The Average Jesus
It never hurts to start with a laugh. So I thought I’d share with you something I came across recently by way of Facebook – the source of all the best sermon fodder.
It is a collection of celebrity portraits put together by an artist named Danny Evans. But these aren’t just any celebrity portraits. The premise of this collection, or of this project, or whatever you want to call it, is to have created images of what celebrities might look like if they weren’t celebrities… if they didn’t have stylists and personal shoppers; if they didn’t get paid to exercise; if they didn’t have access to wardrobe changes between breakfast, lunch, and dinner; or maybe, if they never got “discovered,” and made it to the big time, in the first place.
So, imagine an average Tom Cruise…
Or an everyday Rihanna…
What about a run-of-the-mill Miley Cyrus…
Or Jennifer Anniston, as a cat-lady…
And what about some Power Couples, without so much clout:
Like Jay-Z and Beyonce
Or, Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie…
Now I would bet all of Jay-Z’s money that this photoshop artist didn’t set out with a theological agenda when he put these portraits together. I don’t even think he meant to make a social statement of any significance. I’m pretty sure he was just having a little fun. But I saw these pictures and thought about them as a twist on the message of Christmas and the Good News that brings us here tonight.
See, I believe what God did through the birth of Jesus – when God set the divine loose in the world, in and through the flesh and blood and bones of a person – it was something like what we see in those pictures: The high, brought low. The mighty, made plain. Power made perfect in weakness… meekness… humility… and grace. Beauty that is simple and pure and unadorned … messy and imperfect and ugly, even, by the world’s estimation.
Because all of that is who and how God is in Jesus – a baby in a manger – meek and humble; plain and unembellished; weak, not strong; messy, not fit for the red carpet; poor, not rich; more generous than greedy; more concerned about peace than power; more willing to suffer and to struggle and to sacrifice than to win, win, win, win, win at all costs.
See, too much of Christendom does with God, in Jesus, what our culture does so much of the time with celebrities. We make Jesus into something he’s not – Caucasian, just for starters. And other things he was never meant to be, too: always robed in white … shrouded in a halo of light … with soft hands made for “chalices, not callouses,” as a friend of mine likes to joke.
Or this, on a night like tonight:
When really, smarter people than me suggest Jesus was something a lot more like this:
And that’s important to remember as we celebrate his coming among us, because it reminds us about how and for whom he came, in the first place: the poor, the lost, the lonely; the outcast, the refugee; the sick, the prisoner, the oppressed, and so on.
But that can be hard for a middle-class white guy in central Indiana. I’m very clear about the fact that I don’t have a lot in common with Jesus, when it comes to the demographics on my driver’s license. I, frankly, don’t have a lot in common with the likes of those for whom Jesus came in the first place, either, to be honest … the poor, the blind, the deaf, the sick, the forsaken, the outcast, the refugee, the widow.
But the good news of Christmas – as hard as it is holy to hear sometimes – the good news in all of this is that none of it has much to do with what we look like on the outside, really. All of it – where most of us here are concerned – has to do with what’s going on in our heart of hearts. It has to do with the state of our souls. It’s all about how we can receive the gift that comes in Jesus and let it change us, transform us, and move us in the direction of God’s will – for our own sake – and for the sake of the world.
Because, if I’m honest about it all, I have my own fish to fry, outside of all the poverty or sickness or safety that so many others have to worry about in this world. I have plenty of my own reasons to be grateful for all the ways Jesus shows up for my sake at Christmas.
See, my poverty might just look exactly like the money I pretend brings status and security in my life. (It does neither.) My blindness might be the privilege I take for granted or take advantage of without apology too much of the time. My deafness might be my refusal to hear and respond to the cries of those in need around me. I might very well be a refugee in God’s eyes, because of the barriers that keep such a distance between my life and the lives of so many of God’s people. I am certainly a prisoner, as far as God is concerned … bound by sin, as we all are; by so many things done and left undone in the world as we know it to be.
Bah humbug, right?!?! But bear with me… there is so much hope in the cosmic craftiness of God’s Christmas plan.
Because, the beauty of God’s work in Jesus – when we remember to see ourselves and each other and the world around us all wrapped up in the likes of that baby in the manger – is that when we do our faithful best to respond to the gift of his coming, we are changed for the better and the world around us is transformed, just the same.
I mean when we give generously… When we welcome strangers… When we sacrifice for others, comfort the sick, work for justice, pray for peace… the kingdom of God comes among us, the kingdom of God comes through us, the kingdom of God is born, in our midst, on the daily, for the sake of the world.
Christmas is about recognizing the God of all creation in the average, every day, sinner among us. Christmas is about recognizing the God of all creation in the average, every day, sinner in the mirror. Christmas is about seeing God in the needs that surround us in as many ways as there are people in this room – and then some.
And Christmas is about celebrating that God – through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus – inspires and invites the likes of you and me to do something to meet all of those needs, until all are fed; until all are healed; until all are safe … along with the grace, mercy, forgiveness and hope we need, in the meantime.
Amen. Merry Christmas.