Lima is slowly shedding the Christmas decor and embracing summer. Now that Epiphany/Three Kings Day has passed, only an occasional lost-looking Santa is still lurking around. Sometime between the last time I left the apartment (I'll admit, it has been a few days) and today, the decorations in the lobby vanished. We had a little tree, lights on the window, and of course the obligatory nativity. The one in our lobby was simply Mary and Joseph and an empty blanket. In Peru, and other Catholic countries I believe, Jesus is not placed in the nativity until Christmas Eve. So in the days leading up to Christmas I kept looking at the stoic figures kneeling in reverence to an empty blanket, and looking forward to the day the scene would be complete.
We came home late on Christmas Eve... Jesus still hadn't arrived, but then, it wasn't midnight. We came downstairs the next morning fully expecting to find that someone had placed the baby in the manger overnight...but nothing had changed. The unmoving Mary and Joseph still bracketed an empty blanket. Jesus hadn't come. Ah well, I thought, everyone was partying until the wee hours, they likely just forgot. I'm sure they'll get around to it later today.
But they didn't. Not Christmas day. Not that week. The year came and went and still no Jesus. Epiphany arrived, the nativity scene was packed away. The baby Jesus never appeared. And no one else seemed to notice.
You don't have to look real hard to find some symbolism in that. This entire season of build-up to the supposed celebration of Christ's birth, but when the time finally arrived, everyone forgot Him. They ate, they drank, they fiesta-ed. (They set off so many fireworks so close to the building that I felt like I was living through an attack by a hostile power with low altitude bombing runs and anti-aircraft fire. Seriously. It was ridiculous.) Some even took time to go to midnight mass or let an excited child place the baby Jesus figure in the manger, but even for most of these, most of Lima, most of the world, Jesus wasn't really there on Christmas day, or any day for that matter.
There are still people in every corner of the world who have never heard the Good News of Christ. There are even more who have heard part of the story but have it so tangled up in religious trappings, man-made practices, and myths that they miss the point and the gift of Salvation. For so many people, Jesus is that peaceful halo-wearing 8 pound 6 ounce baby, a doll that is placed in the manger next to the ceramic sheep every December (if they remember). He's an icon, a statue, a cultural practice, a mythical figure, a familiar tradition. A nice little good luck charm that sits on a shelf. That's the Jesus they know. That's the Jesus they are comfortable with. The problem is...that's not Jesus.
The generations before Christ's advent read prophecies, heard stories, and created an idea of who their promised Messiah would be: a mighty warrior who would overthrow their oppressive government and enemies! A conquering hero who would take his rightful throne as King of the Jews! That fit their idea of what a savior should be, how he would deal with the problems of the world. But Jesus was born into humble circumstances, not exceptionally handsome, nothing too special by human standards. He wasn't a warrior or nobleman, and he wasn't wealthy. He didn't seek to overthrow the government, or lead a bloody battle. But still...there was something about Him. And then, just as the fervor surrounding Him was reaching a heightened pitch...He was hung between common criminals on a cross. To so many it seemed like Rome had dispatched with yet another fraud. Some savior. So many missed it then because Jesus didn't meet their expectations. He wasn't what they wanted. They had an image in their mind of what He should have been, and He didn't match up.
With the benefit of hindsight, you'd think we'd be able to avoid that same problem today. But instead, even those of us who understand the price He paid for our sins, we take small parts of who Jesus really is, the parts we are comfortable with, and we take over and craft Him into something that fits nicely into the box in our minds: Jesus- the nice guy who smiles and hugs little children, heals the blind, tells us to love our neighbors and help the poor. And we pick out what serves our own ideology and convince ourselves that Jesus is really a lot like us:
"There’s the Republican Jesus who is against tax increases and activists judges, for family values and owning firearms.
There’s Democrat Jesus who is against Wall Street and Wal-Mart, for reducing our carbon footprint and printing money.
There’s Therapist Jesus who helps us cope with life’s problems, heals our past, tells us how valuable we are and not to be so hard on ourselves.
There’s Starbucks Jesus who drinks fair trade coffee, loves spiritual conversations, drives a hybrid and goes to film festivals.
There’s Open-minded Jesus who loves everyone all the time no matter what, except for people who are not as open-minded as you.
There’s Touchdown Jesus who helps athletes fun faster and jump higher than non-Christians and determines the outcomes of Super Bowls.
There’s Martyr Jesus, a good man who died a cruel death so we can feel sorry for him.
There’s Gentle Jesus who was meek and mild, with high cheek bones, flowing hair, and walks around barefoot, wearing a sash and looks very German.
There’s Hippie Jesus who teaches everyone to give peace a chance, imagine a world without religion, and helps us remember all you need is love.
There’s Yuppie Jesus who encourages us to reach our full potential, reach for the stars, and buy a boat.
There’s Spirituality Jesus who hates religion, churches, pastors, priests, and doctrine; and would rather have people out in nature, finding the god within and listening to ambiguously spiritual musical.
There’s Platitude Jesus, good for Christmas specials, greeting cards, and bad sermons; he inspires people to believe in themselves, and lifts us up so we can walk on mountains.
There’s Revolutionary Jesus who teaches us to rebel against the status quo, stick it to the man, and blame things on the “system.”
There’s Guru Jesus, a wise, inspirational teacher who believes in you and helps you find your center.
There’s Good Example Jesus who shows you how to help people, change the planet, and become a better you." - Kevin DeYoung
But that's not really Who He is. He is so much more. So much more than we can even comprehend.
When most of us look at the Bible to learn about Jesus we tend to start with the New Testament Gospels that tell of his physical life on earth, but even that is limiting. Christ was there at the beginning of Man, He'll be there at the end, and in fact, who He is is woven throughout the entire Bible. Four books weren't enough to hold all that He is; every single book of the Bible points us to who Jesus is and reveals bits of His character:
In Genesis: He is Creator, for all things were made by Him and for Him. He is the ram in the bush, a covenant-maker, Jacob’s ladder bridging heaven and earth, the God of Abraham, Issac, and Jacob.
In Exodus: He is the Deliverer, the Passover Lamb, the provision of manna in the wilderness.
In Leviticus: He is the Great High Priest, our eternal sacrifice, the Lord Who makes holy.
In Numbers: He is the bronze snake lifted up, bringing healing to Israel; He is the Trusted Guide- the cloud in the daytime, and the pillar of fire in the darkness of night.
In Deuteronomy: He is the Prophet greater than Moses, He is the God who goes before us, our Shield and Helper and Glorious Sword. He is the One True God of Israel.
In Joshua: He is the Captain of our Salvation, the One who leads us into the Promised Land, Rahab’s scarlet cord, the fulfiller of promises.
In Judges: He is both Judge and Lawgiver.
In Ruth: He is our Kinsman Redeemer.
In 1 and 2 Samuel: He is the Prophet of the Lord.
In Kings, and Chronicles: He is the Reigning King.
In Ezra: He is the one who fulfills His promises.
In Nehemiah: He is the rebuilder of the broken.
In Esther: He is Mordecai, working for the good of His people and revealing the providence of God.
In Job: He is our ever-living redeemer, the God who gives and takes away.
In Psalms: He is our Shepherd, our Song, our Refuge and Deliverer.
In Proverbs: He is Wisdom.
In Ecclesiastes: He is our only hope.
In Song of Solomon: He is the bridegroom, the Rose of Sharon, the Lily of the Valley, the Lover of my soul.
In Isaiah: He is Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
In Jeremiah: He is the Righteous Branch and the Portion of Jacob.
In Lamentations: He is the weeping prophet, He is the potter that puts our broken lives back together again.
In Ezekiel: He is the life in the dry bones, the Watchman of our souls, our High Tower, and our Inheritance.
In Daniel: He is the revealer of mysteries, our Rescuer, the fourth man in the fiery furnace.
In Hosea: He is the faithful husband to a faithless wife, the forgiving God who heals waywardness and ransoms us from the power of the grave.
In Joel: He is the one who pours out His spirit on all flesh.
In Amos: He is our burden bearer.
In Obadiah: He is the ultimate authority and Savior.
In Jonah: He is God’s Mercy and Grace.
In Micah: He is the promised Ruler from Bethlehem, the One who breaks open a way for deliverance.
In Nahum: He is our Jealous Avenger.
In Habbakuk: He is the Evangelist crying for revival.
In Zephaniah: He is the King of Israel, Mighty to Save.
In Haggai: He is the Restorer of God’s lost heritage.
In Zechariah: He is the righteous gentle King riding on a donkey, He is the Wall of Fire around Jerusalem and the Glory within, He is the cleansing fountain, the Measuring Line, the Branch, the King over all the earth.
In Malachi: He is the Messenger of the Covenant, the Refiner’s Fire, and the Sun of righteousness rising with healing in His wings.
In Matthew: He’s Emmanuel, Messiah, the fulfillment of the Law, King of the Jews.
In Mark: He’s the miracle worker, Servant, and Rabbi.
In Luke: He is the Son of Man, Teacher, and the Salvation of the World.
In John: He is the Word made flesh, the Son of God, the Christ, the Way, the Truth, and the Life.
In Acts: He is our ascended Lord and the Author of Life, and the voice speaking to Saul on the Damascus road.
In Romans: He is our Salvation and Atoning Sacrifice, the One who justifies through faith.
In First Corinthians: He is never-failing Love, and the Conqueror of sin and death.
In Second Corinthians: He is the Father of compassion, the God of all comfort, and sufficient grace.
In Galatians: He is the One who sets us free.
In Ephesians: He is the Head of the Church, our Chief Cornerstone and our Peace.
In Philippians: He is our gain, our Goal, and the God who meets every need.
In Colossians: He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all of creation holding all things together, the fullness of God, He is our Life.
In 1 and 2 Thessalonians: He is the God that tests our hearts, and our soon-coming King.
In 1 and 2 Timothy: He is the Mediator between God and Man, the revelation of Grace.
In Titus: He is the Blessed Hope, our Great God and Savior.
In Philemon: He is the friend that sticks closer than a brother.
In Hebrews: He is the heir of all things, the radiance of God’s glory, author of our salvation, the one who makes men holy, the blood that washes away sins, our Ransom, the mediator of the New Covenant.
In James: He is the Great Physician, the One who is able to save and destroy.
In 1 and 2 Peter: He is our Living Hope, the Living Stone, the Chief Shepherd and Overseer of our souls.
In 1, 2, &3 John: He is the Word of life, the True Light, the Righteous One, the Atoning Sacrifice for our sins, and Love.
In Jude: He is the Lord coming to judge, our Only Sovereign, majesty and power.
In Revelation: He is Alpha and Omega.
He is the Beginning and the End.
He is the First and the Last.
He is the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.
He is the coming King.
"He is the keeper of creation and the creator of all. He is the architect of the universe and the manager of all time. He always was, He always is, and He always will be. Unmoved, unchanged, undefeated, and never undone. He was bruised and brought healing. He was pierced and eased pain. He was persecuted and brought freedom. He was dead and brought life. He is risen and brings power. He reigns and brings peace. The world can't understand Him. The armies can't defeat Him. The schools can't explain Him and the leaders can't ignore Him. Herod couldn't kill Him. The Pharisees couldn't confuse Him. The people couldn't hold Him. Nero couldn't crush Him. Hitler couldn't silence Him. And the New Age can't replace Him. He is life, love, longevity, and Lord. He is goodness, kindness, gentleness, and God. He is holy, righteous, mighty, powerful, pure. His ways are right and His word is eternal. He is my Redeemer, my Savior, my God, and my Friend. He is my Peace. He is my Joy. He is my Comfort. He is my Lord and He rules my life."
He is JESUS!
This is Who the Bible says that He is, and your belief or disbelief doesn't change that. But Who do YOU say that He is?
That's the question Jesus asked the disciples, "But what about you?" he asked, "Who do you say that I am?"(Mark 8:29) And that's the pivotal question He is still asking us to answer today. Who we say He is will define our convictions, our viewpoint, our life on this earth, and ultimately our eternal life.
As we turn the page on yet another year, let us keep our focus on Jesus and bringing Him glory with the way we live out 2013. HAPPY NEW YEAR!