December 15, 2017

The Rebel Jesus

All the streets are filled with laughter and light
And the music of the season
And the merchants’ windows are all bright
With the faces of the children
And the families hurrying to their homes
While the sky darkens and freezes
Will be gathering around the hearths and tables
Giving thanks for God’s graces
And the birth of the rebel Jesus

Jackson Browne, The Rebel Jesus

My younger daughter, Leah, came by on Sunday with her husband to decorate my house for Christmas. Once we had the lights and decorations up on the tree (always a live tree, never artificial), Leah went about putting up other sentimental decorations around the house. Doorknob hangers. An angel candleholder. Kermit the Frog decked out in his Christmas vest. And, of course, the creche.

It’s a nice creche as creches go. There is a wooden structure where Mary, Joseph and the baby Jesus can reside. Outside are some shepherds—one holding a lamb on his shoulders—and the three wise men. (A couple of years ahead of their time, but let’s not be picky here, ok?) And of course a sheep and a donkey.

I’m looking at the creche right now. It is on a counter between my coffee room (it’s actually a wet bar, but as I don’t really imbibe that often in adult beverages, but drink an inordinate amount of coffee, I made this into my coffee room) and the family room. Right now it is sitting in the dark. I can barely make out the various figures in the scene. If you were to walk into my house right now, chances are you wouldn’t even notice it. Just like those in Israel at the time of Jesus’ birth.

In Israel it was a time of great darkness. For hundreds of years the nation had been under the heel of oppressors. Now it was Rome’s turn to rule this backwater country. Yes, Israel had a “king,” Herod, a puppet elected “king of the Jews” by the Roman senate. Herod considered himself a Jew, but was not observant in the Jewish law or customs. He was in this for the power and the perks. Rome was there to keep the pesky Jews in line. Israel was a conquered country in every respect.

It was a dark time spiritually as well. Those few who still sought after God were desperate to hear from him, but God had gone silent. There were no new prophetic revelations at this time. Men and women seeking God could only remember the past. God seemed to have forsaken them in the present. These were dark times indeed.

The religious at that time certainly were looking for Jesus’ birth. Or, to be more precise, the coming of the Messiah. They were crying out for a Victorious King who would lead the overthrow of the Roman control of their country and Israel would once again be free. The Messiah would set all things right. He would “take Israel back for God.” After all, Israel was founded as a godly nation. Once the Messiah came, all those liberals who suggested the Jews and the Romans should learn to get along would see the error in their ways or they could just pack up and move to Egypt. Once the Messiah arrived, then the Jewish religion would really take hold. Everyone would follow the laws and traditions then.  They looked for this Messiah to appear at the Temple in Jerusalem, or perhaps to first overthrow Herod in his palace, and then come riding into the City of Kings on a white horse with a valiant army marching with him.

What they didn’t expect, or even consider, was the God would sneak into Israel as a baby conceived out of wedlock. That he would be born in a cave where livestock were fed and housed. That the mother would be a young teenage girl of no account, and her husband—not the baby’s father—would be a blue-color worker. No one saw that this baby would not grow up to ride a white horse into Jerusalem to set things right, but would ride a simple donkey on his way to die.

The religious leaders were looking for a Messiah who would lead a political, and perhaps military, revolution. They never foresaw one who could care less about politics, or religion for that matter. They wanted a poster child for law and traditions. They couldn’t imagine the Anointed One hanging out with tax collectors, fisherman, whores, lepers and other outcasts. They wanted one to usher in a Thousand Year Reign for Israel. They got a Messiah who lived barely three decades and then died as a criminal. They were looking for a massive fire, and they missed the candle.

Let me try to bring us back to where we are today. From where I am sitting, Jesus is in the dark. I can’t see him. I mean both baby Jesus in my creche, and Jesus in my life. Things have been dark for some time in my life. I’ve been looking for Jesus’ arrival, waiting for him to come and bring the light. But I have a sneaking suspicion he is not going to come in the way I think he should. I have a feeling that he will surprise me with something other than I was thinking. That he will show up as a rebel to my ways. That he will come in a way that goes against the ways I always thought he would come, that he will overturn tables and bring me into disreputable circumstances. For that is the way Jesus came into our world. We weren’t looking in the direction of Bethlehem.  We didn’t even notice the shepherds running toward a hovel where a young girl lay on bloody straw after giving birth. We didn’t see him coming at all.

It’s Advent, which means “coming.” Oh, we can look at our calendars and know just how many days we have until Christmas. We know when the Light will arrive. At least we know the day we will celebrate when the Light first arrived. Those in Israel in 4 B.C. didn’t know when he would come. As far as they knew, their darkness would last forever. I can say that the Light has come into the world, but when will he come into MY world? When will he come into yours?

And then when he arrives, we find he has been here all along. It is part of the great mystery. Darkness is not darkness to him. “Waiting patiently” has no meaning for the one who created time. He Was, and Is, and Will Be. It’s just that we wasn’t where we were looking, and he isn’t ever here in the time we want him, and he won’t be the way we think he should be. He is the Rebel Jesus, and was, even at his birth. If we expect him to be anything else, we are making a god with our own hands rather than accepting God has he knows himself to be.

In this time of darkness, this time of desperate expectancy, what if you were to let go of the way you think Jesus should come, and instead allow him to come in his way to you. What if Jesus were to come to you in a way you never expected him to? Would you still be glad for the light, or would you want to flee back into your safe and familiar dark corner? He is coming, you know. You can’t stop him. All you can do is decide if you will live in the Light, or cling to the dark.

Comments

  1. Christiane says:

    “And then when he arrives, we find he has been here all along. It is part of the great mystery. ”

    Yes, I think you are right:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=POm7_WBMJTI

  2. Beautifully stated. We so need to be reminded of this.

  3. I have been struck lately in reading things about how God is looking for us. He has not gone anywhere; he had not left or gone hidden. But WE have turned our faces away from God and God only asks that we turn and see that he is with us and always has been. It sounds “easy” and yet, because we are so set in our ways, it is also difficult for us to do. The passages about becoming weak to be strong are true. It is when we give up our self-centered ways of being that we can finally become aware of and strengthened by God’s presense. In the parable of the return of the prodigal son, the father was watching and waiting for his son to turn back towards him and come home. We need to come home.

    • JoanieD, I know that there’s a lot of strength for a lot of people in that way of looking at things. But I have to throw in an alternate viewpoint here. Not to argue, just to augment. I have been incredibly strengthened recently by a few passages in the Psalms that essentially rail against God for being absent. I read these as I dealt with the frustration of having come to a point I was fighting towards, going where God was leading me, and not finding there the inner stability that I assumed would be there. God had done crazy works in my spirit to bring me to places of dependence on him, to being weak so that he could be strong, and yet the assurance that I was looking for wasn’t there. When I read those psalms I almost cried with relief as a new idea presented itself – could it be that God’s felt absence, or the absence of his gifts didn’t have something to do with me being “bad” (engaged in a “self-centered way of being”), but just with some mysterious work of his that I couldn’t understand yet? Just another thought…

      • brilliantvapor, you make very good points in your comment. I would not want anyone to feel that they have been “bad” and that’s why they don’t feel God’s presence. Mother Theresa went decades without “sensing” God’s presence in her life. But in spite of that, she continued to reach out to people to take care of their basic needs and to let them know that God loved them. So we do not need to “feel” God to act with love and yes, God was likely working in some mysterious way in both Mother Theresa and in you.

        A clarification on my comment though. I don’t mean “self-centered” in the sense of being selfish. I mean it in the sense that we are looking towards ourselves for answers that only God can give.

  4. But I have a sneaking suspicion he is not going to come in the way I think he should. I have a feeling that he will surprise me with something other than I was thinking. That he will show up as a rebel to my ways. That he will come in a way that goes against the ways I always thought he would come, that he will overturn tables and bring me into disreputable circumstances. For that is the way Jesus came into our world.

    Beautiful! Delightful! That is exactly how it always winds up working in my life! Thanks for the shot of hope this morning.

  5. Well said…I wrote about this a few days ago as well…it seems “intelligent/spiritual” minds think alike. 😉

    http://lukefour18.wordpress.com/2010/11/28/giving-birth-to-hope%E2%80%A6/

  6. The great thing about Advent – for those of us who follow the liturgical calendar, is that it gives us a time to focus on Jesus’s second coming first of all, and assess in how we are doing to be ready. How is our growth in God or at least our attention span? How are we treating others these days? I know… we should be reflecting like this all the time, but I like that there are constant reminders of preparation and the anticipation. The advent wreath, for my family, is a great reminder. Each night before dinner we light the candle for the week, say a specific prayer and then this becomes our discussion for at least a portion of mealtime.

    The Nativity scene is also a great reminder of what has been, is, and what is to come. In my family and also when I was growing up, Jesus was not placed on the straw until Christmas day. It was part of the fulfillment of the anticipation, waking up to gifts but also as a child going over to see that Jesus was there as well (the wise men were off in another part of the family room making their journey). Additionally we would prepare Jesus’s bed by being allowed to contribute a piece of straw in the manger area each day during Advent if, as a child, we did something unselfishly for someone else (I haven’t yet continued this piece of tradition with my own).

    I have always wondered that if Jesus came back today would I recognise him? Or would the reason part of my brain take over and say this person is not who he says he is. I guess I won’t know untl it occurs…

  7. Richard Hershberger says:

    Not your point, but I am trying to wrap my mind around the distinction between coffee and “adult beverages”. I don’t give my kids coffee, and I didn’t drink it until college. Is this unusual nowadays? Of course I know perfectly well that you are using “adult beverages” as a euphemism for alcohol, and that you are hardly the first to do this. I am just riffing off this usage of “adult”. Adult magazines: like the New Yorker? My kids might like the cartoons, but they wouldn’t be interested in the rest. Adult movies? Like indie art house films where nothing is blown up? Et cetera.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      In liquid applications, “adult” is code for “alcohol.”

      In movie and magazine applications, “adult” is code for “porn.” Usually targeted at perpetual horny-boy adolescents.

  8. Headless Unicorn Guy says:

    The religious at that time certainly were looking for Jesus’ birth. Or, to be more precise, the coming of the Messiah. They were crying out for a Victorious King who would lead the overthrow of the Roman control of their country and Israel would once again be free. The Messiah would set all things right. He would “take Israel back for God.” After all, Israel was founded as a godly nation. Once the Messiah came, all those liberals who suggested the Jews and the Romans should learn to get along would see the error in their ways or they could just pack up and move to Egypt. Once the Messiah arrived, then the Jewish religion would really take hold. Everyone would follow the laws and traditions then.

    Can you say “Culture War”?

  9. Jeff,
    Thanks for this wonderful and insightful post.
    I couldn’t agree more–He will come like a thief in the night. When we least expect it, and looking nothing like “our” Jesus. Do we have the patience to wait for Him as He truly is? Yes with the grace of God.

    Thanks.

  10. Im afraid we always fall into the same trap that Israel fell into we expect something else and miss God entirely. If I place myself into the world where Jesus came how would I respond to Him? To be honest I would probably side with the Pharisees – smug, stuck in the religious framework that doesn’t allow for Jesus’ fresh teachings. I would probably dismiss Him as someone who was talented but surely unscriptural. If we place ourselves in Israel at the time of Jesus’ ministry and apply the same principles and way of seeing God that we have now, would we be one of those people who would drop everything and follow Him? God have mercy, we would probably not.

  11. Careful there, Jeff – you go about quoting Jackson Browne you’re going to come across as being a liberal. 😉

    Well we guard our world with locks and guns
    And we guard our fine possessions
    And once a year when Christmas comes
    We give to our relations
    And perhaps we give a little to the poor
    If the generosity should seize us
    But if any one of us should interfere
    In the business of why there are poor
    They get the same as the rebel Jesus

    From a heathen and a pagan
    On the side of the rebel Jesus

    Jackson Browne, The Rebel Jesus