Merry Christmas. Peace on earth, goodwill toward men. Please watch this:
This will not be a Christmas-bashing post. Actually, it is a plea to step toward what Advent is meant to represent.
The death of Eric Garner, and subsequent lack of indictment in the case, is the most recent throwing of gasoline on the raging fire of civil tension in America. Mike Brown’s death and the protests in Ferguson, the broader city of St Louis and around the US are another major recent flash point. Throw in President Obama’s sweeping immigration bill and the continued fights in Washington over control of the political scene; much of America has been upheaved. In the span of years that I have been on the earth (less than you think), I don’t remember another point of civil unrest like this.
There tend to be two reactions in situations like this.
1. Identify a dichotomy, choose a side, and fight like mad for what you’ve chosen. As I stated in a previous post, dichotomous ways of engaging life are often inevitable, but usually harmful. They polarize and shape arguments and relationships into issues of right and wrong, often destroying helpful concepts such as listening, sharing and dialogue.
2. Find a place to hide and wait it out. Watch sitcoms instead of the news, take online quizzes about which Disney princess you are instead of reading news sites or insightful blogs, make sweeping generalizations, offer cliches, or just ignore it altogether.
It’s more cathartic to choose a side and fight.
It’s easier to hide.
Neither is a good option.
As Christians, we usually choose hiding. After all, the grand end of our salvation is a quick ticket out of this place. If it weren’t for all the sinners who insist on sinning then the world wouldn’t be so sin-filled! From time to time, we venture out into the horror of all that sin and those sinners with four quick evangelism points that “answer” the deepest, darkest questions of humanity’s eternal existence, make a few conversions, then drag those people back to the safety of our 68 degree churches with padded pews, big screens and a sweet band. Once they’re there, the message becomes, “Boy oh boy, it’s a good thing you and I have a relationship with Jesus. This world is so sin-filled and broken, it’ll be great to get out of here someday. Let’s all sing ‘I’ll Fly Away’ together, then get out there and save some more of those miserable souls caught in their pits of despair and unrest.” Central to this message of salvation is the idea that one day you won’t have to be here anymore; you get to go to Heaven and get away from it all.
This is not the Gospel.
The Gospel is the story of a God who comes down. A God who becomes a human, who loves so immeasurably that He adopts the frailest of humanity’s idiosyncrasies and possesses them as His own. A God who is laid in a manger, raised on the backside of nowhere, the son of a low-wage-earning blue collar guy, who chose the B Team as His disciples, and who boldly confronted the religious establishment and then willfully gave Himself to a criminal’s death at their hands. Jesus knows what it’s like to be in a world that’s conflicted and angry. All of the work of Jesus happened at a time of deep, strong, civil and political unrest. The world of baby-Jesus-in-a-manger was a world turned on its head.
The Gospel tells us that this incarnated Jesus steps toward the unrest. He steps toward the brokenness. He comes to us in the midst of all that makes us human, taking that humanity upon Himself and dying for us in our brokenness. He refuses to hide.
To embody the Gospel as a Christian is to step toward the pain of others, to be with others in their unrest, to engage the civil tensions in our towns and governments, not with a mind to win an argument but with a heart to go bless others with the love of Jesus.
Followers of Jesus should resist the temptation to hide, or a rolling of the eyes that says, “That’s just how sinners are. Be quiet, keep your head down, and soon it will all be over cause we’ll get to go to Heaven!”
The Gospel requires an incarnational engagement with the people God puts in our lives. Hiding kills the opportunity to witness to the grace, hope, truth, forgiveness, restoration and justice that is the work of Christ. God comes to us, and we should have the same to others mindset.
I offer three principles:
1. As a Christian, be informed about your world. Engage what’s happening, be aware of the feelings and issues of your day. Is the video of Eric Garner dying horrible to watch? Yes, it is. Are those little starving African orphans on late night, non-profit infomercials so sad you can barely stand it? Yes, they are. Do the violent protests around America cause you emotions and/or judgments you don’t enjoy experiencing? Maybe so. But these are people. Real people in real time who God really loves and who He really wants to experience His love. That’s where you come in. Please don’t hide.
2. Think about those feelings and issues with Christ. How did He engage people with those same feelings? Toward what kinds of situations and people did Jesus advance? What did He have to say about situations similar to the ones in our cultural contexts? How did He respond in tense situations? But Jesus never hid.
3. Go bless. Like John Ortberg says, “This is the mission of the church: go bless.” You are an agent of the deep heart of God with the capacity to extend God’s heart and goodness to others. It’s in your spiritual DNA. Things don’t have to be the way they naturally are. And they shouldn’t be the way we think they should be. God has a third place, a better way of acting and reacting to the broken, hurting world around us. Central to that is the idea that God is with us, and we should be with others, especially at the points of highest tension, strongest emotion and deepest fears. Jesus is Immanuel, God with us. He is not God who hides from us.
The beauty of being a follower of Jesus is not a free ticket out of here. The beauty of being a follower of Jesus is faith that is substantive, love that is actualized, and hope that refuses to die. These three things — faith, love and hope — are the core of the work of Christ, and the guiding principles of His Kingdom, which is a right here, right now, ever-expanding, increasing in glory Kingdom.
As Jesus taught us to pray:
Thy Kingdom come,
Thy will be done,
As it is in heaven.