It was 8 Am on Sunday morning and I was trying to sneak around the nurse’s station without being noticed, heading for my father’s room. He had a kidney stone and apparently thought that since he was the head of Internal Medicine, visiting hours did not apply to him. When I discovered that I had turned down the wrong corridor (it was the maternity wing) I found a family friend who was in a room admiring her new born. Our family friend told me of the recent birth of her son. The doctors had given her no reason to think she could ever conceive. She and her husband had been attempting to conceive for a long time But just when they were about to give up, like Abraham and Sarah of old, along came the child they had waited and prayed for. Helen told me a story of the previous night when she sat in her hospital room holding that baby in her arms. The door of the room opened and in walked her pastor. She said to him, with a smile a mile wide: "I do not want to sound sacrilegious, but I do not think that even Mary the mother of Jesus could have been happier or more proud of her child than I am with mine."
Baby stories are easy, because babies for the most part, are easy. They are cute and cuddly and do not demand much of anyone except an occasional bottle, diaper change, or lullaby. But eventually they grow up...just like Jesus did. Our lesson said, "And from you, O Bethlehem, small among the clans of Judah, will come for me one who shall rule his people Israel." And that is where the rub comes in. It did for people two thousand years ago, and it still does for us. Because, ultimately, Jesus is not a quiet, cuddly baby in a manger, but a grown-up Ruler who asks things of us that we simply do not want to do.
So, cute little infant-in-the-manger stories aside, the issue that confronts us as people of Faith sooner or later becomes, "If I call myself a Christian , then will I actually choose to live like one?" Am I willing to let the grown-up Jesus rule, as Micah put it? Am I willing to follow where Christ leads, to do what Christ asks? I mean, if we seriously consider the things that Jesus commanded, then choosing to sign on with Him is not an easy choice to make.
Have you really listened to some of the stuff He requests of us?
• "You shall forgive not seven times, but seventy times seven." But wait, that is at odds with the bumper stickers on our cars and trucks: "Don't get mad,get even!" I can't afford to buy a new car or truck.
• "Love your enemies, and pray for those who despitfully use you." My enemies? All my enemies? There have to be codicils, right? I mean, I can not be expected to pray for Putin, or Assad, or my nasty natured boss at work, or wicked Uncle Ernie, or some ex-spouse or lover who was unfaithful.
• "Give to the poor." Hey! It's hard enough for me to pay my own bills and invest a little in the market and maybe make a trip now to Disney World or a ball game. Surely there are jobs out there "those people" can find.
• "Render unto God what is God's." But, everything is God's, right? And that means I would have to give God a role in what I do with everything, right? Not just my money, but time, relationships, how I vote, the whole nine yards, right? I don't think so.
• "You shall become fishers of people." Oh please. You have no idea how people look at me over the water cooler, or at the hair salon, or in the dorm if I talk about my faith. You would think I just beamed in from Jupiter or Mars!
• "Take up your Cross and follow Me." Uh, crosses are heavy, are they not? And painful? And lead to all sorts of unpleasant things like, oh I do not know, giving one's life for that which is honorable and true? You think maybe we could delete the "Cross" part?
• "Turn the other cheek." Huh...The last time I recall doing that, it got slapped, too!
• "This is My commandment, that you love one another." Well, maybe if those self-centered folks in my world would try to see things my way once in a while, to be a little more flexible, a little more accommodating...Really it is your fault for not being lovable!
Choosing to be a Christian, you see, means choosing to live according to statements like those...not just to say, "Lord, Lord"...not just to sing, "Oh, How I Love Jesus"...but to actually take seriously the grown-up Messiah who comes to rule His people Israel.
It means agreeing to follow where He leads, even if He leads down highways that are not always comfortable.
I gave serious thought to changing the locks on the doors. . . . How many parents of teenagers have had the same thoughts? Maybe that is not so much unlike how we deal with Jesus...with Jesus who "stands at the door and knocks," but knowing what He wants, what He asks of us, what He commands of us, before we decide to have the locks changed.
A month before he died my father and I got to spend some precious "Bonding time" and I received an explanation of how he grew up. I found out where they got the blue print for the Archie Bunkers dysfunctional family television show. During this bonding time, I learned something....My father who had been in church six
times previously in his life, was now the Pastoral Care Commissioner for the Quakers in the state of Connecticut.
That's it. He didn't just talk about following Jesus; he actually rose up and followed Him when life was almost indescribably difficult. He went past oohing and ahhing over an innocent, silent Baby in a manger--a child who asks nothing of anyone. Instead, he signed on with a full-grown Messiah who asks everything of everyone. And in so doing, he found freedom from his past and meaning for a lifetime. He decided to walk the walk and help other needed people.
"And from you, O Bethlehem, small among the clans of Judah, will come for me one
who shall rule his people Israel."
You see, Christianity is not merely a Faith we profess. It is a choice we make about how we will do our living in the world. As our kids like to say, it really is about "walking the walk"...about following where Jesus leads--living as Jesus lived--and loving as Jesus loved even when it would be easier not to. That is my resolution for 2019. It should be yours as well.