Blogging Towards Sunday, December 12, 2010
The 3rd Sunday of Advent: JOY
Is Jesus for real? Do we really want him in Christmas?
This is my new favorite Christmas song this year, "There's Still My Joy"[VIDEO] : [lyrics] by the Indigo Girls. I'm haunted by the repeated chorus line: "One tiny child can change the world. One shining light can show the way."
The first three scriptures for this week echo the same theme. When God is present there is judgment and deliverance. The divine presence brings wholeness to where before were only sin, separation and their consequences. It means replacing despair with hope, exile by return, systematic evil with a path toward the light. There's a reason that there all poetry wether a prophetic word, worship song, or the response put on Mary's lips in light of the magnificent news that she is told.
Isaiah, talking to his exiled countrymen and women, enslaved by the mighty ancient power of Assyria, offers a radical vision: a path through the desert back to the promised land. A path so radical that it heals all those that tread it. A path so amazing that even a fool can't lose his or her way (v.8). It lifts up that God excels at making a way out of no way. It paints the portrait of the God revealed in the Bible: a God who brings hope and strength, who shows up even in the desert and barren places of our lives to awaken in us renewal, restoration and salvation.
In Matthew 11 we glimpse John the Baptizer, imprisoned by the King for speaking out against the twisted nature of royal power. He's despairing, uncertain if it was all worth it, wondering if Jesus is for real. Jesus basically answers his question saying, I can't answer for you. YOU have to decide on your own whether I'm for real or not. Look at the evidence: what are you seeing and hearing? What do you see? Those sent to ask the question on behalf of John notice that around Jesus the words of Isaiah 35 are coming true: the blind see [Mt 9:27-31]; the lame walk [Mt 9:2-8]; lepers are healed [Matthew 8:1-14]; the deaf hear [Mt 9:32-34]; the dead are raised [Mt 9:18-26] and the poor are cared for [Mt 9:35-38]. Look tells the story in direct dialog with the vision of a new age in Isaiah 35.
Jesus isn't what John expected. I wonder if Jesus is really what we expect? In my own life I've experienced radical change, liberation and deliverance through faith in this Jesus - seen with my own eyes, touched with my own hands, heard with my own ears. And yet so many broken things remain; the world system still seems so broken and controlled by selfish destructive powers. God doesn't seem to act the way that I expect. God doesn't do it how I would. Maybe that's a good thing.
This week I've heard some comments about the need to put Christ back into Christmas, refusing to wish "Happy Holidays!" instead of "Merry Christmas!" As I reflect on these scriptures and this ongoing culture discussion, I wonder what is this Christ that we want to put back into our seasonal greetings within the context of our pluralistic society? Considering the words of Matthew and Isaiah - is it this Jesus that brings wholeness, liberation and deliverance in an unexpected way?; or is it a Jesus that feels familiar, tame, controllable, who consoles us regarding our perspectives and social mores?
Jesus responds to John the Baptizer's question about authenticity, by saying "what do you think? what do you see?" How are we responding in our culture today? Are we insisting upon the idea that others have to see what we do, or are we comfortable enough with our own faith to ask the question Jesus does: Look at the evidence, what do you see? Maybe it's up to follow Jesus, and not consumer-driving multinational business, to put the Christ back in Christmas. How are we lifting up that he's the real deal in our daily life, ethical choices, use of our money and investment of our time?
I'm struck this week by the words of that song:
"One tiny child can change the world"
"One shining light can show the way"
I believe it. But how am I living from and into such hope?