Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Jesus: Episode I – “The God-Awakening”

There has been an awakening.  Can you feel it? ­­Star Wars, Episode VII

See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland. Isaiah 43:19

We have recently had the long anticipated debut of Star Wars, Episode VII: “The Force Awakens”.  Yes, I’ve seen it (twice!); no I’m not going to spoil it.  (Okay maybe there’s a hint or two…)

If we think of the life of Jesus as a series of Episodes, Christmas would be covered in Episode I.  Indeed, Jesus, Episode I, has parallels to Star Wars, Episode I.   In “The Phantom Menace” we meet young Anakin Skywalker, and, of course, baby Jesus is first “introduced” at Christmas.  In both stories, the first Episode is less about the child than about other characters reacting to news/knowledge of the child’s existence.  The child himself takes “center stage” in the Episodes that follow. 

The focal point of Jesus’ life isn’t necessarily Christmas, but not unlike “The Phantom Menace”, what happens in “Episode I” is crucial to set the stage for all the Episodes that follow.

Without getting into specific plot details—the “first Christmas” also has parallels to, the “The Force Awakens”.  It was a time in human history when a slumbering “force” woke up.  If you think waiting 30 years for a sequel to “Return of the Jedi” was a long wait, think how God’s people felt!  From the last words of Malachi to John the Baptist’s calls to prepare the way, the “voices of God”, fell eerily silent for 400 years.  For all that time, there were no prophecies, no revelations—no direct communication from God. It was as if God had gone into exile.   

There was no convenient map to the Divine provided.  The world had to wait in uneasy silence until the time was right for God to make his ultimate revelation.

Just because God is silent, however, doesn't mean God is not active.  Things were happening “behind the scenes” during those “silent” centuries, you just had to be paying close attention to realize it.

Everything was going exactly as God foresaw it.   

We recognize in hindsight that the world stage was slowly rearranging itself during those four centuries, as if Creation itself was preparing to receive its Creator. 

Hebrew prophecies were translated into Greek—a more “universal” language than Hebrew, which allowed many more people access to the Word.  Meanwhile, as old empires crumbled, new ones rose to take their place.  From humble beginnings, Rome rose to become the dominant power on the planet—the latest in a long line of ruling Empires.  Rome asserted its dominance and kept “peace” through military might.  They also kept potential threats in check by oppressing cultural minorities, including the Jewish people. From time to time, hope would spring up among the Jews in the form of some individual who claimed to be the Messiah—the promised King in the line of David who would liberate the Jewish people.  But time and time again, the rumors proved to be unwarranted.  Roman rule continued and although faithful Jews still clung to faith that “the Messiah would come”, in practical terms, it seemed the Jews would never be free.

And then without much warning, the long-awaited God-awakening happened—and everything began to change. Suddenly, as if making up for lost time, God’s messengers were on the move in our world.  A remarkable story unfolds as a new prophet is born to a barren woman.  He would grow up to proclaim a radical message of preparation and repentance for sins.  However, he assures the people that he himself is not the Messiah.  No, he only points the way; he is not worthy to tie the Messiah’s shoes.

Six months later, in an obscure part of the world, a baby is born who Christians believe was the Messiah—the Savior of all.  The conception is remarkable in the fact that Mary was a poor, Jewish virgin chosen to bear God’s Son, yet the birth itself is totally ordinary.  No doubt, like all births, it was messy—and painful.  And to add insult to injury, this particular birth takes place in a place not in a royal palace, or even a modest home, but in a manger—a place normally reserved for animals.
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When Star Wars Episode VII begins, most people aren’t aware that, “there has been an awakening”.  By the end of the movie, a few more people have become aware. As Episodes VIII and IX unfold, my guess is that the “awakening” will become even more apparent to the average person. 

Something similar happens with the life of Jesus.  Although it gets crowded on the altar as we assemble our familiar nativity scene each year for the Kodak moment, only a small number of people actually witnessed what happened. As the verses of “O Little Town of Bethlehem” describe, the average person living in the town of Bethlehem is asleep as these miraculous events unfold—oblivious to the God-awakening.  They are more concerned with conforming to the Emperor’s decree concerning the census and rushing home to gather with family.  (According to Luke, that’s why Joseph and Mary end up in Bethlehem for the birth.) 

Most certainly, people in the big cities like Jerusalem, or far-off Rome had no clue that this night was anything out of the ordinary.  It was business as usual in every place but the Manger.

By the time Jesus is crucified (you might think of this as the “final Episode” in the story of Jesus) more people have become aware of the God-awakening that has taken place with the coming of Jesus, but it is probably still a relatively small number.  It’s really after the resurrection that God-awakening really begins to spread like wildfire.  The book of Acts is the second volume of Luke’s account, and contains another series of Episodes describing how the church is born and is forced to flee its home in Jerusalem, but as a result it spreads through all Judaea, to Samaria, and to the “ends of the Earth”—which Luke used to refer to the Gospel reaching Rome, but today the Gospel has literally has reached every corner of the globe. 
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How does this speak to us today?  We must make the question we opened with personal.  “There has been an awakening.  Can you feel it?”   Do you live awakened—aware of God’s Presence in our world—or are you asleep?

According to John, at Christmas: The Word became flesh and moved into the neighborhood; a Light came into the world and that no Darkness can overcome.  A quick glance at news headlines sometimes makes those words seem hollow.   We live in a world where Darkness seems to be rapidly gaining ground.  The Word may have become flesh long ago, but the world loudly broadcasts its own “words” that saturate us every day. They threaten to smolder our light and drown out the still, small voice of God within us.

Today, God-awakening depends on us waking up!  Jesus is “born” in our world today whenever ordinary people like you and me—who are Christ followers—choose to let our light shine and make our voices heard over and against the noise of the world—no matter what it costs.  

That is our challenge not only on Christmas—but every day…

May our God be with you

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