“When people show you who they are, believe them …” When I first heard these words of American poet Maya Angelou, I pondered them for quite a while. And as I put them into practice, I realized I could trust those words.
In order to honor and celebrate Christmas, I am putting on my Spiritual Director hat and dedicating this blog post to a man whose birth we celebrate as the holiday of Christmas: Emmanuel—meaning God is with us—also known as Jesus Christ. He showed mankind who he was, manifesting the wisdom of the above quote long before Angelou even wrote it—and He invites us to believe Him.
First, I want to acknowledge anyone who does not celebrate Christmas or is offended by the Christian legacy in Christmas—anyone who feels hurt, hardness, or even intense anger when you hear words associated with Jesus or Christianity. There are valid reasons you feel this way. My heart in writing this blog is not to talk you out of those feelings or change your beliefs. There have been painful realities of judgment, hypocrisy, and abuse that have become associated with the name of Christianity and religion. No one wants to condone this sort of fraud. Likely, not even Jesus.
I want to explore the coming together of two things I value deeply: purposeful relationships and discerned beliefs. More specifically, I will reflect on the relationship opportunity that was born that first Christmas and the beliefs around the historical man known as Jesus Christ as documented in secular and theological writings.
I am not a theologian or a historian, but I have done my work to know why I believe what I believe. If you want a simple read packed with facts, you can pick up a copy of The Case for Christ by Lee Strobel.
I begin with the belief that there is a God and that He intelligently designed and made our universe, from the biggest of big in the solar system to the smallest of small in the DNA in our bodies. If He can make you and me—humans—in His image as He said He did, if His Spirit can communicate with the spirit within us, certainly He can take the form of a man and meet us where we are. No longer was God only in spiritual form; now He too was sharing human form. Why? To connect with us and have a relationship with us in a more perceptible way. This is a God who loves His creation and created beings. It was one of His ways of pursuing us
Jewish people often referred to God as Abba father, meaning daddy. Imagine the closeness of a spiritual daddy who created you and me and came to find us and go through life with us every day via His Holy Spirit. In the mental health field, we call this attachment. It is a deep emotional and spiritual bonding, a trusted relationship in which we are seen, heard, felt, soothed, safe, and secure. A relationship with Jesus can embody a perfectly attached relationship.
I think we will all agree that relationships are just plain hard. Just ask anyone who is a child, parent, or spouse. If we are completely honest with ourselves, sometimes our selfishness gets in the way. We hurt others and build walls of protection.
A relationship with Jesus is no different. It may be hard to know where we stand: maybe we have protective walls up, maybe we are selfish, maybe we can’t see or feel the ways we are loved. This can make relating and connecting difficult.
Jesus comes and says, “I get it.” He brings a message known as grace, underserved goodness–underserved because of that selfish nature we all give into now and then. Grace, according to author Tim Keller, means it’s okay that we are not okay. Jesus is so less concerned with our performance because His first priority is for us to experience His grace and allow Him to hold us in His spiritual arms of mercy, love us no matter what, always be with us, always forgive us, and always show us the way.
Jesus didn’t come to be in relationship only with those who accomplish a list of do’s and don’ts, as some suppose. He didn’t come for exclusive subscribers. He came first and foremost to invite each and every one of us into an authentic relationship with Himself – a come as you are relationship. In fact, the faith of Christianity is the only “religion” that does not stress doing or performing as a way of earning good things from life. The roots of Christianity are found deeply surrounded by the love of our Maker and the warmth of His grace alone.
You see, knowing about someone is different from knowing them. Sure, others will tell you what they think. But it’s just not fair to base any relationship, whether with a new co-worker or with Jesus, solely on what others say about them or do in an attempt to be affiliated with them. We have to take the time to sit with that person and get to know them firsthand. This is how it becomes our relationship with the other person. We alone can decide whether or not to commit to any person or relationship.
You may be thinking, “But Jesus is dead.” Sort of. He was killed, and historical documents record numerous witnesses who saw Him after He came back to life This means we are invited into a relationship with a living God–not imagined but a living spiritual relationship, one whose Holy Spirit is as prolific as the air we breathe. I find this refreshing in light of all the evil happenings in our world and lives.
Here are some common aspects of purposeful relationships that can be applied to relationship with our neighbor or with Jesus:
- We get to know the other person and establish trust.
- We make self-sacrificing commitments.
- We pursue and are pursued, mutually.
- We appropriately adore and appreciate.
- We find we are overwhelmed by the positive aspects of being in relationship.
- We apologize and repair when we offend in order to keep the relationship flourishing.
- We are free to love and choose.
Relationships need freedom. Love cannot exist or grow if it is coerced or demanded. This is exactly why Jesus gives all humans free choice. We all know the sad reality that some of those free choices people make bring incredible pain and suffering to this world. Jesus is aware of the suffering. He shared in that suffering in His time on earth, and that’s what makes Him such a good comforter–He truly gets it.
Who did He show Himself to be so that we might believe?
He showed us He is loyal and has abundant grace by the way He forgave, accepted, and later empowered His disciple Peter, after Peter denied even knowing Jesus.
Jesus showed us He is compassionate for mankind and willing to help by healing Peter’s sick mother-in-law, healing a woman who tugged on His coat in a crowd in hopes of her health being restored, and turning water into wine when the wine ran out at a wedding feast.
Jesus showed us He is devoted to mankind and humble by coming to earth to serve and by coming as a vulnerable baby, not a powerful, wealthy dictator.
Jesus showed us He is courageously counter-culture by the way He engaged in conversation with a woman of a different nationality, something forbidden in His day.
Jesus showed us He looks at and nourishes the heart of people and is not scared away by someone’s story or past by the way he dined, conversed, and advocated for both men and women whom society saw as shameful outcasts. Jesus does not condemn.
Jesus showed us He is available and nurturing. He encouraged little children to come to Him; He didn’t turn away crowds but fed them with food and hope; He came to grieving friends and those in need.
He showed us He knew what He believed as He spoke against the religious leaders’ hypocrisy and arrogance, as He challenged people’s judgments on others, as He stopped unsacred practices from happening in the Temple, and as He challenged people about their priorities.
He showed us He was willing to be misunderstood, to suffer, and to make tremendous sacrifices in order to meet us in our humanity and choose a relationship with us.
He showed us He would overcome death, so that we can overcome spiritual death as we do one of the hardest things in the world: receive. Receive and believe in His grace.
This is our Christmas invitation.
Merry Christmas, friends!
If you are interested in reading more on the topic, here are two of my favorite resources:
The Message, the Bible in Contemporary language: https://messagebible.com/about/
Through the Bible: https://www.ttb.org/