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Advent in the Abandoned Places {Guest Post}

D.L. Mayfield probably doesn't remember this, but back before we "knew" each other, she commented on one of my Her.meneutics articles, and added "also just wanted to say holla to a fellow ESL teacher!" I was pretty much pleased as punch to see the comment, because I'd been a fan of her column at McSweeney's Internet Tendency for a while.
On her blog, DL writes about life in the upside-down kingdom and her experiments in downward mobility.  You should follow her, for real.  Besides both being ESL teachers, she and I share a love of Sufjan, the Pacific Northwest, and preschool girls whose names begin with R. I'm thrilled to share her words with you today.
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CC photo courtesy Brainedge on Flickr


Everything in our society teaches us to move away from suffering, to move out of neighborhoods where there is high crime, to move away from people who don’t look like us. But the gospel calls us to something altogether different. We are to laugh at fear, to lean into suffering, to open ourselves up to the stranger. Advent is the season when we remember Jesus put on flesh and moved into our neighborhood. God’s getting born in a barn reminds us that God shows up even in the forsaken corners of the earth.
From Common Prayer, a Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals



Several months ago, my husband, toddler and I all moved across the country in order to relocate ourselves in a new neighborhood. One with significantly higher crime, one with few people who looked or talked like us, one where the kingdom of God was coming.
Not everyone is called to this, it’s true; done poorly, incarnational living is merely an experiment in gentrification. But as Advent teaches us, Jesus chose to come and dwell in these abandoned places. And I can already testify, just several months in: he is here. He is moving, he is working, he is changing hearts that are willing. Including mine. For if there is anything to be gained from the reading of the Christmas story, it is this message: am I willing to seek and behold Jesus as he really is? Not some figment of my imagination, some ethno-centric, political, health and wealth figure. But am I willing to see him as somebody who came to free us all from what enslaves us? Am I willing to admit that to follow him might mean to hang out in stables myself, to experience the blessings of living in the places where he dwells?
The people who recognized his greatness and beauty all hailed from the margins, they were all in a place to see and recognize the truth. The kings and inn keepers were too busy to notice the stars, to receive the gift given. Like it or not we are empire people, those of us in the West. We have taken the story of Jesus and toned it down, made it into a story for children. We gaze fondly at the figures of animals and shepherds and wise men, never once dreaming that had this incarnation happened in our time, we would be too busy to notice, too consumed with the world.
But Christ is here; working far beyond the boundaries of church buildings and programs, right into the very corners of the most abandoned neighborhoods. Perhaps he is calling you to experience some of the miracle, to partner in making the word become flesh. Perhaps he is calling us to take a good long look at our segregated communities, our segregated lives. Perhaps advent, more than any other time, is a good place to consider following Jesus’ example, to willingly place yourself where few would seek to be born, or to live, or to die.
Because if we never hang out in the stables, we might miss out on the greatest gift of all: seeing Jesus, for who he really is, living in our most broken neighborhoods. He was someone who located himself in the abandoned places of the Empire; might he be calling you to do the same?