• Steven Marsh

God’s Story, Your Story and Our Story Through the Eyes of the Gospel Writers: Empathy Today–We

This is The Fourth Sunday of Advent. The Love Candle is lit. The Hope, Peace and Joy Candles remain lit. Advent anticipates the fulfillment of God’s promise of the Messiah. Advent is about the incarnation. The incarnation is the historic event when God the Father made himself known as God the Son. Jesus Christ, God incarnate, was both true God and true man. God descended to us, because we are incapable to ascend to God. In Jesus Christ, God descended to save…to give us hope, peace, joy and love, no matter the circumstances in which we find ourselves. Such is the promise of Advent.

God’s promise of a Messiah is grounded in God’s intention to reconcile each one of us to the Father and to transform broken lives and a broken world. “For God so loved the world.” God, who empathizes with each one of us, reaches out continuously with grace. Grace, God’s unmerited favor for you, me and all people creates hope, peace, joy and love. Empathy is “the action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another…”[1] It is through empathy that we demonstrate compassion. And our compassion for others displays hope, peace, joy and love. Father Gregory Boyle, the author of Tattoos on the Heart, writes,

One day as I’m walking past, lost in my own thoughts, I fail to see him [Junior]. Then after I had gone beyond his apartment and the alley, Junior screams full-throttle, “LOVE YOU G-DOG.” … “Thank you, Junior. That was a very nice thing to say.” Junior waves me on…” Oh, come on now, G, you know,” he says, spinning his hand in a circular motion, “You’re in my jurisdiction.” I can’t be entirely sure what Junior meant. Except for the fact that we all need to see that we are in each other’s “jurisdictions,” spheres of acceptance—only, all the time.[2]

According to the Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary, jurisdiction is “the power, right, or authority to interpret and apply the law.” God interprets and applies the Law with hope, peace, joy and love. We’re in Jesus’ jurisdiction, Jesus’ sphere of acceptance all the time.

The texts in Isaiah 7:10-16, Romans 1:1-7 and Matthew 1:18-25 affirm that we’re in Jesus’ jurisdiction of hope, peace, joy and love all the time. Nothing happens by accident or without purpose. God has “this one” and “that one” and “all the ones,” because we’re in Jesus’ jurisdiction. Isaiah 7:10-16 depicts the worst king in Judah’s history, because he was faithless in providing jurisdiction for the benefit of the people. The Lord, however, was fully trustworthy with God’s jurisdiction. God gave a sign of confirmation. The sign was that a young woman would give birth to a son and the son would be named Immanuel, which means “God with us.” Romans 1:1-7 demonstrates that God is trustworthy, because through the Messiah Jesus, “God with us,” death does not win. The gospel will never fail us. Matthew1:18-25 asserts that the theme of the incarnation is the declaration that Jesus is not a special baby, but Immanuel, “God with us.” The angel Gabriel visited Mary and told her she would bear a son, the Savior of the world. Mary believed the promise and so did Joseph despite the swirling questions of Mary’s pregnancy. The Holy Spirit was the cause of Mary’s pregnancy. Joseph was the legal, but not the biological father of Jesus. The birth of Jesus happened safely in God’s jurisdiction.[3]

New life is possible for everyone. Hope, peace, joy and love is yours to experience. Because God loves the world, God sent his Son that whoever believes in him might not perish but have eternal life. The God who creates us is the same God who saves us, the same God who lives in us, and will be the same God who returns to take us to live with him forever. Jesus’ jurisdiction is experienced in the self-emptying of oneself for the sake of another. Jesus did that for each one of us.

Advent calls you to walk in the interval between birth and death with empathy…. with hope, peace, joy and love. God is for you, not against you. Be empathetic with others. We’re in Jesus’ jurisdiction, Jesus’ sphere of acceptance all the time.

[1]This definition of empathy is taken from the online Merriam-Webster Dictionary.

[2]Gregory Boyle, Tattoos on the Heart (New York, New York: Free Press, 2010), 129-130.

[3]In this textual analysis, I have benefited from the thinking of Sharyn Dowd, James D. Freeman, Emerson P. Powery, Anna Olson, Sharyn Dowd and Lauren F. Winner in Connections, Year A, Volume 1 (Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 2019), 50-52, 52-53, 56-57, 58-60, 61-63 and 63-64.

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