He looked like most others I'd seen – and I've spotted several of them over the years and in other parts of the world. He was recognisable but I wouldn't have noticed him except that what he was doing was different, even though it was normal for that particular area – an unfamiliar familiarity.
It is something that is popular in every city. We see evidence of it everywhere; where there's a large enough surface, there it is to be found. Some examples of it are amusing; some are graphic, bright and colourful; some, dull and boring. A few examples are eye-catching, most are an eyesore. Some are offensively explicit; most are invasive and illegal.
Graffiti – a rather exotic-sounding name for this art-form (for art it is!) which invokes more irritation than appreciation. Here he was, in the middle of the day (as opposed to when these artists usually did their damage/work) but, instead of being destructive, he was being constructive; instead of inflicting damage, he was spreading beauty. He was living it up, by doing what he loved doing, and living out his conviction that he could do something to make his surroundings better.
They looked like most others in the neighbourhood; recognisable, dressed as their peers. They sounded like their peers did – their music was no surprise; they moved in the same way, used the same gestures. I was forced to notice them because there was an unfamiliar familiarity about them, too.
From my point of view, they were not the typical singing group one associates with Sunday morning worship. They would’ve been more at home on the street corner outside the hall. (As it happens, they are very much at home in that hall because they belong there – they are accepted just as they are!) They were doing what most other young artists in their area were doing – performing a music style which is very popular on the streets of many western cities.
Rapping – a music style that combines strong lyrics with a heavy rhythmic beat. Using rhyme and strong word-imagery, the music almost always has a message – often dark themes, with aggressive lyrics, strong words, often expletives, expressing frustration and anger, protesting a life with which the artist is not saisfied. But, instead of the usual message of hopelessness and despair, they were using their music to speak about hope and life and joy. They were singing about their faith in a God who transformed lives, who took us out of the mire of our daily strife and striving. As I watched, I saw that they were living it up – enjoying their music – and living out their beliefs – offering their peers a better way.
He looked like the rest of us – he was one of us. He “pitched his tent among us”, “moved into the neighbourhood”. He did what we did, lived like us, belonged. He was so much a part of us that it is recorded that he went unrecognised – we didn’t see nor grasp who he actually was. And, yet, there was a familiar unfamiliarity about him.
Despite looking like us and being one of us, he lived his life differently. He seemed to be marching to another drummer, had a different set of values – spoke of others when we were obsessed with ourselves, of forgiveness instead of revenge, of love when we would have chosen hate, of a loving personal God when we believed God to be remote and unconcerned.
The fleshing out of that intimate, personal God’s love and grace is seen and experienced in the person of Jesus. He became like us to make it possible for us to become like him. He lived it up as a human – he was even accused of enjoying his life too much – and lived out his conviction that grace can transform a world. He lived out that conviction to the ultimate, by dying to make it possible. His life lived and death died gives the world a chance to be turned right side up!
Living it up, and living it out – living like everyone else, but making a huge difference – that’s incarnational living!