Just Another Neighborhood

December 22, 2011 § Leave a comment

The other night, after eating at the iconic Hon Diner in Baltimore, we walked through Hampden, a small neighborhood in the northern part of the city. Each Christmas something special happens in Hampden. It is a cultural event and recently made national news (NBC). For years the neighbors on one particular block of 34th Street in this neighborhood decorate their row houses in what could only mildly be labeled as spectacular, bizarre, a bit tacky (in the most affectionate of ways), and enjoyable, all at the same time (the video offers a glimpse).

The decorations are all over the map: Trees made out of hubcaps, bicycle wheels, old Record LP’s and bent pipes. Huge inflated characters, such as from Charlie Brown’s Christmas, the Grinch and naturally, Santa Claus, welcome visitors from front lawns. Each entryway of steps is an invitation for folks to near the homes and see the intricacies of the decorations. One home doubles as an art gallery and is open for all to enter and peruse.

What really defines the block, however, is the lights. Windows are completely lighted, as are rooflines, doors, wreaths and house corners. Second stories are lighted as much as the ground floor on each home. There are big lights, tiny lights, colored lights, twinkling lights, cords of lights and icicle lights. There is a lighted crab (naturally), a lighted palm tree (we loved that!), lighted rails, lighted steps, lighted Santas, lighted Frostys, lighted Teddy Bears, lighted Angels, lighted Reindeer, and a lot of other lighted stuff!

And it would not be an overstatement to say that mobs of people come to 34th Street each Christmas. The streets, sidewalks and steps of the homes are crowded in humanity. People talk, sing, laugh, photograph and take video. It isn’t uncommon to hear someone say, ‘Would you like me to take a picture of all of you together?’

The crazy thing is that Hampden was barely known not too many years ago – it was just another neighborhood that few entered without a reason to do so. And this particular street was just a dark street at the end of the block.

In a few days we celebrate Jesus’ birth. Isaiah prophetically describes His entrance into our world as ‘light shining’ to people who ‘walk in darkness’ (Isaiah 9:6). We will quote the prophecy on Christmas Eve, along with John’s gospel. We will light candles to celebrate and signify that Jesus has come. He has come into our darkness. Our dark lives. Our dark pasts. Our dark fears. Our dark imaginations. Our dark shame. Our dark struggles. Our dark realities, at home, at work, in the classroom, within the secret confines of our thoughts, hearts and imaginations.

And while it would be natural to follow by saying that He brings light to our darkness (which He does), right now, in this post, what I am blown away by, is that He enters at all – that knowing those dark corners of my life, He would come. That He even wants to is astounding. But He does. He isn’t deterred or repulsed by my resistant heart. And He isn’t fooled by any pretense that I display. He simply enters. I am not alone in my own darkness.

If that were all that there is to the Christmas story (and by a long shot it isn’t), it would be enough – and it would be good – because there is something in every unfinished one that longs to be discovered and loved, regardless of how dark, damaged and tacky they actually are. In our thinking we tend to see ourselves as ‘just another neighborhood’ in a vast city, but Jesus’ entrance demonstrates that to the Father we are more – we are His.

Friends, this is Christmas news – This is good news.


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