I was attending a meeting of the worship committee at the home of our pastor, Josh. We were partway through the Christmas series in our little church and the task of the meeting was to discuss the next series that was going to focus on the mission of the church.
Part of the impetus for this next topic was a comment made by a congregant that he had a hard time describing our church to anyone. Josh was asking us how we talk about our church to those who don’t know us. Various comments were made, but we all agreed that we tend to mention our church’s founding scripture and consistent challenge, Micah 6:8, “What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with God.”
Sonia then said, “I have to tell you a story. In years past, whenever I have talked about my faith to non-Christians, I was always doing my best to avoid ever mentioning the church. Somehow the church was not only not relevant, but terribly distracting. Last week I spent five hours with a non-Christian friend and we talked a lot about faith. To my own surprise, I found that, having been a part of this church for the past few years, I could not talk about my faith without talking about our church – our community of faith is so much a part of my spiritual life and my faith. It’s just not about me or my individual faith.”
In the midst of Sonia’s story that night at the worship committee meeting, we were startled by the sound of gun shots coming from just outside the front of the house. We all hit the floor. After calling 911 and waiting to hear police arrive outside, we went out to find on the sidewalk next door a young man shot dead and his girlfriend shot in the leg and nearly hysterical. Apparently the young man, who was part of a gang from another city, had been walking down the street with his girlfriend when he was confronted by members of another gang and shot. We stood amidst the gathering neighbors – all somewhat stunned. For Josh and his family, the rest of the night and much of the next day were filled with police and news media in front of the house and conversations with concerned neighbors.
Such events create incredible fear for everyone living in the neighborhood – certainly also for Josh, who was concerned about the safety of his family (including his three young boys). Josh decided to do something to deal with the fear descending on his neighborhood. So, he organized a service on his front lawn for the very next evening.
Getting there late, I ended up standing in the back, leaning on the fence in front of Josh’s house. There were 30-40 people gathered in the front yard, about half of them Josh’s neighbors and about half, persons from our congregation who lived close by. Josh was sitting on his front steps, and Justin from our church was sitting beside him, playing the guitar as the group sang.
Because it was the Christmas season, the overwhelming impression that kept revolving in my mind was, “Now THIS is a manger scene!!”:…the backdrop of the wood-sided warmth of Josh’s small Craftsman home, with the gables outlined by warm, multicolored Christmas lights; … all the lights on inside his home and the blinds open, visually inviting us all into the fellowship of his family and signaling openness rather than cloistered fear; … candles on the front porch adding the glow that only candles can bring; … all of us out on the front lawn like shepherds, sheep, donkeys, and camels (I did not see anyone I would identify as a wise man); … baby Sasha, daughter of Sonia, toddling around (at times at Josh’s feet – that part was really cool). It has captured my imagination as the perfect incarnation of the manger in Bethlehem (without the tawdry statues). This is precisely the context in which Jesus comes to dwell. In the midst of fearful circumstances, we heard the message, “Fear not!” In the gathering of the church and the community, he came among the neighborhood, full of grace and truth.
 From Brown, W.S. and Strawn, B.D. (2012). The Physical Nature of Christian Life: Neuroscience, Psychology and the Church. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 121.
 From Brown and Strawn, 2012, p. 140-141.