December 2018

Greetings to the Holy and Beloved People of God,

At the end of October, Intern Nicole and I attended a retreat as part of the internship experience. The retreat was entitled: SURELY GOD IS IN THIS PLACE: DWELLING, SOJOURNING, PLACEMAKING and was led by Rev. Dr. Charlene Rachuy Cox, dir. of Contextual Education at Wartburg Seminary. It was a time apart to reflect and share about how we are present in the places we move through and live in.

We explored how place forms and shapes us, thinking about questions like; What does place have to do with who you are, how you feel and think about yourself and what you believe. John Inge in “A Christian Theology of Place” writes, “One only needs to open the Bible at the beginning of Genesis and read a few pages to be left with the impression that place is important to the writer.”

It made me think about a book I had read by Kenneth Bailey, “Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes: Cultural Studies in the Gospels.” He has a chapter on the story of Jesus’ birth drawing on Luke 2:1-20 that has me thinking differently about Jesus’ dwelling, sojourning and placemaking in Bethlehem.

Our place influences how we make sense of our encounter with God coming to us. In the West our tradition creates a scene of a late night arrival, no place to stay but a stable with the animals and shepherd visitors. In the Eastern tradition, Mary is alone when the child was born. This then is reflected in worship practices where the altar is hidden from the congregation and the event of the elements becoming the body and blood of Jesus takes place out of sight. There is a mystery in the coming of Christ. The tradition for Christians in the Middle East was to focus on the birth having taken place in a cave which would have been some of the first dwelling places for the people of the Middle East.

Bailey makes a strong case about the place where Jesus was born taking into consideration the context and culture of the people in the Middle East. He places the birth of Jesus in a home. Bailey draws a picture of Jesus’ birth among extended family that welcomed them in with warm hospitality into a peasant home that consisted of a large family room that housed the whole family including the farm animals who were housed with the family to heat the home when it was cold and to prevent theft of the animals. The inn that was full was the guest room attached to the back of the home or the roof. The manger that Jesus was laid in was either built into the structure of the home or was a wooden feed box.

This coming of Jesus’ family into a town that welcomed him and surrounded him with extended family as well as the shepherds welcoming and worshiping is a refreshing way for me to think about the dwelling, sojourning and placemaking of Jesus and his family. Lynda Schneekloth and Shibley Robert in their book, Placemaking: The Art and Practice of Building Communities state that “Placemaking is the way all of us human beings transform the places in which we find ourselves into places in which we live.”

As we prepare ourselves for the “Advent”, for the coming of our Lord, I invite you to think about dwelling, sojourning and placemaking for God is in this place.

Believing It Boldly Loving Everyday,

Pastor Connie Spitzack