Yes, even to you the the Jew, the Hindu, or the atheist. Even to you the sinner, the hypocrite, the outcast. To the proud and powerful, Merry Christmas. To the meek, the poor, and hungry, Merry Christmas.
And to my brother Christians, may you have a special Merry Christmas filled with grace and peace – and perhaps a little spiritual reckoning for a new chapter in your journey.
A nagging thought sometimes intrudes when I am reading theological works of the church fathers (like Augustine) or recent theologians like John Henry Newman. So much teaching is on “qualifying” Jesus Christ as the messiah and Christianity as the way to live a holy and spiritual life that what gets lost is what does it mean for us today, 2000 years later.
What is qualifying? In Alcoholics Anonymous, one of the pivotal signs of an alcoholic’s ability to benefit from the program or to benefit others is to “qualify” themselves by sharing their lived experience. By qualifying that they have lived the life of an alcoholic, they can then give their experience, strength, and hope to others on how to live a sober life founded on spiritual principles. In essence, they must have experienced the deprivation of being alcoholic before their message can be heard by alcoholics.
So to it was with Christ. He became man and suffered the things man suffers in the extreme so that man could accept his message on how to live a holy life. He self-qualified himself for all to see by being crucified on the cross. This qualification along with his actions during the three years of his ministry provided believers with a road map for how to treat others and live a holy life no matter how bad your suffering.
In Alcoholics Anonymous, and other 12 step groups, they don’t spend time qualifying a “higher power.” They qualify themselves as being alcoholic (flawed), they are themselves not a higher power, and that a higher power can restore them. And more importantly, the program works for many that give it their all (https://med.stanford.edu/news/all-news/2020/03/alcoholics-anonymous-most-effective-path-to-alcohol-abstinence.html). They don’t fight about defining God, though many have religious affiliations. How they live a spiritual program is the key to sobriety and happiness.
So, if we got past “qualifying” Christ and all the theological evidentiary arguments, what would be left other than have faith and believe in Jesus Christ the Messiah?
An Op Ed in the NYT today by Peter Wehner entitled “The Forgotten Radicalism of Jesus Christ” will challenge Christians and non-Christians to seriously reevaluate our moral framework. The article makes the case that we water down the radical life of Christ today. It calls us, as does A.A. for the alcoholic, to live radically different lives. This can be inconvenient and even immensely challenging at first. It is radical.
The article for me is a call to practice radical compassion and empathy in all aspects of my life. This is not just a Christian ideal to be pursued only by Christians, but a human ideal imprinted in our spiritual souls and genetic DNA.
When we ignore it, we suffer individually and collectively. The bling of materialist acquisition or individual grandeur is no substitute for a substantive spiritual life. A substantive spiritual life, although perhaps guided by “qualified” religious faiths, is measured by what we do.
The article along with quoting President Lincoln, demonstrates Jesus modeled practicing inclusion for everyone.
Have a Radical 2021. It is time to be different!