There were many remarkable traits possessed by Jesus of Nazareth--as an adult, not so much as a baby or a toddler or a teen. Two of the Gospel writers remembered stories that had been told about Jesus’ birth; there’s a brief story about his bar mitzvah when he was 12 years old. Other than that, everything else remembered and written about Jesus is about Jesus as an adult.
He was an amazing man, completely devoted to God and the radical ways of living that utter devotion to love necessitate. Jesus regarded what he was able to do in living out God’s love in countless practical ways as, ideally, normative and not unique. He believed that what he did could be done by anyone else willing to be sold out to love--knowing that God is love. He once told his skeptical disciples, “Greater deeds than I have done YOU will do.” Since we have so rarely seen selfless behavior and unconditional, no-strings-attached love at work in our world, we just, flat out, can’t believe that is or could be true. We know that we are not always selfless in the way we relate to others; we know few others, if any, who live according to a standard of loving selflessness. We know that it’s very difficult to love someone else without having a string or two attached to our love--not a heavy rope or a chain, mind you, but a little string or two. It’s hard for us to love unconditionally; we typically expect something in return for the love we dispense or live out.
The reason Jesus’ stories were remembered long enough and in enough detail to get them into writing and passed down to us is not because his earliest followers thought him divine; rather, to the contrary, they saw him as a human being completely devoted to God and completely dedicated to serving God by giving his best trying to serve others whom no one else wanted to fool with and by consistently putting the needs of others before his own needs.
I’m not sure why there are increasing numbers of newscasters these days who are suddenly self-appointed theologians. Bill O’Reilly said this week that God expects us to share with others if we have some extra that can be shared, but he said, “God didn’t mean for us to be self-destructive” in our sharing. Very few people in history have ever come close to having to worry about giving so much that it hurts them. This was O’Reilly’s way of saying that we come before others. I’m sure that many Americans who saw that quote in print or who heard him make the statement agreed and applauded. Jesus said, “If your sister or brother ask for your coat, give them your shirt too.” And that’s how he lived, which is why, by the end of his all-too-brief life on earth, he had only one garment remaining in his wardrobe.
We have to tame Jesus in how we talk about him today because few people can handle the radicality of love. Church folk like to divinize Jesus because they know, then, that they can’t be held accountable for failing to live up to his standard. “He was divine,” they say, “and I’m only human.”
Jesus said, “Everything I do, I do as one of you, and greater things than I have done you will do.” That’s kind of scary and off-putting. Besides, we want to see our religion or our spiritual practices (in case we’re not into institutional religion) reward us; Jesus’ preoccupation with servanthood we many of us look over or ignore.
Jesus did not believe that God did all the work to benefit humanity while humans ran around aimlessly accomplishing little or nothing of lasting value. Jesus believed, and lived out, a different model--that God accomplishes God’s will and way specifically by working THROUGH willing humans. At that, Jesus excelled.
The writer of the book of Hebrews, in our collected works of Christian scripture, makes a number of assertions about Jesus. Two that stand out to me you heard read earlier in our Gathering: “He is the reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being.” Inspiring and brilliant.
He is the reflection of God’s glory. He is not God or God’s glory any more than your reflection in a mirror is you; it’s your reflection, and if the mirror is taken away or destroyed, you will still be around. Jesus was so filled with God’s love and so willing to go wherever that love took him that it was as if a cosmic mirror had caught God’s glory, and when anyone looked at the reflection of that glory--not the divine glory itself, but its reflection--what they saw was Jesus. That reflection can be you too, Jesus believed.
Similarly, our writer said that Jesus is the exact imprint of God’s very being. Again, an imprint of something is not the original, but if God’s imprint could be made, the result would be Jesus. In living out divine love, he became an imprint of God’s being, and that imprint can be you too, Jesus believed.
The object of the season of Christmas is not to get caught in the nostalgia of a birth story at a far off time, in a far away place. The object of the season is to celebrate his birth because he grew into the adult he did and to live as he lived. You, too, may be, should be, a reflection of God’s glory. You, too, may be, should be, an exact imprint of divine being.