Thursday, December 24, 2009

Christmas thoughts

With only a few hours until it's actually here, I thought I'd share a bit about the holy day. The holiday.

I’ve been thinking a lot about all the beautiful paradoxes and surprises that you find in the Christmas story. They’re really the same kinds of paradoxes and surprises that you find throughout the life – and death – of Jesus. The parents who hadn’t enough influence or charisma to find a hotel for the night gave birth to the baby king who would someday have, still, no place to lay his head. The child whose birth illuminated a star for faraway travelers would grow to become a man whose death would blot out the sun for an afternoon. The infant whose first visitors were shepherds without sheep would one day look upon the uncertain masses among him and see them as sheep without a shepherd. The star-worshiping priests of a false religion, led by the Spirit to usher in His birth, would be replaced by Jehovah-worshiping priests of a true religion, led by Satan to usher in His death.

I suppose the list could go on and on, and if it did, we’d only grow increasingly more confused and perplexed and enchanted by it all.

It’s all so beautiful and mysterious, and – if we’re honest – not at all what it “ought” to have been. Not at all what we thought it would be.

No one anticipated (or wanted) a king born in a barn on a cold and lonely night. Nor did anyone anticipate (or want) a king who offered both sides of his face to be slapped, both hands to be nailed, both shoulders to bear the weight of a trillion criminals, and doing so with criminals at both his sides (two spots that Zebedee’s wife had once requested for her sons; no doubt she would’ve changed her mind on that day).

But I’m getting ahead of myself. The point I want to make could be made at any point in the story of Jesus, and perhaps in the stories of any of His followers throughout history. It is simply this: His Kingdom is not of this world.

Said another way: there are lots and lots of kingdoms in this world, and Jesus doesn’t belong to or submit to or care much for any of them.

It’s not that He’s a superior-acting snob or even a revolutionary. He is, by His nature, Superior. He is, by His essence, Revolution. In every way He is higher and greater and set apart. He is Other. For Him to stop pursuing His business to take interest in our kingdoms would be like a firefighter who stops racing toward a burning hospital to settle a quarrel between two ants fighting over a potato chip. His thing is just infinitely more important than ours. Infinitely.

He is simply too great for our understanding. And that’s why so much of what He does makes no sense to us. That’s why we God-following humans spend so much time trying to over-explain Bible passages that don’t make sense to us. “Oh, it doesn’t really mean that.” “That would’ve been completely different had you read it in Greek.” “He’s not talking about the same thing in that passage that He was talking about in that other passage.” Fire doesn’t mean fire and all doesn’t mean all and He doesn’t change His mind even though He just did.

Etc.

And on and on we go trying to make sure He stays within our doctrinal understanding of Him, because of course we’ve already decided what He will and will not do. Our poor God is in a theological judo hold, unable to ever do anything that we haven’t pre-destined Him to do.

Don’t hear me saying context isn’t important. Quite the opposite. I’m actually saying that context is everything, and that our context is so small and narrow that we may never – this side of Heaven, at least – comprehend His context.

And even as we try to understand His context, we’re also busy inserting Him into ours. Only He doesn’t really fit into our context. At least not in the way that makes sense to us. Sure, He fits if we’re okay with a baby born in a smelly barn. He fits if we’re thrilled with him scaring off a good crowd of followers with talk of cannibalism. He fits if we like cryptic, down-home parables for the lower class and insulting, crystal-clear metaphors for the upper class.

And of course now I’ve gotten far away from the Christmas story, haven’t I? I’ll go ahead and tie this thing up, lest I lose all 3 of you.

I was just trying to say that I think the Christmas story is alive to me again this year. It’s alive to me because I love how unexpected and surprising it all was. And in that way – if in no other way – our crazy, over-commercialized gift-exchanging is sort of appropriate. Presents, wrapped up and secret, under the tree, waiting to be opened. We all love a good surprise. We all love a gift that changes everything. Even when it isn’t what it “ought” to have been. Even when it isn’t what we thought it would be.

Merry Christmas, world. Happy Birthday, Jesus.

3 comments:

Tom said...

"there are lots and lots of kingdoms in this world, and Jesus doesn’t belong to or submit to or care much for any of them."

absolutely great thought. at the core of the gospel, His kingdom is waaay different and greater than we still can understand.

thanks for the above reminder.

In case the other 2 don't leave comments, I wanted to say thanks for sharing..

thad said...

Crazy talk. Which is, obviously, precisely the point.

I love all the paradoxes and irony and upside-backwardness in the Story. One of my favorites this time of year, even if it requires a little imagination, is one Andrew Peterson wrote about in one of the songs from his never-gets-old album/live show Behold the Lamb of God. The song is called Labor of Love. The line, which Jill Phillips delivers in a way that makes me cry 2 out of 3 times I hear it, is:

So he held her and he prayed
Shafts of moonlight on his face
But the baby in her womb
He was the maker of the moon
He was the Author of the faith
That could make the mountains move

Matt said...

Brilliantly said Ross. I'm going to have to borrow some of this I don't know what yet but Ive got to share. YOu need to write a book about all your crazy ideas about our crazy world.