Jesus Is To Be Recognized
Every Christmas we “celebrate” the birth of Jesus or at least we say we do but are we really celebrating or just memorializing?
We talk about Jesus in the past tense, like He used to be here but not now. The timing of His birth, where He was born and how desperate the circumstances were is the focus. We talk about it, play act it and build replicas of it but all of that looks back to a time in the past. A time that most of us can’t relate too.
Is that how we celebrate birthdays? We look at a person’s baby pictures and talk only about the circumstances of their birth, and we speak of them only in the third person, as if they aren’t present or living. That makes a great memorial, not a birthday celebration.
Christmas today paints the picture of the Jesus that was then. The question is where is He now? He accomplished a lot in the few years following His birth but is He finished? Was His impact only for that day and time?
When we celebrate the birth of Jesus two important facts should influence how we plan the party:
- One, He rose from the dead. He is out of the grave not in it.
- Two, He is a person. He has personal attributes. He does personal things, still.
So, if He loved people, felt their pain, communicated with them, connected with them and saved them 2000 years ago shouldn’t we expect Him to do the same now, even, and especially, at His birthday?
He said He came to seek and to save those who are lost then, and there is no reason to think His purpose has changed. He hasn’t stopped doing what He originally came to do.
So, instead of focusing on the Christmas story of 2000 years ago, let’s talk about the one that is still being written today. That focus will help us see that Jesus is doing the same thing now that He was doing then. The only change in today’s story is geographical.
He isn’t in the manger but is still in the lowest, most reachable, most easily accessible and yet most visible places in society.
When Jesus came into the world, He came quietly. The quiet part is what we don’t mimic well. If anything we are just the opposite. His birth was so obscure only those who paid excessively close attention to the signs, the wise men, or those addressed by angels were aware of it. Joseph and Mary weren’t even sure what was going on.
Jesus birth was a miracle but He wasn’t showing off. There was nothing sensational about it. Today, however, it is a contest to see who has the brightest lights and makes the biggest scene. We celebrate clamorously, largely and overbearingly. Is there a way to honor the quietness of Jesus also? Can we make a compelling argument without all the noise?
Remember, Jesus is living and still working in the lives of people every day. He is still doing what He does quietly and unobtrusively. Maybe we should find a way to mimic that.
Don’t get me wrong. I don’t mind manger scenes but I do think they have had their day. Like anyone else I love Christmas trees – seeing them not putting them up – and giving and receiving presents. But, we stand a better chance of bringing Jesus back to the present if we cut back on the ornamental showy side of our celebration and find more creative ways to honor His birth. Should replicas of manger scenes be the most emblematic representation of a living personal being? Aren’t lifeless exhibits what we use to recognize dead people?
Everybody knows how Jesus first came, where He lived and what He did in His short life, even those who aren’t interested. Saying the same thing over and over is not going to change the outcome.
But here is the point. He was born quietly, to a very humble virgin and in a very small town and into a very poor family then, for one simple reason:
To make Himself accessible, approachable and available to any and every person.
He began His life stranded in a manger, one degree up from destitution, and He hasn’t veered from that social level yet. He still resides on the lowest, most reachable, levels of society and He still maintains the most approachable demeanor.
- He hasn’t set up His kingdom or assumed His executive authority.
- He is neither isolated in the inner sanctums of privilege nor surrounded with security barriers.
- And His most common demonstrations of power are forgiving sins and saving souls.
He is still caring about all people as they are, He still understands us, He stills sympathizes with our problems and He still never gives up.
A word about the virgin birth.
Some people balk at the idea that Christ was born to a virgin. It involves a miracle they cannot understand or visualize. But focusing on the virgin birth is almost missing the point.
I’m not denying or questioning the virgin birth but I would say that if that is all your seeing then you are missing a part of the picture.
Forget the miracle of His conception and birth. The most astounding miracle in the birth of Christ was the fact that an all powerful, all encompassing God was committing Himself to a human biological process that reduced Him to the limited nature of a human and subjected Him to the pettiness, rivalry and unpredictability of human society.
And a good question to ask is, in what way could Christ become human that didn’t involve a miracle? Just appearing, all of a sudden, instantly from nowhere, would defeat the principle of humility. It would have created a big splash but probably scared everyone to death. Joseph and Mary were a bit on edge as it was.
But once He arrived, instead of mingling with the greatest, most powerful, most wealthy, most attractive and most appealing people, He mixed with the very lowest. In some cases He mixed with people others had rejected: the diseased, the disabled and the destitute.
But, He didn’t restrict His ministry only to the lowest. He included everyone. Jesus said. . .
Come unto me, all of you that labor and are heavy laden. . . Matthew 11:28
Not “some of you” but “all of you.” Jesus wasn’t calling only the poor, or the sick, or the rejected. He invited those who “labored” and were “heavy laden.” That includes everyone even the wealthy and the famous.
Celebrity has its own burdens. They may be different but they are still burdens which means, Jesus resided on the lowest levels but reached out to every level.
So, you could say that Jesus relied on the power of an argument, the strength of His wisdom and the clarity of His truth to influence people rather than the sentimentality of a birth narrative.
Everyone is free to reach out to Jesus. Reaching up is not necessary.
He is close
During His ministry Jesus mixed with people. He didn’t send them letters. He talked to them face to face. Sometimes He touched them. Email was never involved.
He held children, He touched lepers and He allowed Mary to anoint his head and feet with oil.
And probably because He knew His physical presence would be short lived, He said things that reassure us that He is still close…
- I will never leave you nor forsake you, Hebrews 13:5.
- Behold, I stand at the door and knock, Revelation 3:20 (the only way to get closer is to intrude).
- Wherever two or three are gathered together in my name there am I in the midst, Matthew 18:20.
Following the resurrection He told His disciples they were to, “Make disciples of all nations, baptize them. . .and teach them to observe everything He had commanded. . .
And He concluded that bit of instruction by saying. . .
And surely I am with you always, even to the very end of the age.” (Matt. 28:19-20)
And later, in a moment of philosophical clarity, Paul said. . .
God is not far from any one of us. (Acts 17:27)
We shouldn’t think this strange. The Bible, in fact, records a long history of God coming to people, speaking to people and appearing to people in many different ways.
- He spoke audibly to Adam, Eve, Cain, Noah and to many others.
- He appeared to Moses in a burning bush.
- He appeared physically to Joshua, Gideon, Isaiah and others.
The bottom line is, there is no reason to believe Jesus is trying to hide from us now. We don’t scare Him away or offend Him too highly. He isn’t turning away, running away, looking away or hiding some where.
Jesus is close and visible. We need to recognize Him not find Him.
He is in the voice of wisdom
And always has been.
Have you ever been a position where you were thinking about doing some particular thing but you had your doubts. You just weren’t sure.
It wasn’t wrong to do but you had the nagging sense that maybe it wasn’t the smart thing to do. It was an investment, or purchase, or job change, or house move that on the surface was appealing. And you were anxious to do it but not certain you should.
And when you did it, you discovered just how un-smart it was.
Well, that haunting sense before hand, that we normally refer to as the voice of wisdom or our better judgment, is the voice of Jesus. You see, wisdom comes from God and God makes it readily available to every person.
The Bible actually says this:
If any of person lacks wisdom, let that person ask of God, Who gives to all people liberally. (James 1:5)
And the book of Proverbs, which is the book of wisdom, agrees with this idea. In Proverbs, wisdom is personified as a loud mouthed, in your face parent or teacher who stands at the gate of city constantly exclaiming one corrective point after another.
You can’t ignore wisdom. The only thing you can do with it is reject it.
But, fortunately, that is only the first part of the formula.
Jesus doesn’t only give us wisdom He gives us grace when we fail to make good use of it. Who doesn’t need that.
James also said that after God gives wisdom to everyone liberally, He does not ridicule them for it. Unlike human teachers and mentors, He doesn’t shame you because you need wisdom and He doesn’t condemn you because you fail to use it well.
We all make mistakes and Jesus ministers to us on both sides of the wisdom formula:
- He gently warns us, without insulting us, before we do something silly.
- And after we’ve done something silly He responds to our unwise actions in ways that help us learn from our mistakes and move on.
I wouldn’t say He is easy but He is definitely patient. He won’t hold it against you when you fail but He won’t allow you to move on till you learn the lesson.
We usually refer to His influence in these situations as a still small voice. Also unlike humans, He doesn’t shout, He whispers. He rejects the unwise things we do but He never leaves us feeling rejected.
So, Jesus is in the voice of caution before we act unwisely and in the voice of encouragement when we do. Wherever we are, whatever we are doing, He’s right there too nudging us in the way we should go.
What He said to Jeremiah still holds true today:
Call upon me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know. (Jer. 33:3)
He wants to be in your heart
The one place Jesus wishes to be but is not already, is in your heart. He’s still accessible. He’s still close. He still speaks quietly, to everyone. The next move is yours.