Is God really at work in my neighborhood?
The short answer: yes. The Word became flesh and blood and moved into the neighborhood (John 1:14, MSG).
We often quote this verse when pondering this question (especially at Christmas), but centuries before Jesus the Old Testament declared and affirmed God’s presence right where we live. God dwells among us, abides with us, and takes up long-term residency in our neighborhoods, as described already in Exodus. And, as it turns out, God dwelling with us is also, at least in part, God’s goal for all creation. In Revelation 21:3, we read with joy and anticipation that when the new Jerusalem comes down, God’s home will be with us. Simon Carey Holt thus declares in God Next Door that we need to begin by naming the neighborhood “as a place of God's presence. ... According to both Old and New Testaments, neighborhoods and neighborly relationships play host to the presence of God” (p. 17).
We see this most fully and tangibly in the incarnation. Jesus embodies God in the neighborhood in the flesh, as one of us, living right next door. Known as Jesus of Nazareth throughout the New Testament, the Christ lived in virtual obscurity in his Nazareth neighborhood for 30 years as an ordinary, everyday neighbor. He was a part of the community, engaged in the normal routines of human life and relationship with and among his village.
The reality of God present and at work in our neighborhoods thus has profound implications for God’s people. First, it indicates that we might need to learn again (or for the first time) how to pay attention to signs of God’s presence—not just in the church, but in our neighbors and neighborhoods. What would happen if we began to see and seek out God's presence in those who live next door?
Secondly, if God is at work in our neighborhoods, perhaps we should be too. Perhaps all those who bear Jesus’ name should learn again (or for the first time) what it means to be a good neighbor, to live among, to practice flesh-and-blood neighborliness, and in this way to bear witness to the loving God who makes a home among us. I wonder what might happen if we got to know and were known by our neighbors as true neighbors.