This Christmas season I studied John 1, falling in love with John’s simplistic and creative depiction of a God who becomes (hu)man. Here we encounter a God who chooses to enter our world, engaging with our “worldly” culture (at least that of the Jews and Romans 2,000 year ago). In John 1 the author utilizes metaphors of “light” and “darkness” which are common in the Old Testament (OT). While we tend to automatically think that darkness=wickedness, in the OT it has the connotation of disorientation, of people stumbling because the light has been switched off. It’s John’s opinion that God Incarnated as a human is the hope for humanity to be able to “see”once more, so that we can finally stop stumbling over things and each other. But what does it mean for us today that Jesus the “Light” entered the “darkness?” The outward “darkness” that covers the earth, as well as the inward darkness that plagues every human soul?
The late Keith Green wrote a song titled “Asleep in the Light” which I grew up listening to, thanks to my dad. Green, a radical follower of Jesus (he let homeless folk use his house while he and his wife moved into an apartment!) had a lot of beef with the church after he became a Christian. His complaint in this song is that the church is hoarding the light and simply saying “God bless you” to people while proceeding to shut the door on them. I think his argument is valid and still applies to today’s church in America. This is the church which tends to be so focused on the spiritual as to forget that our relationship with God is meant to spill over into how we relate to those around us, those in our non-Christian (“secular”) culture. The spiritual and the natural are not sworn enemies. At least, they’re not supposed to be.
Why is it that we feel the need to retain our Christian bubble and keep the light only where the light already is? Jesus the Light entered darkness. In the Incarnation he provides us the model for how we are to live our lives; as lights in darkness, bringing clarity where there is disorientation. Or rather, Christ in us bringing clarity (light) to situations which call for it. No one would think to place lamp posts in a neighborhood one or two inches away from the next lamp post. What a waste of resources and lack of common sense! But I fear that’s exactly what we do when we only retain Christian friends and only “do life” with other Christians.
The Incarnation reveals a God who enters our world while many times we want only to escape ours. It reveals a God who interacts with humans while too many times modern Christians shy away from non-believers. Ultimately the Incarnation is incompatible with an escapism that solely cries to God “Take me to heaven!” while turning a blind eye to an earthly neighbor. Jesus taught his disciples that the model prayer to pray includes “Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven” as well as “forgive us our debts as we forgive the debts of others.” Meaning, it’s not just about our relationship with God; it’s equally about our relationship with our fellow man.
While we many times cry “Come Lord Jesus” we don’t realize that those praying such a prayer in Revelation were being slaughtered like cows. Why is this our “go-to” prayer, our prayer by default, when we face not even 1/5 of the persecution of the early church? Now I know that we still suffer here in America; my point is solely that the United States is among the most fortunate nations of our planet. Christians of the early church did not lead lives of comfort.
1)A personal relationship with God is never meant to equal a private relationship with God; our neighbor is always involved. And 2), true Christian spirituality requires that we interact with our culture and world, not create an “us vs. them” outlook.