The sermon at church this morning was interesting. We’re celebrating Advent, which is about anticipating the coming of Christ. The pastor during the first part of his sermon was inquiring why John the Baptist was not at the nativity. My thought was “Because John the Baptist was still a baby at that time,” and that is probably true, if one accepts what the Gospel of Luke says. At the same time, I could somewhat understand my pastor’s question, for John the Baptist was preparing people for the ministry of Jesus. In my opinion, John was trying to get people ready for the Messiah by encouraging them to repent. By being in a spiritual state of mind that was oriented towards God and righteousness, people would be in a better position to recognize and to embrace Jesus’ ministry of compassion and healing as the work of God. Those who did not repent would be focused on other things, or they would reject Jesus because Jesus conflicted with their power interests.
My pastor was making a big deal about John 1:26-27, which states: “John answered them, saying, I baptize with water: but there standeth one among you, whom ye know not; He it is, who coming after me is preferred before me, whose shoe’s latchet I am not worthy to unloose” (KJV). I did not entirely understand how my pastor was applying this verse—-and I consider that a good thing, since that makes me think—-but I believe that his point was that we assume we know everything about Jesus and that we have a firm handle on who Jesus was. We do not consider that Jesus can surprise us, or we fail to look at Jesus in fresh ways. My pastor is neither disputing the importance of Christian orthodoxy nor suggesting that we should depart from that, I don’t think, but rather he is promoting a living relationship with Jesus, not simply assuming that we know all there is to know about Jesus and putting Jesus on the shelf, either trivializing him or forgetting about him.
What do I make of that? Well, I have my own frozen image of Jesus, I cannot deny that! There are all sorts of images of Jesus out there: Jesus the nice person who accepted everyone, Jesus the man who was not afraid to tell people off, Jesus full of grace, Jesus giving people a new law (or a new interpretation of the old law) more difficult than the law of Moses. I tend to gravitate towards a compassionate Jesus, though there are doubts somewhere in my mind about whether that is the case. I have just found beating myself up for failing to live up to certain spiritual standards to be a futile endeavor. I have settled on compassionate Jesus! I have resolved that no one will tell me otherwise! They can have any Jesus they wish, but they are not taking away from me my compassionate Jesus!
But can that frozen image of mine close me off from learning new things, from gaining new insights?