Our CEO, Scott Sanders introduces our "Being Present" Advent series with a reflection from Isaiah on what it means to pursue peace during this season.
Imagine a world without Jesus—
Void of all beauty—
and all truth—
and all goodness.
A world without Love.
A world without Light.
A world divided—
A world without hope.
A world without a future.
A world we'll never know—
And the truth is, we don't need to dwell long in the hypothetical-imagination of that morbid world to imagine it. For many, this is the world-as-it-seems—perhaps even for some who profess to know and follow JESUS—perhaps even in some small way for you.
But the wonder of Advent, the wonder of Jesus—the wonder of Christmas—is not everything is "as it seems".
Christmas has taken on a whole new wonder for me vicariously through the eyes of my three-year-old son Zion. The kid is equal parts maniac and me, and yet an entirely other-being of endless energy and imagination. He reminds me of everything beautiful in life, and mystery, and superhero-faith. He cares about three things in life: Batman, bedtime and hide-and-seek. Each night as I struggle to put him down to sleep, we talk, and read bible stories (which somehow always includes Batman). We pray—for every human being he knows by name (including his enemies––in particular his arch-nemesis pre-school bully-friend), and we argue the pros-and-cons of darkness and light. It's fascinating to me the first and most prevalent fear for a child is darkness. Completely oblivious to the big-world anxieties of politics and culture, blissfully unaware of the plight of those suffering around the world—yet still aware of the difference between light and darkness—fear and love.
And so recently, whilst in the thick of this bedtime-process, I was speaking to him about Jesus, and with genuine child-like curiosity, he says,
"Daddy.... why is Jesus camouflage?"
It was a simple and profound question, no-less from a three-year-old. Initially He got me, and I had to laugh, but realising he meant "Why is Jesus invisible?" I found myself diving into a stumbling-break-down of toddler-comprehensible theology— "Well buddy, ummm... so Jesus... was God's son… like your my son... God was his Daddy, and because He was a Good-Good Daddy he loved his son, like I love you... but WAY more… wait… I mean… anyway... but God was also Daddy to all of us... to everyone... God is the Daddy of everyone in the world... and He loved every single one of his kids, but the kids had been bad, and so he had to... kinda put all his bad-kids in time-out… but then all his kids didn't know how much their Daddy loved them and so he sent Jesus- his son in heaven, into the world to show everyone how to be good, and to tell all the kids that even though they'd been misbehaving... Daddy still loved them and wanted them to play and hang out with their Dad forever... And when Jesus came to earth... he was camouflage… but not invisible! See His camouflage was to look like us... he took off his super-hero-heaven outfit, and put on our clothes… and he came into the world as a little baby... and that's what Christmas is... it’s all the kids throwing Jesus' a birthday party… and um..." at which point he saved from my struggling-vaguely-accurate-ramble with a perfectly timed, "Why didn't he just come as Batman?"
It would be some story if he did, and two-thousand-odd years ago it was probably not too far off the triumphant-all-conquering image people were expecting in their coming Messiah. Even today, it’s an imagination of Jesus far more akin to the preferred Saviour of the world image many are still searching for––a super-hero defender-of-the-universe to marvel at.
Imagine—kids everywhere demanding Santa obliges their good-behaviour with every conceivable super-hero-Jesus figurine, box-set with Moses, Elijah and John the Baptist.
God knew better. And His plan wasn't just better—His plan was and still is—
"The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth".
Jesus arrived! In a fashion few if any expected. The fullness and glory of God—the Word—the same Word spoken into the chaotic darkness and void at the beginning of time—the same Word that gave order and Light to the universe, and all creation and life and time and breath—was the same Word and the same Light spoken into a virgin-womb, born into a war-torn land—to live and die, and speak LIGHT and ORDER into the chaotic-darkness of the world-as-it-seems.
Jesus represents the moment God made himself fully present. Grace upon grace already given—the visible image of the God no one has fully seen—and yet he did it looking like us. Jesus was the hidden-in-plain-sight mystery of God-incarnate—the glory of the father, wrapped in the weakness and depravity of our skin and bones flesh.
I'm reminded this Christmas, that the Word became flesh—full of grace and truth. I have often hear people try to separate those two as if they are at odds, but to do so is missing WHO Jesus is, and what he represents. Jesus was the fully present embodiment of both grace and truth— and I believe here and now, our lives should look and sound and live and breathe the same. That in the midst of a world so desperately broken and painfully dark at times—we would become the embodiment of Jesus–that the WORD would become flesh in us.
Can you imagine the world—if our lives were the kind that offered mercy and grace where there was none—the kind willing to embrace and announce the beauty and truth and goodness that comes only through Jesus—if we would live with the same compassion and empathy he showed those on the margins, those on the outside—the hurting, and the forgotten.
Can you imagine—if our lives were committed to building bridges, not walls—standing in the gap for the sake of others—Imagine if we were known by His LOVE—would it not look like LIGHT? Would the world not see a little brighter!
This is my prayer this Advent—to be present! To not let my flesh keep His presence camouflaged any longer. God-knows the world needs it. This is high time for the Church to act as His body—Our flesh acting as His flesh—our hands and feet acting as His hands and His feet. My prayer is that we would live in a way that leaves nothing to the imagination when it comes to WHO Jesus is—the Light of the World, the Hope of all humankind—Saviour. Messiah. King of grace.
Waaaaay better than Batman.
Joel Houston is a Worship Leader with Hillsong UNITED and is Lead Pastor at Hillsong NYC. Image credit: Everton Vila
Daily Reading John 1:14-18
14 And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth. 15 (John testified to him and cried out, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks ahead of me because he was before me.’”) 16 From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. 17 The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. 18 No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known.