The Meaning of Jesus
Sermon, December 3, 2000
Today, December 3rd, marks the beginning of advent, a period of preparation for the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ. Advent begins on the Sunday nearest to November 30th and is beginning of the Christian church liturgical year. In addition to preparing for the birth of the Christ it is also a time to prepare for the second coming of Christ.
In most Christian churches, the scripture for today would be Jeremiah 33: 14-16 and Luke 21: 35-36
The Jeremiah reading prophecies that the day is coming when God will fulfill the promise of sending a savior, a righteous branch who shall execute justice and righteousness in the land.
14 "Behold, the days are coming, says the LORD, when I will fulfill the promise I made to the house of Israel and the house of Judah.
15 In those days and at that time I will cause a righteous Branch to spring forth for David; and he shall execute justice and righteousness in the land.
16 In those days Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will dwell securely. And this is the name by which it will be called: 'The LORD is our righteousness.'
The reading from Luke, attributed to Jesus, warns his followers to avoid dissipation and drunkenness so they will ready for the day of redemption when the son of man returns in power and glory.
25 "And there will be signs in sun and moon and stars, and upon the earth distress of nations in perplexity at the roaring of the sea and the waves,
26 men fainting with fear and with foreboding of what is coming on the world; for the powers of the heavens will be shaken.
27 And then they will see the Son of man coming in a cloud with power and great glory.
28 Now when these things begin to take place, look up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near."
29 And he told them a parable: "Look at the fig tree, and all the trees;
30 as soon as they come out in leaf, you see for yourselves and know that the summer is already near.
31 So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near.
32 Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away till all has taken place.
33 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.
34 "But take heed to yourselves lest your hearts be weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and cares of this life, and that day come upon you suddenly like a snare;
35 for it will come upon all who dwell upon the face of the whole earth.
36 But watch at all times, praying that you may have strength to escape all these things that will take place, and to stand before the Son of man
This scripture is particularly interesting for in it Jesus also said, " this generation will not pass away till all has taken place." Based on this, Albert Schweitzer would later conclude that Jesus and his followers expected the end times to come very soon. Schweitzer then concluded that even though Jesus was wrong the Christ still has the power to redeem and save.
This is the tradition I grew up with. This is the tradition most of us grew up with. It is not the tradition of this church, however. Though some of us are Christian, though we celebrate the birth of Jesus, we are not, by and large, guided by prophecies in ancient scripture. I do not preach of the second coming of Christ or even for that matter on the Christ.
I have read the Bible cover to cover. As a child, I attended Sunday School faithfully. I understand the traditions and doctrines of Christianity. But though I understand it intellectually, it doesnt speak to me, it doesnt touch me where I live.
But yet, even though I am not a Christian, even though I dont believe that Jesus was the Christ, the words and deeds of Jesus as depicted in the gospel do speak to me, do touch me.
Modern scholarship has helped me draw closer to Jesus by clearing away many of the words falsely attributed to Jesus.
Most modern Biblical scholars agree that:
This scholarship has helped me by eliminating one of the major obstacles I have to the Jesus depicted in the gospels, the obstacle of a stern and threatening figure warning of imminent collapse and catastrophe to all who dont believe in him.
Another help was recognizing the importance of the ministry of Jesus before he was crucified. Part of my objection to orthodox Christianity is that it reduces the significance of Jesus to his birth, his death, and his resurrection. In the Nicene Creed, the life of Jesus, the period between his birth and death, is reduced to but a comma.
" who because of us human beings and because of our salvation descended, became enfleshed, became human, suffered and rose on the third day "
I am not attracted to Jesus because of any promise of eternal life or rapture. I am not attracted to Jesus because I think he loves me. I am not attracted to Jesus because I am afraid of what might happen to me
What attracts me to Jesus is the way he lived. He seemed to have a unique wisdom that came from some source beyond himself. Through his words and his deeds he witnessed to his belief that everyone can find a way to move from despair to hope, from brokenness to wholeness. The life and words of Jesus have helped me believe in myself even during the darkest nights of my soul.
I believe that there are resources available to me beyond my understanding and control. Jesus believed that were resources available to him, too. He called it God, but I dont think it matters what I call it. Whats important is that I recognize there is health in me, life reaching out for more life, more beauty, more truth.
My favorite affirmation, adapted from a Unity Minister, speaks to this:
The presence of God surrounds me
The love of God unfolds me,
The power of God flows through me.
Wherever I am, God is, and all is well.
My son Dag called while I was in the middle of writing this sermon and told me of a good deed he had done the other day. He came upon a serious accident with an overturned truck and a car with its front end smashed in. Part of the truck was on fire and several people were trying to pull the driver out but couldnt because his leg, which was broken, was also trapped. Dag checked out the fire and realized it wasnt serious and would probably go out. He told the people to stop trying to pull the man out so as not to injure him more and got in the truck with him and simply held him, reassuring him that he would stay with him until the ambulance arrived. The man, who was frantic and frightened at first, gradually began to calm down and was later successfully extricated by the fire department. What was it that made Dag do the right thing? In part it was my example and the example of other positive role models. In part it was the education he received in Sunday school in churches like this. But I believe the most important factor was his common humanity: compassion, reason, and courage; characteristics we all share by virtue of our being human.
Sometimes we are tempted to give up on ourselves. Give up on believing that we are capable of living lives of wholeness -- like the tax collectors and prostitutes Jesus befriended had.
Sometimes we are tempted to give up on society; give up on humankind.
Sometimes people are ugly and mean-spirited; driven by greed and avarice. We are capable of hurting others just for the fun of it.
But though all these ugly things about us are true, theyre not the whole story. For hidden within each of us is a spark of what may be best called divine. It is life, the very spirit of life, reaching out for life. It is the child who gives, the parent who nurtures, the friend who cares, the good Samaritan who goes out of his way, like my son did the other day, to help a stranger.
Jesus, by his word and by his deeds, reminds us to live up the promise of our full humanity. To love God, i.e. to acknowledge that we are humble and grateful for the many gifts we have been given;
And, to love our neighbor as ourselves;
This is what Jesus means to me.
This is what I celebrate on Christmas; the promise of life. The hope of peace on earth and good will toward men and women.
May God bless us. Everyone of us.