vastly different from what we know. Our experiences are limited to feeling “unsettled” until our head and heart catch up with our newly planted feet.
Imagine, if you can, having to leave perfection and move to the place you created and yet never experienced. Imagine, if you can, arriving in this strange new place, and in a strange new body.
There came a point in history when the world needed more than a distant and unknown God. The world needed a Saviour. And so, as John 1:14 says: “The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighbourhood” (The Message).
Jesus—God incarnate—gave up his throne, became human and relocated to our world, to our neighbourhood. The disorientation of barren and harsh surroundings became his new reality. He took on nakedness and hunger, and the uncomfortable skin of a newborn, outside the protection of a mother’s womb. He became dependent on a young boy and girl with little experience and only love-filled, obedient hearts to guide them.
The experience of Emmanuel (God with us) was unique, unprecedented and strange. Because the world needed a Saviour who was like us, he came to earth in human form. And that came at great cost. His was not an exchange of comfort for comfort. It was abrupt and unadorned. He came as a stranger to a world that did not know him and would not receive him.
This move from the perfection of God’s presence to the imperfection of a world in desperate need of a Saviour was no louder than a brave mother’s whisper, a tiny heartbeat in a dark stable. It was a small baby wrapped in what was available, the tears of a noble father haunted by the uncertainty of the future, disoriented and searching. It was a king moved from throne to manger.
But this weird exchange—trading glory for lowliness and hardship, God walking the earth in human form capable of all range of human suffering and emotions, culminating in the cruellest and most humiliating of deaths—was a plan borne of such love we can hardly comprehend.
Christmas is a strange time to reflect on moving, and yet, that’s exactly what happened on the night that Christ was born. God moved into the neighbourhood because there was no other way to save the world. The transformative effects of that love began with the cry of a newborn baby’s first breath in Bethlehem and ended with the final breath of a man on a cross. Emmanuel. God with us. Jesus.
Lieutenant Erin Metcalf is the corps officer at Niagara Orchard Community Church in Niagara Falls, Ont. This is her last column. We thank her for her contributions.
Feature photo: © Khamidulin1/iStock.com