Finding the real Jesus

Homily for Christmas Eve, 2017

Nativity stained glass-Calvary Episcopal Church, Summit, New JerseyWhat do you need to be done with in your relationship with Jesus Christ?  Let me say that again: “What do you need to be done with in your relationship with Jesus Christ?”

And we all have a relationship with Jesus Christ!  Just as there is no such thing as a non-response to an invitation—even not responding to an invitation is a form of response—so there is no one who does not have a relationship with Jesus Christ.  Because Jesus invites all of us to draw closer; we all have a relationship with Jesus Christ!

It may seem odd on Christmas Eve to consider what we need to be done with in our relationship with Jesus Christ, a day when we celebrate beginnings and Jesus’ entering in to human life.  But perhaps Christmas is just the occasion to ask ourselves what we need to be done with in our relationship with Jesus Christ, for—if we are to take in the new life offered to us in Jesus—we first need to make room for that life.

Nativity stained glass-St. Mary Star of the Sea Duluth MNI have a hunch that much of the interior space in which we might welcome Jesus is too cluttered to let him in.  Not cluttered with things like, “I’m too busy,” or “I don’t believe,” or “Other things are more important right now”—those are mere garden variety clutters.  The more serious clutter is the false, doppelganger images of Jesus that we all have.  These “fake Jesuses” haunt our interior and are so unattractive that we come to believe that we want nothing to do with Jesus.   And why would we, if what we see are these fakes?

Among these “fake Jesuses” within, perhaps the most common is the Jesus with whom we conflate an authority figure.  This Jesus is about rules and is filled with “Thou shalts” and “Thou shalt nots.”  This Jesus is an enforcer who looks over our shoulder to see if we’re doing anything “wrong.”  This Jesus is a judge who finds fault and condemns.  This is a “tin pot dictator” Jesus who has nothing to do with the real one.

The good news is that, alongside these fake Jesuses, the real Jesus is there, too.  Inside each and every one of us, the real Jesus is there, hoping we’ll make room, wanting to get to know us.  In her book Traveling Mercies, author Anne Lamott tells of how, on a night of great anguish, she sensed a presence in her room.  A presence that wouldn’t go away, and that was so compelling that she finally called out in the darkness, “Who’s there?”  Suddenly, she knew.  She knew the presence in the room was Jesus.  Just sitting, just waiting.  Patiently, in the corner of her room.  This Jesus was not asking anything of her, not demanding anything, not judging or condemning.  But just sitting and waiting.  Patiently, until she was ready.

This Jesus is inside each of us, too.  Just sitting and waiting.  Patiently, until we are ready.

I invite us, over the next twelve days (the twelve days of Christmas), to do two things: to pay attention, and to not be afraid.  1) To pay attention to our interior space.  Among our “fake Jesuses”—and we all have them—is the real Jesus.  He is the quiet, patient one, probably sitting in the corner.  He does not judge; he does not condemn.  He does not say “Thou shalt” or “Thou shalt not.”  He does not proselytize or come at us with a hard sell.  He sits and waits.  Patiently, until we are ready.  2) And don’t be afraid.  “Fake” Jesuses are, in a way, easier than the real one.  The fake ones require nothing of us, really, and we rightly keep them at a distance.  But the real Jesus…  He is more complicated.  Complicated because we usually don’t know what to do with that much love.  And so, when we begin to feel that much love, we tend to run.  We do things like: try to ignore him, or distract ourselves with many tasks, or fill our calendars with important things.  But do not be afraid.  Yes, the real Jesus, at some point, is going to ask something of you.  Yes, it’s going to cost you.  But… we are not truly alive until we let the real Jesus in and engage him.

empty chairSo over the next twelve days, I invite us to pay attention and to not be afraid.  Pay attention!  Among the doppelganger Jesuses inside, the real one is there, too.  Sitting and waiting.  Patiently, until we are ready.  And don’t be afraid.  It’s hard not to run from that much love.  But if we can stay put, then we have the possibility of being truly alive.  For we are not truly alive until we let the real Jesus in and engage him.

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