Sermon Transcript for December 7, 2008
The Monty Python movie, The Life of Brian, begins with a familiar nativity scene. It’s a still winter’s night. Three wise men finish a long journey to visit the new born baby they have long expected. They followed a star in the sky on their long journey from the east. They arrive at a ramshackle farm shed, all hay and peaceful animals, with a crib in the centre. They stumble into the shed and surprise the baby’s mother.
“Who are you?” she said, as she fell off her bale of hay.
‘We are three wise men.” They replied.
“What?” she said
“Three wise men.” They repeated
“Well what are you doing creeping around a cow shed at two o’clock in the morning? That doesn’t sound very wise to me.” The mother said.
They said they had come to visit the long awaited messiah. They asked her what she called the baby, and she said, “Brian.” They immediately began praising him “We worship you O Lord Brian, you are our Messiah, Son of God, King of the Jews.”
They soon realized they had gone to the wrong shed, and the baby Jesus had been born a few sheds up the pathway.
Of course you know what would have happened if three wise women had visited instead of three wise men.
They would have asked directions, arrived on time, helped deliver the baby, cleaned the stable, brought practical gifts and made a casserole
But you also know what they would have said as they were leaving.
“Did you see the sandals Mary was wearing with that gown”.
“The baby doesn’t look even a bit like Joseph”.
“Can you believe they let all those animals in with the baby”.
“I heard that Joseph isn’t working right now”.
“How long will it take before we get the casserole dish back”.
“Virgin? Yeah, right. I went to school with her.”
How important are the details of the story to you? Do you think the whole situation was carefully choreographed, or was it all just as accidental as three astronomers stumbling into a random shed in the middle of the night?
I want to outline a number of different Jesuses, three to be exact. The Jesus of history, the Christ of theology and the third Jesus, the Christ that is in every person.
The First Jesus
The first Jesus includes the various attempts to recreate the historical stories. You have met the first Jesus many times in your life, and he changes as you develop and as scholarship expands.
The Jesus I met when I was young was just like me. I even thought he was an Aussie. I imagined Jesus as something like Hugh Jackman with a long beard. He was white, had long, brown hair, a thin face. He spoke softly, moved gracefully and was always calm and gentle. He didn’t even cry when he was born. He never got angry or jealous and didn’t doubt himself for a moment. His every thought and deed was pure.
I was told that this Jesus was a role model, but this Jesus was too good to be true and impossible to follow. I would never be good enough to match up to this Jesus.
As a teenager I was taken to see the rock opera, Jesus Christ Superstar, and this was an entirely new Jesus. He laughed. He got angry. He doubted and he made mistakes. This was a Jesus more like Brian in The Life of Brian. When the crowds mistakenly thought that Brian was the Messiah they rushed to see him. His mother said in the most famous line in the film, “He’s not the Messiah, he’s a very naughty boy. Now go away.”
The Jesus in Jesus Christ Superstar was still somehow a God man, even though he was a frail and emotional God man.
Then in my 20s I saw the movie The Last Temptation of Christ. This Jesus was not God at all. He was absolutely human and flawed. He unwillingly played out divine will. He was so reluctant that he tried to offend God by using his carpentry skills to make the crosses on which the Romans crucified suspect Jews.
Then in my mid 20s I discovered that Jesus was likely leading a peasant revolution to upset Roman power, to liberate peasants and to make the Temple inclusive and egalitarian. I found out that Jesus likely looked nothing like me. In fact he looked Middle Eastern. Surprise, surprise.
Then in my 30s I discovered that the birth story of Jesus was much like the birth story of Buddha, with angels and kings and a manger. And it was much like the birth story of Confucius, whose birth was accompanied by dreams and dragons in the sky. And it was much like the birth story of the Egyptian god Horus who was also born to a virgin mother and his birth was heralded by an angel.
The first Jesus is important. He has inspired all sorts of good in the world. He has inspired Dorothy Day, Mother Theresa, Martin Luther King and so many others who found in the story an incredible example of compassion and social justice.
What is your vision of the first Jesus, and what does it inspire you to be and do for the world?
The Second Jesus
The first Jesus is important and has inspired many, but the first Jesus is also constantly changing. If you think the first Jesus is a moving target, imagine how many different versions of the second Jesus there are. The second Jesus is the Christ of theology. Theology takes ideas from the story and turns the first Jesus into an absolute and unique revelation of God. This is how theology creates ideas such as incarnation and trinity. Just read some of the Christmas carols to see the way the church has woven elements of a first century nativity scene with theology about atonement and original sin.
Of course Jesus was the unique human incarnation of a male God so he had to be male. Would Christianity have ever become a religion if Jesus had been born female?
Hold the phone. I heard a compelling argument that Jesus was actually a woman. After all, he fed a crowd at a moment’s notice with leftovers. He kept trying to get a message across to a bunch of men who just wouldn’t listen. And even when he was dead, he still had to get up because there was more work to do.
The second Jesus has spawned as many different theologies as there have been people to create them. There’s nothing wrong with that, as long as we recognize that our perspective is partial, and we don’t force others to believe the same thing. You can have your second Jesus, just don’t lose perspective.
I got my hair cut during the week. I was chatting to Chad, our local eco-hairstylist at Renue. We were chatting about all sorts of weighty topics such as the economy, politics and theology. Then Chad asked me what I was doing later that day. I said I was presiding over a Hamster’s memorial service. Chad smiled and said, “That’s great. We finish talking about all the world’s problems, and then you have to give a eulogy for a hamster.”
Don’t lose your humanity in all the theology about the second Jesus. Much of it is very profound. But you will still go to work tomorrow, and provide for your family, and do what you can to make the world a better place. You will bury hamsters and shop for skis. You will wrap Christmas gifts and pay the bills. This is the stuff of life in which you will manifest your humanity. Don’t lose your perspective in the various, creative ideas about the second Jesus.
The Third Jesus
The biggest trap with the second Jesus is to project all your highest ideals and deepest longings onto a man who lived two thousand years ago, and forget that other children of God were born in neighboring mangers. Children of God are also called names such as Brian and Brianna, Mario and Maria. In fact every baby that is born is a holy miracle, a child of God, a human wonder.
Whatever you believe about the first and second Jesus, don’t let it distract you from your essential humanity and life purpose. Something magical is taking place in your life. Your inner star is guiding you to a new consciousness. It might look rough like an old farm shed, and it might not be very grand, but it is a miracle none the less. Wise ones will gather around. They might not bow down and worship you as the Messiah, but they will nurture the birth of this new consciousness that you are part of them and they are part of you. You will dream dreams and imagine peaceful worlds and your intentions and actions will be part of this peace. Your purpose is to birth your own Christ consciousness, and have your own direct and present experience of God.
Mother Theresa was a child of God, as Jesus was and as you are. She had a special understanding of compassion. She once said- “I believe in person to person; every person is Christ for me, and since there is only one Jesus, that person is the one person in the world at that moment.”
What a beautiful Christmas reminder. Every person is a Christ to you, as you are a Christ to them. Every new person that comes into your life is a Christmas miracle; the birth of a new relationship. In that moment, allow them to be the only person in the world. Every moment is a Christmas miracle; the birth of new possibility. Allow that moment to be the only moment and be fully present to it.
You can have your first and second Jesus. Whatever makes sense to you, it’s yours. But you don’t need a first and second Jesus to lay claim to the power of the third Jesus. This Christ consciousness is yours now for the taking. Live it in the present. Whatever you take from the first and second Jesus, may it inspire you to a deeper humanity and a more passionate engagement with the peace, the presence and the power of the third Jesus, your own inner consciousness.