fall on your knees

This is a repost from the summer, with some new reflections added as it struck me again this Advent.

Then the high priest stood up and said to Jesus, “Are you not going to answer? What is this testimony that these men are bringing against you?” 63 But Jesus remained silent. The high priest said to him, “I charge you under oath by the living God: Tell us if you are the Messiah, the Son of God.” 64 “You have said so,” Jesus replied. “But I say to all of you: From now on you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven.”65 Then the high priest tore his clothes and said, “He has spoken blasphemy! Why do we need any more witnesses? Look, now you have heard the blasphemy. 66 What do you think?” “He is worthy of death,” they answered. [Matthew 26]

I love the fact that the Christian year begins with Advent. This year, I feel especially connected to this season; in moving to a new place, I have spent a lot of time waiting and praying for God to show up.

The Jewish community had waited hundreds of years for its Messiah. But when he finally comes along and goes, “Oh, hey, I’m the Messiah,” their leaders get all outraged and execute him. They’re not even like, “Whoa, that guy is crazy,” or “Hmm, are you sure about that?” They are clothes-destroyingly infuriated.

I have a hard time imagining the Pharisees as the Ultimate Evil, the way they’re always depicted in sermons and stuff. Maybe I’m just a contrary person, but I also have this thing where I don’t like one-dimensional labels for real human beings. So, the Pharisees – kind of crappy people? Probably. Ultimate Evil? Nnnnnno.

I don’t think the Pharisees were such big liars that they were only pretending to expect the Messiah. But they wanted their own kind of Messiah; there was a script in their heads for how this thing would go down. The Messiah would restore the nation of Israel to the nation-state of Israel. He wouldn’t pay taxes or help centurions; he would take names and throw down, rout the Romans and make Israel a theocracy once more. And who better to assist in the government of a theocracy than the faithful keepers of the Torah?

A Messiah who did not legitimize or increase their own power was entirely outside the Pharisees’ frame of reference, because they had stopped worshipping a God who was “slow to anger and abounding in love” in favor of worshipping the Law. They only understood the power of coercion, of religious threats and expensive vocabulary and alliance with governing swords – so they were baffled by Jesus’ power of love, his influence by compassion, his simply-worded summation of the Law and the Prophets, his foolish donkey rides. And if there’s one thing that makes academics angry, it’s the inability to understand. How could they watch their people flock to this penniless, child-honoring wanderer and not feel affronted? After all, anyone who undermined and insulted the Sanhedrin, insulted God: blasphemy.

Jesus’ message and ministry were always simple but never easy. He made it clear that God’s standards for holiness are nothing short of perfection [“love your neighbor as yourself”], but when the time came he did not condemn sinners. The God-man himself is a paradox and at every turn in the Gospels, the paradoxes only compound and multiply.  So here is the question for the scholar, for every person who wants to walk humbly: are you waiting for the true Messiah? Because we always encounter him again and again, as long as we are willing to believe the Living God as he is.
If my Messiah never forces me to confront paradox;
If he always serves my interests;
If he never surprises me;
If he would never, ever ask me to give all I had to the poor;
If he would exercise his right to cast the first stone;
If he prioritizes the powerful over the needy;
If he has no compassion for the Pharisees;
If he did not die for everyone;
If he never asks for more than I think I can give;
if I’ve stopped waiting for him to reveal himself because I think I’ve already grasped him,

then I’ve constructed a false idol, and I do not worship Jesus Christ at all.

The Christian year begins with Advent – with waiting. Stillness. A desire to encounter God in all God’s glory.

And then – somehow we forget every time – it turns out that all along we were awaiting the birth of a very poor woman’s not-really-legitimate child. That he can be found in the face of a child in a food pantry line. That he inspires unhoped-for reconciliation with a housemate. That he is among and within The Liberals and The Conservatives.

This Christmas, may you encounter the God who surprises.

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1 Comment

  1. Jacqueline in Atlanta

     /  December 12, 2012

    And I think that is why American Christmas is so dangerous. In all the hustle and bustle of the season, there is no time to wait, to hear God’s voice, to expect the Messiah in the unexpected barn-like places, to detect a baby’s cry or see a weird star in the nighttime sky. I love Santa and trees and tinsel and most of the movies and cookies and parties and dressing up for parties and snowmen and angels and cheesballs and crackers and snowflakes that stay on my nose and eyelashes. But do I love Jesus and everything he stands for? Not the baby in the manger, but the Jesus on the cross? Frankly, it’s easier to love Santa Claus.


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