Jesus in Drag

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Funny thing happened in church today. (Yeah, I know. Sounds like the start of a joke.) The church I frequently attend put on a nice Christmas program, with the choir singing some of the holiday favorites, interspersed with readings about Jesus, and a good mix of worship songs that never let our minds drift too far from the theme that Jesus is at the heart of our holiday.

God’s got an interesting sense of humor. Because, there I was, sitting way over in the left section of the sanctuary, empty seats around me, and about a half hour into the program, two women whom I thought might well be hookers, came in and sat next to me. I smiled and nodded politely — being the welcoming Christian gentleman that I pretend to be. And a few minutes later, in the middle of a choir member’s monologue, one of the lady’s phone goes off. And it’s ringing. Literally, ringing, like the old style phones. And it keeps ringing. And she’s fumbling with it, trying to shut it off. And still it rings. You’d think it would stop after a few rings — even if she can’t manage to find the mute — and go to voicemail. But no. It rings continuously for close to a minute. I thought, surely she’d just get up and leave the quiet intimacy of the sanctuary and try to deal with the noise out in the lobby. But no. Eventually, after what seemed an embarrassingly drawn out period of time, her friend grabs the phone from her and puts it under her thigh, effectively muffling it. After my initial sense of mortification and a brief moment of internal wrestling with judgmental indignation, I manage to find the humor in it, and just start chuckling. The one sitting on the phone looks over at me and starts to laugh too. Quietly, of course. And she smiles at me. Okay, “welcoming mission” accomplished.

The guy sitting right in front of me, also on an otherwise empty row, … I don’t know quite what to make of. At first glance, I thought he was one of the homeless youth we’re currently providing winter clothes for, but during the “meet and greet” — that moment all introverts dread — when I shook his hand and we exchanged names, I realized he was no teenager. He must have been in his 30s at least. And he couldn’t have been homeless because he was dressed in clean loungewear. A cut off tanktop that showed his belly (not rock-hard abs, in case you were wondering) and … I don’t even know what to call them: fuzzy pink and lime leppard print tights? Sweats? Yeah, not what they’re wearing on the streets these days.

That’s God’s sense of humor for you. In a room full of familiar faces, the handful of first-timers flocked to the seats immediately by me. The professional ladies and the … party boy? … and the uptight middle-class white guy in a constant battle to keep his Christianity real. We were like a reunion of the cast from the Island of Misfit Toys. Must be something about that side of the sanctuary that intuitively drew us — check who’s over on the left side next time you’re in church — or maybe God was just punking me. But hey, I did the smiley face pretty convincingly apparently, since the ladies chatted me up a bit afterwards, asking if I was a member, and telling me how they’d often walked past the place, but this was their first time to get the courage to come in, and how maybe they’ll see me next week. I only got to nod goodbye to the guy in the pink and lime jammies, as he kinda hurried out the door and I got caught up in after-church conversation that always seems to go on in places like that.

But here’s the kicker. During one of the choir monologues about Jesus being the Way, the Truth, the Life, the Gift of Love from the Father, the woman with the neverending-ringing cell phone had her eyes closed and her hands in the air. I think I even saw tears in the corner of her eyes. And her friend was just quietly smiling. And during one of the songs, I heard her whisper “Jesus.” And the fashionable guy in front of me was clapping in beat with some of the songs and standing at appropriate moments of worship.

I don’t know what was going on in their minds any more than I know what was going on in the hearts of the guys wearing suits a few rows up and to the right of me. But God was there. The Spirit connected with hearts that reached out for him. “Emmanuel. God with us.” And I got to witness a little bit of that taking place.

Jesus said whoever welcomes the least among us welcomes him. I’m still wrestling to shed my white, middle-class, evangelical uptightness, but at this particular holiday event, I was reminded powerfully — yet again — that Jesus comes in all shapes, sizes, and packaging.

Merry Christmas!

 

photo credit:  Pablo Picasso’s Les Demoiselles d’Avignon, by Wally Gobetz on Flickr, cc

 

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STEVE SCHMIDT is a Bible teacher at Expressions in Oklahoma City. He is a graduate of the seminary at Oral Roberts University in Tulsa, OK, and holds two masters degrees in Biblical Literature and Divinity. He did his doctoral research at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America in New York.

He is editor of IMPACT Magazine, and blogs here on the Cafe Inspirado column. Plus you can find him making random comments about life on Facebook.

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A Christmas Epiphany

bigbangA few minutes ago, as I was reading a note from my mom about the “joy unspeakable and full of glory” that is the heart of Christmas, I was struck by an image of the excitement in heaven over the birth of Jesus some 2000 years ago.  God himself, I suddenly realized, had looked forward to that day.  Set before the creation of the universe, he planned to come down and walk among humans again — this time in a form even more intimate than he had with Adam in the Garden.

Several years ago, in a moment of quiet gratitude to God for sacrificing his Son for our benefit, I was given a quick glimpse of insight into God’s perspective.  I thanked him not just for his suffering and death, but knowing that he’d wear a body (even if glorified) for eternity because once he took on humanity, he was stuck with it forever.  And as I expressed my gratitude for him taking such great measures to bring us back, he answered very simply, “It was my pleasure.”

With those four short words, I understood in a flash that it was his great joy to walk with us again.  It was so much his desire to be with us and for us to be with him that it was a sheer joy for him to come down and be with us in the flesh.

But I didn’t realize until just now, that God had eagerly looked forward to that day from the dawn of eternity.  Like the expression Jesus used speaking to his disciples about how he had looked forward to that last Passover with them, “with desire, I have desired to eat this with you,” it was with that same great intensity of desire and anticipation that God himself waited for the day when he could take on humanity himself, and walk with us — just to BE with us, and for us to experience him in a tangible way.  He felt such great joy at the prospect of the manger, of that great cataclysmic eruption of the divine personhood into this mundane reality.  It was his great pleasure, and all heaven exploded in celebration at that moment.  “EMMANUEL ! — With us, God!”  So powerful was the explosion that angelic hosts appeared visibly in the night sky.  The fabric of space and time was torn, the dimensions collided.  It was like a star exploding, a super nova.  The only precedent to the immensity of this event was the very first moment of Creation when God spoke the Word and an explosion of light filled the universe, and the very substance of everything that is in our world, our reality, came into existence.  This time, God himself, piercing through the barrier separating heaven from earth, took on flesh, to walk, talk, and touch his beloved — us.  He’d been waiting eons for that moment, and savored it with such pleasure.

The Cross, as essential as it is for our redemption and restoration, was a small price to pay in his eyes for the sheer joy of reuniting with us, and having us be able to spend eternity with him — as he’d originally intended.  Like birth pains in reverse.  Those hours of pain and agony at the Crucifixion he would gladly suffer for the joy set before him.  And that joy was US.

That was my brief Christmas revelation, and I wanted to share it with you all.  As we celebrate the birth of Christ, the redeemer of mankind, let’s also remember the heart of Our Father that motivated this occasion. He did it for us — for the joy of YOUR company.  The message of Christmas he earnestly wants you to hear: You are greatly loved.

Merry Christmas, indeed!