Sunday, December 7, 2008

Will the real Jesus please stand up?

I have a decorative plate with a drawing of the babe in the manger and the words "Happy Birthday Jesus" printed across the top. It has always been a nice addition to my holiday decor, a reminder to even the eaters of my Christmas cookies that "Jesus is the Reason for the Season." But lately I've been rethinking the mildness of all of that.

Over the last three days I've devoured The Jesus of Suburbia: Have We Tamed the Son of God to Fit Our Lifestyles?, by Mike Erre (which you can pick up for the great price of $4.49 through Amazon).

Erre starts with what was to me an eye-opening overview of the happenings in the Roman world at the time prior to the birth of Christ and throughout his lifetime. He contrasts the titles claimed by Augustus Caesar, including Cosmic Savior and bringer of peace, with the Messiah who truly embodied them, and describes the history behind Herod's extremely paranoid behavior. Jesus was a radical. From his birth to his death he turned everything the Roman world and the Jewish religious establishment saw as good and right on its head and forced people to choose which king they would serve.

The birth of Christ was a humiliating experience: the vastness and greatness of the King of Kings crammed into a helpless baby, born of a sinful woman, and placed in a feeding trough. There is a reason Paul says that Jesus, "Made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men." And yet this humble birth was a fitting beginning to the start of his revolution, a revolution not waged with political power, weapons and skillful strategies, but with love, grace, and sacrifice.

Yet this is not the Jesus I've been following. Erre's question hit way too close to home:

"Could it be that many of us have lost this aspect of the Christ? Is it possible that we see him primarily as ushering in comfort and security for those of us who follow him but that we have missed him as a firebrand radical who so turned the established order upside down that he was murdered to shut him up?"

So this Christmas season I am rethinking the quaintness of the sweet baby in the manger. It's all just too tame, and there is nothing tame about Jesus. Daily he forces me to choose. I can't have Jesus and any other god, not my stuff, or my family, or my so-called dreams. And when I choose he requires me to trust him and join the revolution.

"You must die to live. You must lose to gain. Weakness is strength. Joy exists in the midst of suffering. Power is restraint. Love those who persecute you. Pray for those who hate you. Caesar isn't Lord and Herod isn't King. It is not the strong or the wealthy who will inherit the earth, but the meek. The kingdom of God won't be given to the religious leaders but to the spiritual idiots (the poor in spirit). Mourners, peacemakers, the merciful, and the persecuted can all find blessing in the kingdom of Jesus.

"Jesus Christ is the most subversive man ever to have walked the earth. This is revolution."

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