"The Rebel Jesus"
- in my meditation garden -
I am sometimes asked if I have a favorite Christmas carol; but the answer I give is often quite surprising to people who expect me to name “Joy to the World” or maybe “Silent Night” as my “number one” carol. Instead, my all-time favorite is a rather obscure song written a few years back by singer and songwriter, Jackson Browne - the name of the Carol is The Rebel Jesus.
All the streets are filled with laughter and light
And the music of the season
And the merchants’ windows are all bright
With the faces of the children
And the families hurrying to their homes
As the sky darkens and freezes
They’ll be gathering around the hearths and tales
Giving thanks for all God’s graces
And the birth of the rebel Jesus
I’m quite sure that most people who gather around the Christmas hearth this night will not be thinking of the newborn Baby Jesus as a “rebel.” Most will probably imagine Jesus as a sweet little baby boy asleep on the hay. And yet, in point of fact the baby born this night was indeed very much a rebel, a political subversive who would come into this world and plant the seeds of a revolution.
That little baby born in Bethlehem would grow up to be a “thorn in the side” of the “status quo, and a dangerous enemy of the “powers that be.” Throughout his entire life Jesus turned the acceptable norms of the culture of his day upside down.
Jesus was born into a system of violence, extreme prejudice, oppression and revenge, a culture where the powerful crushed the weak and the rich controlled the poor, and he preached about a world as “God” intended it to be. He gave humanity a vision of a just society where no one was left outside looking in and where everyone had a place of equal dignity and respect at the table of life. Jesus sowed the seeds of revolution as he invited his followers to overthrow the old way and build up a new kingdom, a kingdom of love and compassion, a kingdom where forgiveness and tender mercy were the order of the day.
Jesus was very much a rebel. In fact, he was such a rebel that the religious institution and the government of his time finally arrested him and executed him for his revolutionary sedition.
It’s so odd that on this Christmas Eve people all over the world will celebrate the birth of the Rebel Jesus and yet do the very things against which Jesus rebelled. As the world celebrates Christmas, people will sing the carols and gather at the hearth and yet condemn foreigners and build walls against strangers, those who belong will do their best to exclude and crush those who do not belong, and for the most part, those who sit around the Christmas hearth will barely even know that they are remembering the birth of a rebel who expected his followers to continue his revolutionary way of love.
I was reflecting on the fact that tonight lots of people will make their way into some church or other where they will likely mouth the words of the all-familiar Lord’s Prayer (The “Our Father”), and I am reminded of something Professor Amy-Jill Levine once wrote about this prayer:
I do wonder, do all those who pray
‘Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done,’
really want a change of the status quo
or are they pretty satisfied with the kingdom we have here and now?
Do they really want the time, as Jesus promises,
when the first will be last and the last first,
when we are assessed on how well we have loved our enemy and fed the hungry?
Those who will recite the Lord’s Prayer tonight should be careful of what they are saying- it’s a pretty subversive prayer.
Tonight as people across the globe gather together in homes and in churches to sing the songs of a silent night in which a sweet baby Jesus is asleep on the hay, I pray that we may all remember that the baby born this night was a rebel. May that the revolution he first began be continued in the lives of all people of goodwill everywhere.
Long Live the Revolution!