Advent: That’s not my Jesus
Every time Joy, our 3 year old, comes back from the library she’s got another version of “That’s Not My Pony (or Kitty, Dog, Bear, Meerkat…)” “touchy-feely books” published by Usborne. The narrative is set up as if the child/reader is searching for their Pony/Kitty/Dog/Meerkat, etc. Each turn of the page starts: “That’s not my meerkat”, followed by a picture of a meerkat with a specific part of it’s body made of a textured material to be ‘touched and felt’, and then …”it’s cheeks are too squashy” or “its back is too fuzzy” and so on, until the last page when in big bold letters it says “That’s my Meerkat!” with a picture of a meerkat with an abdomen made of thick, ‘furry’ fabric: “Its tummy is so soft.”
Throughout Advent I’m looking at how God came near in Jesus’ birth and what that may tell us about ways God is near us today.
The Jewish people were looking with expectancy for their messiah. There were different perspectives on how the messiah would come and what he would do. As you read the stories of Jesus’ life and ministry in Matthew, Mark, Luke and John you can pick up ways Jesus fulfills different messianic signs and how the crowds and particularly the religious leaders were constantly evaluating as they watched him whether he was “the one” they were looking for. The challenge with Jesus is he kept breaking certain social norms and offending people’s perspectives and preferences.
‘That’s not my messiah…he eats with sinners.”
“That’s not my messiah…he breaks Sabbath rules.”
“That’s not my messiah…he was executed by the Romans on a cross.”
Those around Jesus were getting the chance to do some “touchy-feely”: “We declare to you what was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life…” (1 John 1:1).
It is all over the place in Jesus’ birth–unexpected, surprising things that offended social norms: unmarried pregnant teenagers; pregnant senior citizens; genealogies which involve adulterers, murders, liars, oppressors, pretend prostitutes and who knows what else; the subversive birth of a God king in a cave/barn and angelic coronation announcements to socially outcast shepherds.
This can be tricky stuff, sorting out recognizing the presence and activity of a God who will do things in ways that surprise us, yes, but even more offend us. This has all kinds of implications for our discernment. How do you tell the difference between righteous anger, purity or holiness and missing out and misunderstanding what God is doing? Why does God break from some social norms and seem to honor, embrace or at least tolerate others? Does this differ in different situations? Is good news to one person/group, offensive to someone else? Are we testing and assessing if it’s God or is God testing us? How much does our own personality, our culture, our theology/thoughts about God, our past experiences and wounds affect how we handle mystery, innovation, aberration (a departure from what is normal, usual, or expected, typically an unwelcome one)? So many questions, so many different ways to answer…
But, let’s not make this too complex out of the gate and observe something basic: Pay attention to what offends you, it could be God. We usually don’t have a problem with the first part: we notice what offends us. (What or who is offending you right now?) And then there is all kinds of different ways we respond. But, how many of us when our perspective or preferences are offended, respond with expectancy: is this you God?
“That’s my Jesus…he offends me sometimes.”