It’s Advent, the season when we expectantly wait and prepare for Christmas and the celebration of Jesus’ birth. Unfortunately the birth of Jesus can seem almost passé to us today. I mean how many birthday parties can one person have?
The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God (John 1:9-12)
Today, the person and story of Jesus can seem old to us. Unfortunately, I think this is one problem with religion and being religious. The religious life is about living out spiritual practices. You do something again and again, and after a time, you forget why you’re doing it, or conversely you think that unless you do these things, the God whom you worship might think less of you.
I spent a good part of my life in church and I spent a good part of my life following rules and trying to be good enough. I tried living up to people’s expectations and what I thought were God’s expectations. There was a kind of earnest anxiety in my faith, with a lot of guilt interspersed. Perhaps not surprisingly, my picture of Jesus during these periods of my life was one dimensional and distorted.
During my youth, I lived in a church that emphasized the end times, and so I worshiped “End Times Jesus.” He could come at any moment, so you tried to be ready for his return. You had to be good enough; otherwise, you might be left behind.
Later in my life, I attended a Southern Baptist Church. Their vision of Jesus was a little different. At this church, we spent most of our time with “Dying on the Cross Jesus.” Jesus had to die because I was such a miserable sinner and human being. I spent most of this season of life, living with guilt and shame, while always feeling like I needed to try harder and do better.
After years of living in the church, my image of Jesus was more baggage than anything else.
A few years ago, I decided to read the gospels with fresh eyes. My goal was to learn about Jesus for myself. Who is Jesus? What is he doing? Are Jesus’ actions surprising? Why are they surprising? Is the Jesus from the Bible, the one I saw in church all those years?
What I found was surprising. It was a kind of personal advent.
The Jesus I discovered wasn’t angry Jesus, a guy who barely tolerated me. The Jesus I found in the gospels loved me and had compassion on me. This Jesus didn’t want to judge me or leave me behind, he wanted to heal me.
The Jesus I saw in scripture was the Jesus who loved sinners, ate with prostitutes and outcasts and who never failed to show mercy or kindness to the hurting. Moreover, I discovered that Jesus still wants to talk to me today. Prayer wasn’t about coming to God with a list, instead it was about me talking to Jesus.
Jesus surprised me.
“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.” (Matthew 11:28-30 The Message)
During this Advent Season, I’d like to encourage you to read the story of Jesus with fresh eyes. Allow him to surprise you.