At this time of year, we seem more sensitive to the human needs around us. Whether it be the Salvation Army ringing the bell on the street or the toy drive led by the local fire department, people are more willing to give to address the needs of others.
We are also more aware of the lack of peace in our communities. Even though we sing hymns of peace on earth and goodwill toward all people, our hearts our haunted by gun violence, mass murders, economic injustice, acts of racism, hunger, and homelessness. We yearn for a few days of hope, joy, peace, and love so deeply that we have convinced ourselves that a few days of good feelings will somehow help the world be a better place.
In this time of “peace on earth and goodwill toward all people” we need someone to address our hopes and fears, to fill our lives with the goodness we desire, not only for ourselves but for all people.
Leading with Peace, Hope and Love
As a Christ-centered leader, how do you keep yourself focused this time of year and at the same time help address the need for peace, hope, and love with the people entrusted to your care?
It is my thought and conviction that you and I as leaders hold the key to the hope and love our world desperately yearns to experience and live by. If I may be trite, we know the One in whom the “hopes and fears of all the years” is made real.
When we read the biblical stories, we find that the birth of Jesus, in a stable to humble parents named Mary and Joseph, is God’s dramatic way of coming into the world in a way that we can understand. It is the story of God taking on the life of a human being and coming into this world to live with us.
God Comes to Us
God always comes to us in a way that satisfies our needs. Read Matthew’s story. Matthew reminds us that the name Jesus means savior and that the name Emmanuel means God is with us. Matthew is telling us that in Jesus, God’s saving presence is with us.
When we read Luke’s story, we are reminded that Jesus came alongside the poor, the marginalized, and the outcasts. The story of being born in a stable points to the fact there was no respectable place for him. His birth is announced to shepherds symbolizes the good news for those considered unclean and unacceptable in good religious circles. Luke is telling us that God’s saving love is for everyone.
Then John points out that Jesus was present at the beginning with God because Jesus is God. Then God becomes flesh and lives among us in Jesus. I understand the words lived among us to mean “pitched his tent next to ours.” Eugene Peterson in the Message says, “moved into our neighborhood.” John is telling us that God in Jesus has come to live with us.
And Paul teaches us that God is in Christ “reconciling the world to himself.” It might be helpful to think of the word reconciled as being embraced or hugged. God is in Christ “embracing” the world and “hugging” us, each of us, holding us close in love.
Love Came Down at Christmas
One of the carols we sing at Christmas helps us remember the story of God coming to be with us in Jesus. It is the carol, “Love Came Down at Christmas.”
Love came down at Christmas,
love all lovely, Love divine;
Love was born at Christmas;
star and angels gave the sign.
Worship we the Godhead,
Love incarnate, Love divine;
worship we our Jesus,
but wherewith for sacred sign?
Love shall be our token;
love be yours and love be mine;
love to God and others,
Love for plea and gift and sign.
The implication in each of the scriptural stories and teachings, as well as the carol, is that God has come to be intimately related to us. It is the story of the incarnation. God comes to us on our turf, as opposed to a church building, and works for our well-being, holding us close with a love that never lets us go. Regardless of who we are, where we live, our gender, race, nationality, or belief, God is with us, working for our good.
Becoming an Incarnational Leader
As a Christ-centered leader, what will your leadership look like when you become an incarnational leader? As you continue to reflect on how you keep yourself focused and address the need for peace, hope, and love with the people entrusted to you, I will share a story that might help clear your thoughts and focus your vision.
In the 1992 Barcelona Olympics, a British runner, Derek Redmond, entered the 400-meter race. For years he had practiced just for this race. His father, who was also his trainer and coach, had helped him become one of the fastest people in the world.
As the race began, Redmond took an early lead. When he pulled his hamstring, he was well out in front of the other sprinters. He fell to the track but did not drop out of the race. He struggled to his feet and began hopping on one foot toward the finish line. The crowd stood and cheered him on, but the pain was so great and the wound so serious that he struggled to finish the race.
Suddenly, a middle-aged man jumped over the guardrail onto the track, caught up with Redmond, put his arms around his waist, and helped him finish the race. The man was Jim Redmond, Derek Redmond’s father. Father and son crossed the finish line together.
In an interview after the race, Redmond said, “He was the only one who could have helped me because he was the only one who knew what I had been through.”
Opening the Door
What will your leadership look like when you become an incarnational leader? Coming alongside those who are in need, those who have fallen, and assisting them with love, helping them live with dignity and hope?
This Christmas when Jesus comes knocking on the front door of your church building, be ready for his invitation. Because when you open the door to invite him in, he is going to invite you out into the neighborhood in which he is living. He will introduce you to his friends, all his friends. All of his poor, forgotten, disabled, overlooked friends. When you follow Jesus into the neighborhood, you will take your first step in becoming the incarnational leader needed to meet the needs of people today.
I know this was not a “sweet little Jesus” Christmas story, but our good feelings will not make the world a better place. There will be “peace on earth and goodwill toward all people” when you and I become the incarnational leaders who make a difference in the neighborhoods where God’s Word is made flesh in and through us.
God with Us
Take a few minutes to reflect upon the places you experienced God today. In whom did you meet Jesus? Through whom did you experience God’s love? Who did you assist in reaching the finish line of dignity and hope?
O God, I am grateful that you have come to be with me in Jesus. Help me be aware of your presence in every situation and circumstance and in every relationship and acquaintance of this day. Give me eyes to see and ears to hear you. Give me a heart to discern and a mind to recognize what you are doing. Make me a blessing to someone somewhere today as you embrace me and the people around me with your love that makes me more who you want me to be. I offer my life to be a home for you and for the people you send my way. Amen
May the joy of Jesus be yours this Christmas! I look forward to seeing you in the new 2023 year. Until then, remember, who you are is how you lead!