Sunday, December 25, 2011

The Strangeness of the Christ

It is 2:45 am on Christmas morning and I find myself wide awake. Had I not gone to Confession yesterday, I might attribute this inability to sleep to a guilty conscience. I fell asleep around 10:45 and awoke around 2:00 am with something of a startled sensation. I awoke struck by the strangeness of Christ.

Think of some words we use to express our everyday sense of the strange: odd, weird, abnormal, queer, goofy, bizarre, aberrant, atypical, exceptional, peculiar, offbeat. These are not words normally used to describe Christ. Of course, there are things about Jesus that strike us as odd: it is not every day that we read of persons turning water into wine, raising the dead, consorting with prostitutes and tax collectors, or claiming to be the Son of the Author of Creation. Yet, for many of us Christians, we take all of this for granted and fail to let the absolute oddness of Christ seep into our bones. We domesticate Jesus, we subdue his holy wildness, and we make him tame.

What do I mean by making him tame? It means that we make Jesus our insurance policy, our "Get out of jail" card. We speak of Jesus' love for us, but we confine it to the ways in which this love makes us feel good about ourselves. Jesus' love makes us feel secure, sort of like how a small child peaks over and over again on Christmas night until she knows the presents have been placed under the tree: until the security of knowing the gifts are there, it is very difficult to rest. Security of the gifts, in this sense, makes possible a good night's sleep.

My belief about Jesus, put into its simplest form, is that he is God's Love made flesh, Love that is vulnerable, the Love whose effervescent presence emboldens women and men to risk being the persons they are called to be. I believe that Jesus Christ is the act of God's creation made present in human history. I believe that Jesus is the fruit of Mary's "Yes" to God's friendship, that Jesus is the result of humanity's "Yes" to God's "Yes" to humanity. I believe Jesus is simultaneously the Word and Deed of God written into human history. I believe that the sin of humanity reacted - and continues to react - violently to the presence of this Love in our midst and that we killed him. I believe, finally, that the Resurrection shows us the depths of God's love for us, shows us that God's way is one of restoration and life rather than vengeance and death. I believe that we are, as Christians, called to follow the path of the Risen Christ.

The way of the Crucified and Risen one is indeed bizarre. If Hollywood were to written the Gospel, I suspect that it would involve Jesus kicking down a door and slaying his enemies, rather than appearing amidst them bearing the message "Peace." The way of the Crucified One is so strange in a culture where the message is so often interpreted as Kill or Be Killed, Success at any Price, There's no Room for Second. The Way of the Crucified One is the way of the Loser who shows us that, in the economy of the Kingdom, it is not what one gains for himself but what one pours out for others that is a mark of true wealth.

I do not want to be a tame Christian, a domesticated disciple. I want the strangeness of Christ to continue to wrest me from my slumber, to make me feel convicted for failing to have done enough to help build the Kingdom on this earth. This night, my eyes turn East and I await the dawn of Christmas morning, the dawn of the Son's coming into this world. Lord, give me the grace to bear witness to this dawn each day, with each knock on the door, with each encounter in my life, and let me welcome you in each person I meet. Grant that I see those who approach me as a potential sister or brother rather than a suspicious "other." Give me eyes strong enough to see you in the face of stranger so that, at the end of my life, my own face will be one that is not strange to you.  Let me never lose the wonder that is born of your strangeness, your downright oddness, and please let me be counted as one of your Company.


Mike Bayard, S.J. said...

In a strange way, I am grateful you were awake at 245 AM and that you got up to write this reflection. I think you are right on. I do think Jesus does get domesticated ... my prayer this morning is that I might recommit myself to the radical love, the real love of Jesus who makes his dwelling in the often difficult places in my life and as well as the life of our world.

Hope you were able to get a little more sleep. Merry Christmas, Ryan!

Sofia Gonzalez said...

Ryan! Long-time reader here!

I was hoping putting an excerpt of this lovely reflection on my blog (with your name and with a link to your own blog of course!) would be okay. If not, I'll take it down right away.

Here is the post:

All the Best! Merry Christmas!

C said...

I like this. Like you write, I want to risk being the person I am called to be. And still - I am so thankful that Jesus does not expose me to more of his weirdness than I can take. I'm still learning to trust him, and if he wouldn't show me over and over again that he's reliable I wouldn't be able to do that.