Happy New Year

Jesus’ Younger Years

We don’t know much about Jesus’ life between his birth and adult ministry, which started when he was about 36 years old or so.  All we have in the canonical text about his post-birth-to-twelve-years-old is found in Luke 2:25-52.    Before we jump into this, take a moment and reflect on a few questions.

What is something good you are taking away from 2017?

What is something you are glad to leave behind in 2017?

What are you looking forward to in 2018?

What do you know will be a challenge in 2018?

A couple of things jumped out at me from these texts that seemed apropos to New Year’s Eve.  First, at the end of the childhood texts, we read that Jesus “grew in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and all the people.”  Religion as a whole and Christianity specifically has lost a lot of adherents because, in my humble opinion (which is backed up by a lot of statistical research), some very loud Christian voices have not appeared to be wise and have lost a lot of favor with God and all people.  Some very loud Christians have perpetuated a God who loves some, not all, and loves even them conditionally (don’t tell them – it won’t be received – they haven’t realized that’s what they’ve been saying all along).  Some very loud Christian attitudes and behaviors have repelled the public – and God, I think – all while claiming to be the bearers of Good News.  But nobody hears them as good news.  They hear bigotry, judgement, hatred, etc.

I recently attended the memorial service of a friend’s wife of sixty years.  Harrel Miller gave concluding remarks toward the end of a beautiful service, reminding us of the day we received our yearbooks at the end of each school year.  On that day, every student is consumed with looking through the pages, and writing notes to friends on the back pages.  Words of encouragement and thanksgiving.  Words of well wishing and fond remembrance of good times shared.  Harrell challenged us to think of our lives as writing on one anothers’ yearbook pages, that what we do and say are written on the lives of those we share life with.  If we get it right, we will leave a legacy of blessing, love, joy, and hope.  I really like that metaphor.  It makes me want to enter every relational transaction with intentionality.  To make it Good News.  Beautiful.  This doesn’t come as a burden, either.  I think we can look forward to it and pursue it with strength because we will find energy for it from the very heart of God.  It makes me wonder for you and for me:

Who are we becoming in 2018?  Why? How?

The other thing that jumps out at me this year about Jesus’ pre-adult passages is the prophecy offered by Simeon.  Unfortunately, Simeon missed the course on “tact”, saying things that a total stranger shouldn’t to a new mom.  But, there it is, and on purpose.  Luke wants to allude to what will be coming in his account of Jesus’ life.  “This child is destined to cause many in Israel to fall, and many others to rise. He has been sent as a sign from God, but many will oppose him. As a result, the deepest thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your very soul.”

Thanks, Simeon.  Thanks for being a total buzzkill on a special day.

I wonder, however, what this prophecy means for those who strive to follow Jesus?  Should we expect similar outcomes?  I think so.  I think living in the footsteps of Jesus is what we are called to do.  Living in this way will bring Good News to many people we interact with.  But for those who perpetuate injustice and oppression of myriad kind, our Good News is bad news, because our very presence – being conduits of God – shines light into darkness, illuminating what needs to be addressed.  The #MeToo movement is a good case in point.  Simply holding people accountable in an effort to shine a light on a culture-wide problem is a good thing, but has certainly caused some squealing among those who have operated in darkness.  As we stand with those who need our voice to find justice, we will stir the pot.  That’s good.  But some will not like it, and we need to be prepared for that.  The Harvey Weinsteins of the world will squeal.  As we head into a new year, I think we need to be open-eyed, asking and reflecting on the following question:

What can we expect as those who follow Jesus?

God is always inviting us into what God is doing in the world.  God calls our True Self into being, but always as an invitation.  I end this post with reflection from Richard Rohr on what it means to say yes to God.

Saying Yes

Faith in God is not just faith to believe in spiritual ideas. It’s to have confidence in Love itself. It’s to have confidence in reality itself: at its core, reality is okay. God is in it; God is revealed in everything. Faith is about learning to say yes to the moment right in front of you. Only after you say your yes do you recognize that Christ is here, in this person, in this event. God is in all things; this universal Presence is available everywhere.

Most of us learned to say no without the deeper joy of yes. We were trained to put up with all the “dying” and just take it on the chin. (When I entered the novitiate, we still had whips for self-flagellation in our cells.) Saying no to the false self does not necessarily please God or please anybody, and surely not you. There is too much resentment and self-pity involved in this kind of false dying. There is a good dying and there is a bad dying. Good dying is unto something bigger and better; bad dying profits nobody. It is too much no and not enough yes. You must hold out for yes! Don’t be against anything unless you are much more for something else that is better. “I want you to be you, all of you, your best you!” is what true lovers say to one another, not “I do not like this about you,” or “Why don’t you change that?”

God tries to first create a joyous yes inside you, far more than any kind of no. Then you have become God’s full work of art, and for you, love is now stronger than death, and Christ is surely risen in you. Love and life have become the same thing. Just saying no is resentful dieting, whereas finding your deepest yes, and eating from that table, is a spiritual banquet. You see, death and no are the same thing. Love and yes are even more the same thing.

The True Self does what it really loves and therefore loves whatever it does. I am sure that is what Joseph Campbell (1904-1987) meant by his oft-misunderstood line, “Follow your bliss.”

May you have a truly Happy New Year!  May it be especially happy – and joyfully deep – because you have said yes to the invitation to follow Jesus fully.