As you know, I have spent this year blogging Open Letters to various public figures (and avoiding writing some other Open Letters like the one to the pastor who baptized me, and to my wife and my children) with the hope that these people (myself included in the list) would take a moment to listen to someone from outside of their personal echo chambers. Someday, we'll all know how well that turned out -- both from the receiving end when the great Book is opened on those I blogged, and from the sending end when the great Book's folio appendix with my name on it is opened and my deeds and misdeeds are spelled out so that there's no mistake: for me to be with God's people in the final account required something and someone much more that I have been. My hope is that they reflect on these things which, I think, in some way they all have to have some sympathy for -- because they all claim that their primary objective is to follow you and, in some way, show you to other people.
This is the thing I am thinking of as this years closes up and I finish this series of open letters: following you, and showing you to others. Some people think we show you to others by going big -- big dreams, big churches, big books about big subjects like leadership and productivity as a demonstration of stewardship. Some people think it's in the big special effects which we make much of you -- be it in the inexplicable supernatural by casting out demons, or command healing, or other the other side of the fence in feeding 5000 people or rebuilding a third-world nation. I think it's funny how American all that really is -- that go-big or go-home attitude of accomplishments as if what we are set out to do here is accomplish something which the Bible says doesn't happen until after you have cast Sin, Death and the Devil into the lake of fire. There's nothing really Christian about that stuff even though Christians have done a pretty good job of it since you left us here to baptize and make disciples. It's like we badly-translated the place where Moses says, "You shall therefore be Holy, for I am Holy," to say, "therefore, because I am so Big, you must be Big."
See: I think that's why you came the way you did. John sort of rushes over this because for him, the "good part" of the Incarnation was the Godness of you -- that You, who is at the Father's side, has revealed to us the Father, and are one with Him. That's an important point, and one I think these big doers all get well enough. But the way you actually came -- which John rolls out in one word ("ἐγένετο") but Matthew and Luke roll out in chapters of reference and detail -- is a sort of open letter on the whole thing, the whole enterprise.
You didn't come big, did you? Not big as we measure it, to be sure -- because if we measured big by the standard of the Nativity, the conception and birth of children would not be treated as such a passe thing by us. You came small. You came so small that in spite of the fact that angels announced your birth, and pagan sky-watchers could recognize the star which was set in the heavens to mark your birth and would came to worship you, all of Bethlehem did not turn out to greet you. The advisors to Herod could not be bothered to come and see for themselves if the King of the Jews had been born.
You came small.
Another way to say that, I think, is that you came in a deliberate or single-minded way: not in a way which is too big to grasp. I mean: you could have followed the Holy Spirit, right? We could have first had Pentecost in which all of Jerusalem was speaking in tongues and raising the dead, and then you could have come on a white horse with a great sword in your mouth to judge the nations, and then set right your Kingdom forever -- and the outcome would have been just fine: an eternal kingdom where you rule over your people and the evil are justly set under your footstool.
But you didn't work it out that way. You didn't want it that way, if we believe Peter and that crazy cousin of yours, John. You worked it out so that you came as the least of the least so that you could be the lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world -- born in a stable like any decent lamb, and discovered by shepherds, and then finally put to death at the hands of evil men for the sake of paying the price for their sins for God's sake.
Now, as I write this, the fire is burning in my fireplace. I have a robe on, and warm pants, and I have a full tummy. In spite of being "on vacation" I have also worked every business day in the last week, and I'll get paid on Friday. I haven't been uncomfortable in decades -- including the few times I have been really, really sick -- because frankly I live better than Herod, in better conditions and with more security. And when I consider that feeding trough you were laid in to sleep, and the rags you were wrapped in for warmth, and the world you chose to be born into -- because let's face it, you could have waited 2000 years more and been born in America where the worst discomfort is choosing to drink water when you eat out rather than soda -- I read an open letter regarding my own big dreams. And it puts to shame the fact that in the last week I did more to pad my own nest than I did to find someone to tell about you and make them a disciple of you.
I thank you, God, for your humility which intentionally comes to us as an open letter, a written word for us to consider. You could have been born into the house of David in a palace of cedar, and you chose instead to be born without a home in the city of David, with no place for you in the inn -- for no other reason than to show us that you do not need our help to save the world, but you come to us to save it anyway. And you call us not to be the greatest, but the least -- to be a slave like yourself, utterly used for the sake of something other than our own big plans.
So my open letter to you, Jesus, is to ask that your open letter to us do more for us than my small collection of pointed statements could ever do. Since my open letters made no impact on those I wrote them to, God, let yours dispatch our pride, and arrogance, and super-sized vision casting, and self-promotion, and politics, and theological posturing, and glib epithets, and moral inertia, and cowardice, and fear of being wrong, or fear of being seen as even merely mistaken, and all the other misdemeanors and offenses we invent to make much of ourselves, especially under the cover of making much of you.
Forgive us, God, and cause us to repent. If it meant so much that you were born in a stable to do it, and would die on a cross to do it, and would overcome and undo death to do it, then please God: overcome the internet and our fragmented church culture to do it. Someone on the internet is wrong, Jesus -- and sometimes it is me. May every person who calls on your name this year see how true this is of himself, and let him publicly repudiate his misdeeds as he has publicly perpetrated them.
My thanks for this last year, Lord, and my life. Help me not to squander it, and to follow you from the stable to the cross to the grave in whatever place you put me.
Glory to you, and peace to those upon whom your favor rests.