Which Jesus are we looking forward to this Advent: Little Jesus meek and mild or revolutionary Jesus, turning over the moneylenders tables in the temple?
Each Christmas Royal Mail processes 2 billion items of post; many sent this year will feature the classic depiction of Madonna and Child. Apparently a re-run of the ‘popular’ image first issued in 2007, this is gentle Jesus, meek and mild indeed, as followers of John Wesley will sing the world over this Christmastide.
Lamb of God, I look to Thee;
Thou shalt my Example be;
Thou art gentle, meek, and mild;
Thou wast once a little child.
Is this what Jesus we are really looking forward to this Advent?
This is not the Jesus I read of in the Gospels.
This is not the Jesus who was thrown out of his home Synagogue in Nazareth for preaching good news to the poor, recovery of sight to the blind and to set the oppressed free.
This is not the Jesus who turned the tables of the moneychangers in the temple, and who confounded and confronted the political and religious authorities of his day.
As it the iconic Jesus/Che poster used by the Churches Advertising Network for Easter 1999 put it:
Meek, mild. As If.
So which Jesus you are looking forward to this Adventtide? As we contemplate the challenges of being a disciple of Christ in 2012, which Jesus are we going to follow?
Are we to go out into the world, as little children, gentle, meek, simple, pitiful and obedient, as Wesley would have us believe? Are we going to meekly put up with the status quo? Are we going to be simple and obedient to the consumer culture of the day? Are we going to say that, as followers of Jesus, our role is to keep our heads down, and allow others to shape our communities, our society, the future of our children and of our planet? Are we going to allow ‘our betters’ (whoever they may be) to define of public morality?
Or are we going to follow the real Jesus of the Gospels?
As Walter Wink has so ably demonstrated in his trilogy on The Powers (and elsewhere), Jesus’ way is the way of active non-violence. The well known parables of going the second mile; turning the other cheek or giving the second cloak do not involve passivity in the face of injustice, but active non-violent resistance. Wink characterizes this approach in terms of refuse to accept the inferior position; expose the injustice of the system; stand your ground; be willing to undergo the penalty of breaking unjust laws and seek the oppressor’s transformation.
It seems to me that this would constitute a fairly good description of the Occupy London protestors, still encamped in the shadow of St Pauls. A tented encampment in the heart of the City threatens no one, but at the same time it calls into question everything. Its very presence is a challenge to the unaccountable power exercised that the financial institutions of the City of London exercise over all our lives.
When I visited a couple of weeks ago, what struck me was the incongruity of the situation: Inside St Paul’s a beautiful but otherworldy sung eucharist to celebrate All Souls Day; Outside on the steps, huddles of folk – protestors, city-types, passers by – holding impromptu but impassioned debates on the issues of the day. And above all, the ever present banner, demanding ‘What would Jesus do?’
So, what would Jesus do, amidst the economic crisis of today?
Pray meek and mild in the safe confines and safe certainties of religious splendor? Or seek to unmask the inhumanity of today’s economic systems and their pretentions to justice?
Which Jesus are you readying yourself for this Advent?