When my eldest son was in sixth grade, he ran with the cross-country team at his school. One afternoon, I was parked under the shade of the middle school parking lot waiting for practice to finish, the colors of autumn either creating dappled light above or skipping merrily on a breeze to the pavement below. Before long, an eager face turned the corner of the building and strolled optimistically towards the car, shoes slung over his thin shoulder. As he came close, I opened my mouth to ask just what his shoes were doing on his shoulder and not his feet. But his cheerful greeting/explanation for his bare feet stopped me.
“Take off your shoes, for you are standing on holy ground” (Exodus 3:5).
He was cheerful, but he wasn’t being facetious. For whatever reason, he had recognized the presence of God where he was and, with all the innocence of youth, had accepted the invitation to acknowledge and participate in it. It wasn’t hard and it wasn’t a big deal. To him.
It was profoundly life-altering for me.
For all of our claims of logic and realism and practicality, adults are typically the ones who need burning bushes (Exodus 3:1-4:17) and fleeces (Judges 6:33-40) and loaves and fishes (Matthew 14:13-21). Adults like miracles big and loud and obvious… and convenient. Miracles that are private and personal and fit into recognizable boxes of our accepted systems and prescribed ideologies are best. Glitter and ribbon are acceptable, as long as they are tasteful and enhance the box.
As my faith deconstructs and reforms to embrace an unhoused refugee couple in a barn, the young woman panting and exhausted with pain and labor, the man fatigued and dirty from worry and the road, I am compelled to ask if that moment is just as wonderous without the twinkle lights and carols. Do I still want to be invited into this incredibly human moment without the choirs of angels to overshadow the dirt and vulnerability?
Don’t get me wrong. I love the majesty of the angel choir and the warmth of the twinkle lights that remind me that Jesus is the Light of the World in whom I find my home. But when I focus too long on the acceptable and expected glittering majesty of the Advent season, I must ask myself if I have truly embraced the Incarnational Jesus “… the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us…” (John 1:14) Jesus without the pomp and circumstance of white, Eurocentric power and dominance. Jesus with Black, Indigenous, Brown, and Asian expressions of skin and culture? Do I love the Everyday Savior who invites each of us into the ordinary miracles of justice, mercy, and humility? To borders and protests and refugee camps? These are the miracles and even the wonderous majesty of marathon faith. Victories that are often slow and laborious and are presented in the most awkwardly wrapped packages because the work usually requires innovative, collaborative approaches outside of the accepted systems. Approaches that are rarely packaged with glitter and bows.
Yet, it is here, in the most unimaginable of circumstances, with the newly delivered Emmanuel and his exhausted parents that my spirit finds its liberation; and I remove my shoes in mutual acknowledgement and wonder of the sacred ordinary. Here with the dirt and the blood-soaked hay and the King of Kings.
By Naphtali Renshaw