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“The Word became flesh and lived among us” is among the most beautiful verses in all of Scripture (John 1:14). Even now as I read it again and write out the words, I feel my breath catch as I draw it in. I feel my heart quicken as I consider what these words might mean. This short half of a verse contains the mystery of the story of Christmas, and it captures the uncontainable good news that God knows what it’s like to be human.

I’ve often sanitized what it means that God took on flesh. I see the words, and I imagine the scent of freshly laundered linens, the coo of a contented child, the tender embrace of a parent cradling a long-awaited baby. I picture a newborn asleep, or the delighted eyes of a child seeing something for the first time. I don’t often imagine, in the words of Anne Lamott, that God might smell like “a young child’s slightly dirty neck.”

But, the truth is, when the Word became flesh, the Word took on all of it – the pain, the heartache, and the vulnerability of what it means to be human.

When I was a freshman in college, I was a bit of a trainwreck. I still grimace as I think about what I put my roommates through as I dealt with a toxic dating relationship while trying to figure out how to be an independent adult. One evening when I was going through a particularly difficult time, I decided to take a walk. I walked down the hall of my dorm floor, and as I passed my RA’s room, a young woman walked out of the door and locked eyes with me.

“Hey, I see you,” she said. “Are you OK?”

I slumped against the wall and sat down. Tears filled my eyes. I didn’t even manage to get out any words when she said to me, “I don’t know what you’re going through, but I’m here for you. This is a safe place.”

Everything spilled out of me. I told her of painful words, of heartache and abuse, of things that had left indelible marks on my mind and heart. She looked me in the eyes and said, “Me, too.”

“The Word became flesh and lived among us.”

The first Christmas, Love came down and got its hands dirty. Love grew and experienced pain, was overlooked, rejected, and mocked. Love embraced others with otherworldly love and was scorned for loving the wrong people. Love didn’t just take on flesh in the holiest of senses; Love took on the struggle of being human. Love encountered us, looked us in the eyes and said, “Me, too.”

Advent for Uncertain Hearts Candle Lighting Litany – Week 4 – Love in the Struggle

Typically, I begin with all of the candles in place in my Advent wreath. This year, I am beginning with just the wreath and no candles. Each week, we will place a candle in the wreath as we ask God to help us receive the gifts of each Advent week.

Reader 1: The writer of John’s gospel begins the story at the very beginning – when the Word was with God. He writes of mystery and majesty, and of the hope that nothing can extinguish the light that was sent into the world. But, the story did not stop there. God did not send the light from afar and leave us to our own devices. Instead, Love came down. John writes, “The Word became flesh and lived among us” (John 1:14).

Reader 2: Love entered into humanity’s struggle, and we are not alone.

Reader 1: In the book of Hebrews we read: “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15). On this fourth Sunday of Advent, we remember that we are not alone in whatever we are going through.

Reader 2: Meet us where we are, O God.

Reader 1: Today, we are placing the candle of love in our Advent wreath. <place candle in wreath and light it> We do this not because we have love figured out or because we have mastered receiving the embrace of God. We place the candle of love in this wreath to remind us God entered into our struggles. There is nothing we have gone through that our God cannot understand. When we are struggling, God sees us and will not leave us alone.

Reader 2: We long for God’s redeeming love to embrace our hurts and soothe our aching spirits.

All: This season of Advent, Lord, we offer our uncertain hearts to you. Mend our broken places, and soothe our reluctant hearts. Even when love seems far away, we reach out to you. Remind us anew that you are here with us, that you see, and that you care. Amen.

Other posts in the Advent for Uncertain Hearts series

The Premise

Week 1 – When It Is Hard to Hope

Week 2 – When There Is No Peace

Week 3 – Joy at Arm’s Length

Christmas Eve