“And Jesus said to them, ‘What do you think? If a man owns a hundred sheep, and one of them wanders away, will he not leave the ninety-nine in the hills and go to look for the one that has wandered off?’” (Matthew 18.12).
It settles that reaching, half-starved creature in my chest to know that God isn’t in the business of leaving anyone behind. He searches out the one.
I think on this when I consider the young Mbororo mom or the Zande grandfather lashing sticks into homes under dense jungle canopies. They are out of my reach—it feels like whole solar systems away—but God tracks them past the fringes of oblivion, gives them breath and pulse and rain.
Sometimes my heart feels like a small stone, and I’m trying to poke it awake. Other times it’s more of a beached milkfish: pale and limp, with the occasional thrash of scales as it grabs for oxygen.
I want to be quiet and wide-awake to wonder. God came near, took up residence in us, and if that doesn’t kindle bright astonishment, then I’ve gone horribly fireproof.
I’m the disciple with the slow and burning heart, all dogmatic, poorly-aimed passion, who can’t seem to cobble my act together. Who can’t keep watch with Jesus for a single, grief-wracked hour. Yet He keeps picking me anyway, and the mercy of that act pours through me like a river song.
We are sitting in the dark, a black so thick it pools like honey. I don’t know how to find Christmas in the dark, but eventually I realize: I don’t need to. Jesus is here. I have Jesus in the thinned-gold winter light and Jesus in the dark, and I don’t need to see to trust the weight of this particular glory.
A few weeks back I sat by a college student who spoke her village’s dialect with occasional flurries of English. I speak English with an endangered side of Swahili, so the overlap of our shared vocabulary was positively skinny. I couldn’t seem to stop talking at her, though, because beneath the layer of actual words thrums a message that doesn’t need a common lexicon: I see you. You are fashioned in the exquisite image of my King. You are worth all of the minutes and all of the words and the grins and the clumsy pauses.
At the end of our street lives a teenage boy who sometimes blares song lyrics that make me flinch. Once in a while he’s in trouble, and winds up home digging ditches to divert rainwater when he should be tucked away at school. We bump into him mostly every day, and he seems resigned to the inevitability that I’ll try to talk to him. He’s unfailingly polite, lately even tipping toward chatty.
Just up the hill lives a young couple who, a few years ago, were desperate for a place to live. They hoped for a stretch of city where they could close their eyes at night and not wonder if they’d ever open them again. Our neighbors took them in, and now this couple has a sweet, roly baby who grins at me from the branches of his mother’s arms. Sometimes there is room at the inn.
Sometimes there’s room, and sometimes we’re packed full but everyone inhales and scoots closer anyway, because from this angle of history we know what all the Other Innkeepers didn’t: this could be Jesus. This wary teen, this threadbare couple, this shell-shocked refugee might as well be Him, because He said that whatever we do for someone in a desperate place we are actually doing for Him.
The weight of glory, as expounded by Lewis all those seventy-six years ago, is the same surprising joy I’m trusting in the dark this Christmas: that God inexplicably delights in His children. And someday when they pull on the light and find what’s left of me, I hope I’m just a whisper of ember and ash, consumed by His irrational love.