When I was growing up in church and learning about missions in Girls in Action, my favorite time of year was Christmas (it still is!)—but my second favorite was “Christmas in July,” when our G.A. leaders would set up a Charlie-Brownish little Christmas tree, decorated in red and green baubles, in our church-basement classroom. In the heat of summer, with the a/c cranked up, we would sing Christmas songs, eat Christmas snacks, and tell the Christmas story, and then we’d wrap up donations of toothbrushes and mini-shampoo bottles in festive paper. Everybody gives a lot during Christmastime, we learned; but in the middle of summer, when that generous holiday is furthest away, there were still needs we could help to meet. The Christmas story, the Christmas songs, and our Christmas spirit did not have to be confined to December!

This July, maybe we too “need a little Christmas,” as the old song says. We “need a little Advent,” a little hope, peace, joy, and love. We need to sing the Spirit’s songs. We need to look for the needs we can meet even today. And we need to tell the stories of the One who was born to give us new life.

Proper 10, Sunday, July 10, 2016

Amos 7:7-17
Psalm 82
Colossians 1:1-14
Luke 10:25-37

“Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” (Luke 10: 36)

Parables are not historical accounts. It’s easy to forget this when we think of these familiar teachings; they’re usually true-to-life (and often even truer than life!), but they’re not factual events. This is exactly why parables are so important! There was one factual George Herman Ruth Jr.; no one else can ever be The Great Bambino. But there was no factual Good Samaritan. . .so every one of us can be a good Samaritan (or a good South Carolinian, or a good San Antonian, or a good wherever-you’re-from-ian!).

Parables are also important because Jesus doesn’t tell us where to find ourselves in the story. Parables invite us to “try on” different roles; when we do, we find the story takes on new dimensions, and challenges us in unanticipated ways. Parables ask us to stretch our imaginations–that most atrophied muscle! We imagine ourselves in the spotless robes of the priest who crossed the street to avoid the man in need, and we feel guilty. We imagine ourselves as the Levite, following in the priest’s dusty footsteps, and we feel sorrowful. We finally get to imagine ourselves in the shoes of the Good one, the one who took pity, the one who moved toward instead of away, the one who opened his checkbook to pay the hotel and hospital bills. With relief, perhaps, we can then answer Jesus’ question, “Who was the neighbor?”

When we hear this parable, we can also try on the role of the main character: the man on the verge of death, battered and robbed and then willfully ignored at the side of the road. Can we flex our imaginations enough to feel his fear that the attackers might return? Can we feel his anger, his instinct to live and to fight back? Can we feel his resignation to the inevitable, as he realizes that there is just too much blood seeping from his wounds?

Can we feel his hope when he glimpses the holy robes of God’s highest appointed leader coming nearer—then his disbelief, as he watches the priest suddenly detour to a safe distance?

Can we feel his hope when he hears the voice of the Levite growing louder—then his heartbreak, as he hears that voice growing quieter in a hasty retreat?

Can we feel waves of his hopelessness crashing over us?

Neighbor-hood is a mutual relationship. There wasn’t just one neighbor in this story; there were two. The priest and the Levite saw a broken, broke, and unclean man—a dead body, for all intents and purposes—but they did not see a neighbor. They did not see a relationship. They did not see the hope in the man’s eyes; they didn’t see that, in those moments between life and death, they were his hope.

Being a neighbor requires imagination: to see another person’s life—however broken, however “dirty,” however different from our own—as equally beloved, equally valued, equally worthy of connection and care.

Hope, too, requires imagination: to believe that there is still a chance that we will be truly seen. To believe that our own eyes will be opened so we can find true neighbors, even in unlikely places. To believe that risk is worthwhile, and that what little we can do is not so little at all.

This is an Advent hope. This is the hope of a man left to die, and this hope requires imagination: to believe, again and again, despite all indications to the contrary, that salvation is near.

Nikki Finkelstein-Blair is an ordained Baptist minister, at-home mom, and military spouse living in South Carolina. She blogs at One Faithful Step.