Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Pushing the Fast-Forward Button on Jesus

(Possible Subtitle: Did Teenage Jesus Use Axe Products?)

Today, January 7, marks the start of "Ordinary Time" once more in the church calendar.  The 12 days of the Christmas season are over (though I, like probably many other pastors, will still be preaching on the Epiphany story this Sunday).

And, I imagine, for a lot of us, Jesus is instantly being transformed in our imaginations from a gurgling little baby into a fully-grown Messiah once more.

And why not?  It isn't like the Gospels spends a whole lot of time on the first thirty years of Jesus' earthly life.  We have the account from Luke about the twelve-year-old boy Jesus in the Jerusalem temple.

That's it.


I mean, unless you're going to re-open the canon for the irreverent, hilarious Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ's Childhood Pal, then there isn't a whole lot else out there.

We don't know who Jesus' childhood crush was.

We don't know if He, as any eldest sibling worth a flat dollar did, endlessly tormented His younger brothers with noogies and wedgies.

We don't know if Mary and Joseph ever embarrassed Him by trying to kiss Him goodbye at the bus stop on the way to school.

We don't know anything about how Jesus grew up--at least, anything about Him specifically, as opposed to any other member of the ancient Israelite peasant class.

And that includes not only the silly stuff I list above, but also the more serious, truly amazing stuff.

We don't know what might have made Jesus cry as a child.

We don't know what lullabies Mary might have sung Him to sleep with.

We don't know if He ever had nightmares and woke Mary and Joseph up in the middle of the night with them.

We miss out on that stuff too.

And that's hard for me to do, because even though we say Jesus was fully human in addition to being fully divine, it sure doesn't feel like that.  I don't know of a human who wasn't profoundly shaped by their childhood, and yet we view Jesus' adulthood and ministry almost in a vacuum, like He came to the world fully formed when we know that wasn't the case.

We reduce our Savior when we do that.  We do Him a disservice by not allowing Him to be who we say He is, and who He was--a human, as well as God's Son.

And sure, maybe it is because a Messiah going through puberty and all that it entails (the sulking, the screaming matches, the body odor and subsequent Axe shower) just isn't as inspiring.  We don't want to think of our Savior the way we think of ourselves (or of ourselves as we once were), because who wants a moody teenager to be the source of their salvation?

But it's the only way we can let Him in.

We have to think of Jesus in the same way as we think of ourselves.  Otherwise, He wasn't fully human to us after all.

Instead, He becomes a sort of divine Ken doll to us, shorn and sanded down of all His rough edges, all of His growing pains, all of His...humanity.  We make Jesus into less than what He was.

Which means that His becoming human did not fully accomplish its purpose--precisely because haven't let His human side in.  We rush right past it in our hurry to go straight from the Bethlehem manger to the Jordan River baptism.  We hit the fast-forward button until we get to the part we know, the part we like.

The part where He saves us all.

But just like the 40 days in the wilderness, just like the journeys to and from Jerusalem, just like the path to Calvary itself, Jesus' life was a journey, an odyssey of time that cannot be fast-forwarded.

So, sometime between now and Lent, when we begin those same 40 penitential days in the wilderness, I would invite you to pray to the growing-up Jesus: the elementary school Jesus, the teenage Jesus, the twentysomething Jesus, as a spiritual exercise in understanding the true depth of our Savior's experience as a flesh-and-blood man.

And may those prayers work new wonders in your lives.

Yours in Christ,

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