“O Lord Jesus Christ, I long to live in your presence, to see your human form and to watch you walking on earth. I do not want to see you through the darkened glass of tradition, nor through the eyes of today’s values and prejudices. I want to see you as you were, as you are, and as you always will be. I want to see you as an offense to human pride, as a man of humility, walking amongst the lowliest of humanity, and yet as the savior and redeemer of the human race.”
(Note: Written in 2000 you might think this piece dated. It is no more dated than Kierkegaard’s Attack on Christendom which I highly recommend about now.)
Let me give you an example of what Kierkegaard is suggesting.
For the last 25 years I have heard Christians say, “Two thousand years ago..blah blah blah…” And, of course, they were rounding up or down time-wise.
But today is December 25, in the Year of our Lord 2000.
It is the ONE and only day we can say, “Two Thousand years ago TODAY, God…”
Yes, 2,000 years ago, today, the Creator of the Universe decided to crash the Human Party, which had turned damned ugly. If you listen, those who were there, they claim that God Himself, came bumping and birthing out of a young girl’s womb and spilled into the riot that is this world.
But it is right here that the folk Kierkegaard is talking about start to shout, “But Jesus wasn’t born in December! That was the way Christians appropriated the pagan holiday..blah blah blah…”
Or, gasbag scholars (with tenure) will go on and on about how Jesus was “more likely born 4 years prior to the date that was used in the formation of our current calendar” (thus Jesus was probably born in the spring of 4 B.C. …yea, yea…he was born four years before he was born.)
But when they go this route they are missing the whole point.
What about what happened when Jesus was born somewhere between the spring of 4 BC and our “traditional” (read “darkened glass”) date?
Kierkegaard says elsewhere that even if no historical records had survived about Jesus, he would still be the most important and central figure of human history.
Because he was God, and he willfully and deliberately dove into our mire for love’s sake. (Could it be that reality is more real than history?)
I mean, c’mon, what kind of God allows himself to become a human baby?
It’s either the most asinine notion
or the most beautiful thing
you’ve every heard your whole life.
The coming of Jesus, as God into our riot, is the radical opposite of religion–all of it, “Christian” or otherwise.
So, what do many churches do with this incredible miracle, this challenge to the whole way we view ourselves, our human history and our ultimate destiny and meaning?
They make a “religious service” out of it. And this is done in the most visual, audience, and entertainment-oriented culture in human history (“Damn Jim, I got 168 new channels on my new satellite dish…it’s unreal”) the Church with all its radical vision and devotion to Jesus does what?
The “Christmas services” many churches prepare serve to transform the naked amniotic reality of Jesus’ birth into an ethereal place of simple, rustic, “Country Home” beauty. In creating a visual and entertainment-oriented service, we are invited to sit and passively watch just like we do Family Guy or last week’s episode of NCIS.
If, as Kierkegaard suggests, we should see Jesus for what he was, is, and will always be, then that would apply to his birth in Bethlehem.
So let’s strip away the “darkened glass of tradition and the current cultural prejudices” and ask, what should be up on the church stage for these Christmas productions?
The answer is obvious. Go visit a barn.
Go visit an American barn which is, by the way, a half a world away from a Bethlehem barn, and ask that simple question again: what should our Christmas productions look and feel like if we are to see Jesus for who he was, is and always will be?
To start with, how about manure, and lots of it?
There must be a great deal of it and stench.
Then we must add slop for the animals and dirty water troughs on the sides of the church stage to maintain any accuracy at all.
In other words, the whole church should reek of dank poverty, or, at the very least, to make a legitimate cultural bridge, reflect a modern American barn (which has turds and piss and is cold and is a good, but dirty, business).
And instead of whitewashing the event into something about us, and our sentiments at Christmastime, how about talking about the real deal and asking good questions like “Why did God choose to come this way?” “What does it mean that there was no room available for God when he came? What does it mean that he was placed in a feeding trough after birth? (that’s what a “manger” is). What does it means that instead of lying quietly in a sweet designer/manger bed, the baby Jesus was screeching his head off like every other baby..EXACTLY like every other baby…laying inside a hard and putrid feeding trough and surrounded by the dank smell of animal dung?
This is what would be needed.
We have this clean and completely nonfunctional “manger”, and then a big production which is all about us and our artistic gifts, then a short message relating the beautifully decorated Christmas tree to show how Christ needs to be in our homes. And on it goes.
It’s a show. We are the audience, God is an idea, and the performers are worried about how they will perform in the show, not about the glory of God or his incomprehensible love.
Kierkegaard said elsewhere, that our worshipers/audience are really supposed to be the performers, and that the audience is not us at all, it is God.
Imagine if more modern American churches took that seriously! (And if you know of any, please email me the information and WE will go!)
And we’re not talking performing to “appease” God. We’re talking performing for the sheer enjoyment of God and his glory and out of gratitude that this God has such love and such a passion to be known that he would do this radical thing (and we are not even talking about the exit yet, just the intro).
So, if the audience are really meant to be the performers, who then are the people on stage?
They are the “conductors,” says Kierkegaard, as is the preacher.
God is the audience on such a day, not us. (And heck, let’s just keep doing it all year long. It’s a Theocentric (“God-centered”) universe, so why not keep acting accordingly?)
How are we supposed to feel when the greatest event in human history, and one which is deeply personal for each of us mortals, is so utterly lost and covered up with layers of denial that the very crash of God breaking into human history is made into something like the sound of a digital watch alarm going off under a pile of thick blankets?
Well, it’s about 9:30 PST on Christmas, year 2000. Philosophically, an interesting historical night, right?
But I’ve been tending four kids all day long, alone, because my wife is racked with a severe flu and is bedridden.
And in the meantime, our toilets are all clogged up (it started Christmas eve) and so the bathrooms are plunged hourly.
This, in very obvious ways, hourly bilges up all kinds of flu-invested crap, vomit and piss. This Christmas, our normal “Country Home” existence stinks just a little like a barn.
It’s a perfect Gospel night. Just like 2,000 years ago, give or take, when God…