When I wondered what it meant when we said that we believe Jesus is the Messiah, when I wondered if that meant that Jesus was God, or that Jesus was the Son of God, or that Jesus (along with all of the other prophets of the Hebrew scriptures, as well as the angels as we have them in the Hebrew scriptures) is a Son of God, when I wondered how much of what we take for granted now has more to do with other people thought of Jesus, with their own personal and cultural spin, and less to do with what actually might have occurred in a rigorous and factual way, when I get to wondering about all of this, as I did the other day, thinking about this Sermon, I had a little daydream, which I’d like to share with you.
I start by wondering if we – we, the historical church in all of it’s branches down throughout the twenty centuries we’ve been kicking around – I wonder if we are making Jesus into someone he would have been scandalized to be seen as, when he walked on this earth. And so I have a little daydream about what would happen if Jesus and I went to a Midnight Christmas Eve service at St. John the Divine. And I have a little daydream about what would happen if Jesus and I went to the 11am Easter Sunday service at the National Cathedral – not something to otherwise miss. And assuming that I or he somehow got over the Aramaic-English thing (because really, my ancient Hebrew is terrible and my Aramaic non-existent. And really, English hadn’t been invented yet, when he was around.) So, assuming that we got over the formidable language barrier, what would we have? One flipped out prophet?
Would he be horrified to see images of himself on a Roman instrument of torture and execution, right up front? Would he be horrified that there were crosses EVERYWHERE on EVERYONE, including little golden crosses on little girls?
What do you think this Jewish peasant would make of our hymnody with organ and trumpet and choir and string section? What of the stories? His birth, a star in the sky, kingly gifts, choirs of angels, to say nothing of a virgin birth. He might recognize that motive better than we – it was the same story the Caesars got to use about their own births so they could claim that they were less human and more divine than everybody else. It was used as a way to rationalize the abuse of power. Do you think that this man, this rabbi in occupied Israel would be pleased, or even impressed by being compared this way to the head of the Roman government? I wonder.
But in my imagination, after being horrified by some of our religious imagery, I can imagine this Jesus make some inquiries of his own:
Have you managed to phase out violence?
(After all, we have had 2000 years to work on this issue, so you’d imagine we’d have made some progress, but, erm, no, not really…)
Are those with wealth and influence acting in just ways to the poor?
(Er, not so much yes as no.)
Are the powerful acting with equity for all people?
(Rarely, I’d have to reply, being as I am, at least moderately well aware of not only the politics of my own country, but of several other countries around the world. Rarely, I’d have to reply, even in those nations where the people themselves share in the ruling.)
Are the little people taking care of their own?
(Sometimes, I’d say ruefully, but it’s generally the exception, not the rule.)
Is God known universally as a source of love and light?
(That particular God doesn’t get much press, I’d report with slight embarrassment. Meanwhile, I’d hope he wouldn’t ask me about the Vatican’s sanction of the Holocaust, or the Crusades, or the Jesuits during the Inquisition, or the Protestant Witch Hunts, or the Jihads, or Northern Ireland, or the Sudan, or the KKK, or, or… really, anything.)
And this is about the time, in the flight of fancy that I’m having, that my insides are just twisted up in knots, because for every small advance our world has made toward living out the kingdom of Heaven, it seems to me that we’ve made steps backwards, sometimes larger, even, than our progress forward. And that realization is, to me, a sharp pain in the midst of this holiday season – a pain which feels at first out of place, but then upon closer examination, upon living with that pain a bit, seems to be exactly what Advent is about, even if it is diametrically opposed to the theme of commercial Christmas.
And this is about the time in this flight of fancy that I’m having, where I expect to turn to Jesus, my oddball Ancient Aramaic companion, and see condemnation in his eyes, a rod of iron in his hand, ready to beat me and the rest of the world – particularly everyone who dares to call themselves Christian – ready to beat us to a bloody pulp for this. In fact, this vision of Christ is the one I was raised with. The Lord coming in Majesty to Judge with a Rod of Iron. And when I turn to my companion all I see is a short middle eastern man who is in the process of rolling up his sleeves. When I look at him and silence hangs between us as I try to understand what is going on, actually, so different from what I’d always assumed, and I ask, my voice more timid than I want to admit to, “So then, I’m not going to hell?”
He rolls his eyes, as if to say, “Would you please get over yourself? Who says this is all about you?” But instead, he poses his own question – and really, that is the Jesus I’ve come to know: always ready to deflect someone who is on entirely the wrong track with a question of his own that will set them to thinking on the right track.
So he asks his question, as we stand in my imagination on the close of the National Cathedral, listening to the carillon and the happy shrieks of small children in their Easter best, I stand next to this peasant-wonder with his sleeves rolled up and he asks, “Well, we’ve got a lot of work to do, then, don’t we?”