“The angel answered Mary, ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you; therefore, also that Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God’.” Luke 1:34-35 NKJV
After Tuesday evening prayers, the first thing I do on Wednesday when I come to the church is to refill the candles with oil in preparation for Sunday worship. There are all kinds of things going through my mind while doing this; sometimes idle thoughts, sometimes prayerful thoughts, plans, things to do, etc. Sometimes I’m surprised by what thoughts may cross my mind, and this morning was no exception.
I realize this particular portion of Scripture is out of season, but a sermon title crossed my mind (although it may be Advent before it comes): “Ricky Bobby and the Incarnation”. Now for those of you who do not share my juvenile sense of humor and taste for the irreverent, there is a movie entitled, “Talladega Nights: the Legend of Ricky Bobby”. Ricky becomes a successful NASCAR driver and soon has more money than he knows what to do with. At family meals, he prays in this way, “Dear Lord baby Jesus, with your golden fleece diapers …” Constantly he refers to the “baby” Jesus! Soon his wife challenges him: “Jesus did grow up”. Ricky shoots back, “I like the Christmas Jesus!”
Like the title says, just “a thought”.
No matter how silly it all sounds (and it does in the movie!), there is a ring of truth to the sentiment; many prefer the Christmas Jesus over the One who grew up and began preaching and teaching. And why not? Babies are not hard to understand. They eat, they cry, they make muddy diapers. There is a lot to take in with a baby, possibilities we cannot begin to imagine! But Jesus did grow up, and the Word began to spread. Often that Word contradicted what others had already made up in their own minds. And because the Word was dressed like a common man, it was difficult for the scribes and the Pharisees to take the Word seriously even though our Lord’s direct quotes came from the Torah, the whole of the First Testament, and even what is today referred to as Talmud; as St. John writes, “The Word became flesh”. Jesus was well versed in the Scriptures and the traditional interpretations because He is the Word!
It soon became clear that human interpretations of the Word, even with the best of intentions, can often miss the mark – especially when we declare absolutes in our own interpretations. There was plenty of piety (religious uprightness) among the religious authorities, but righteousness was not well understood nor humility practiced. “Love your neighbor as yourself” soon came to be directly related to loving The Lord with all we have and with all we are. Long story short, the grown-up Jesus became a real pain to the religious authorities who had already decided for themselves that the Divine Law was theirs to enforce but not necessarily to live themselves. Not only was the Roman burden too much to bear for the common man, but the religious burden imposed upon them by the teachers of Israel overwhelmed them. The two became one and the same.
The grown-up Jesus broke every legal mold without actually doing away with the Law. The Law soon became “The Way and the Truth and the Life” into which we are all invited, the “grace upon grace” which The Lord’s people are offered in that same Law.
Without a doubt, sometimes we Christians oversimply that Law to the point that it is rendered meaningless. At other times we make the Law so rigid and burdensome that it is rendered impossible to live faithfully. So somewhere between the Baby Jesus and the Pharisees, we find the rest and comfort of the Eternal Word; the very Word the Pharisees tried to destroy but discovered soon enough the Word which will endure “though the heavens and the earth may fade”.
There is clear “right and wrong” in the Word, and the King of all creation does have a Law; but this Law is not strictly about what we cannot do. It is more about what becomes possible when we all live according to the Word; and frankly, it is all theoretical until we actually get around to doing it.
The Babe in the Manger required gentle care as all babies do. The Eternal Word requires no less care because it is no less precious in our hands and in our lives.
The Lord is great, is He not?