As we enter the season of Christmas, I want to reflect on the readings likely to be heard in our churches. The stories center on God’s work of bringing about the “Kingdom of God,” or, as the Syriac tradition calls it, a “New World” characterized by justice and peace. The interesting thing is how weird God is.
Both Matthew and Luke present stories of Jesus´ birth. In Luke, Jesus is Savior, but coming as a bastard child born out of wedlock to a pregnant teen in a manger—a feeding trough—in a stable likely stinking of the barnyard. Messengers from God tell shepherds—at the bottom of the social hierarchy (it does not take too much talent to watch sheep) and praise God singing of God´s benevolent care for humans bringing them shalom. Matthew speaks of the King of the Jews, whose appearance is announced by a star attracting astrologers (Magi) from the East, and whose birth issues in a massacre of children by Herod.
It is stunning how wild—radical—these tales of Jesus´ birth are once we scrape away the frosting of nostalgia, cuteness, and overfamiliarity that we have spread on them. Clearly God works in weird ways. We should too. The community of the followers of Jesus is supposed to be the first fruits (think “green shoots”) of the new World Jesus announced. So it stands to reason that our congregational communities need to be, in the same sense, weird. Let us say that we are called to be evangelically weird.
I would suggest that to be evangelically weird, we must first of all take a look at how we relate to each other. For in our relationships with each other we are to—and we can—give evidence that testifies to God´s vision of a healed world. That is the notion of the word “savior” Luke used to proclaim who Jesus is. If we do not, we are not the real Church. As simple as that.
As John asked about Jesus, we might ask, “Is this the Church that is to come or should we wait for a different one?” And if we would answer, “Yes, this is the Church,” then we should be able to say in all honesty, “The blind see, the lame walk, lepers are healed, and the poor hear good news.” There are wonderful exceptions of course, but in my experience the church would rather concentrate on the “spiritual” development of its members. This is deeply unChristian.
Suppose we were to take a close look at human suffering in our own neighborhoods. We might be moved to assist as best we can, and that is not a bad start, but what is keeping Christians from attending to the causes of that suffering? Can a congregation examine injustices perpetrated on its neighbors by greed, or political maneuvering, or the sheer power of the powerful? Why not? If there is anything that the enfleshment of God says loud and clear, it is that the flesh matters—and hunger, disease, disempowerment, despair and oppression are insults to God. The incarnation means that a “spiritual” life cannot take place without attending to these things, that there is no inner healing without outward service.
How do we get there? Let us start by treating each other the way Jesus would have us. Justice has to start in the way we relate to each other in our worship communities. Unless we cultivate relationships that are characterized by virtues like mutual trust, transparency, respect of boundaries, and reliability we will only limp along as we try to bring good news to the poor in the form of socioeconomic change, tangible good news.
God is calling us to be evangelist, and means to be evangelically weird according to the way the world will view us, a community so weird we may be showing forth the first fruits of God’s New World of justice and peace.
In this season, like in the Christmas stories, we join God at work in the least expected places, at the least expected times, with the least expected methods. In this season we are God’s creative, risk-taking people, unafraid of pregnant teen moms, the homeless, stinking workers, and mangers. We know that is where we find unexpected kings.
Dr. Oliver has published widely on worship, Hispanic ministry, and the full welcome of gay and lesbian persons inthe Episcopal Church. His most recent project on Hispanic ministry, “Ripe Fields: The Promise and Challenge of Hispanic Ministry” (New York: Church Publishing) was published in 2009. He is a member of The Associated Parishes for Liturgy and Mission, as whose president he served from 1997 to 2001. At St. Bede´s, Santa Fe, he has since 2009, developed a growing Spanish speaking congregation which celebrates the Eucharist as a full meal open to all.