In 2007 Joshua Bell, the world renowned violinist, played his multimillion dollar Stradivarius in a New York train station. He played for one hour; seven people stopped to listen and he made $32 in tips. Normally he performs in Concert Halls around the world with tickets averaging $100 per person. People passing by were busy, on their way somewhere, too distracted, had no idea who he was, not that interested. Many reasons and explanations. Would I have stopped? Not sure.
Bell’s free performance up close and personal was unadvertised and unanticipated. Those who passed by – how many would have slowed down or paused for a few minutes to enjoy the unexpected gift – if they had only known?
Seven years later Bell gave a free performance in Union Station, New York and it was advertised. Over 1,500 people showed up and loved every minute.
Two thousand years earlier God’s appearance in human form was equally unexpected and beyond the paradigm of those into whose midst he was born. Was God playing a game like ‘Undercover Boss’ to trap us or mess with our minds? I don’t believe so. I think he was coming alongside us in a manner that was the most non-threatening in order to invite a disillusioned and unbelieving creation back into relationship with him.
People had given up believing there was a God who could influence their world or make any difference. They were used to being subservient, restricted, cheated, and ruled by politicians and religious leaders who loved power more than people. They had no expectations of change, their focus was on survival, eking a meagre existence, and staying out of trouble. The vast majority were born into a world where they had no power, no status, no privileges, and no-one advocating for them. God was merely another figure who wanted something from them, his will translated into rules, rules, rules, and taxes.
How could God the Father break into such a mindset? Where people were busy and distracted and would pass by without any awareness of who was among them. The birth of Jesus illustrates God’s love and tenderness for his creation. How non-threatening. It’s like someone entering the room where the occupant has been severely traumatized. They do so in as quiet and gentle a manner as possible so as not to alarm. They reassure, perhaps being present without saying anything for a while. It’s all about doing no harm, comforting, earning the right to speak – eventually. God knows only too well how his people have been abused, exploited, and turned against him; usually without even realizing the extent of their spiritual desensitization.
God entering the world in which we live as an infant is no sign of weakness, let’s not be fooled on that score.
This baby Jesus was born to set the world upside down. The sweetest most innocent little time bomb? Or a gift that keeps on giving? In a world where we cannot agree on Covid, or what truthfulness means, small hope of finding unanimous agreement around the manger or at the foot of his Cross. Truth seldom shines in the midst of rules, regulations, coercion, or religion. In fact the further away from God we are the more we tend to resort to such tactics as we beat the drum – the louder the noise the more right we must be.
The life, death and resurrection of Jesus challenges all of those mindsets. He shone a light on relationship at the center of all life. Relationship between us and God as our loving Father first and foremost. We, fully aware of our identity as his sons and daughters being the bedrock of our lifeblood, the cornerstone of our identity, and the foundation of our purpose. Relationship was even more important than being right or wrong. In fact Jesus revealed that forgiveness and mercy are a hallmark of his relational initiative with us. Where we have been misguided or even rebelled he will forgive. Most things flowing from God the Father’s heart toward us embrace the grey areas in which we live, confused and often with attitude. Religion renders life as black and white. The love of God in Jesus is filled with ‘grey-ce’.
During Jesus’ life on earth people often questioned and passed by. Isn’t this Mary and Joseph’s son? Can anything good come out of Nazareth? Who do you think you are speaking to like that? They laughed at his teaching, ridiculed the miracles, cajoling him to perform at their command to prove himself. He was betrayed by hundreds of disciples who left him when his words cut too deep. The deepest sign of corruption in the human psyche is our desire to prefer gods made in our image, who do our bidding, and who never speak back.
So with all of that in mind what do we do with Jesus in 2022? Attempting to squeeze him into our pet mindsets on ‘issues’ is common practice but ultimately futile. He never takes sides as we tend to align ourselves. His primary passion is to have us experience his love as a much beloved son or daughter. And from that place to bring us into family unity because of his/our bloodline (through the Cross) – not because we agree on everything. I’ve found over fifty years that the best place to start and end is nurturing the relationship I have as a son with Jesus and the Father.
Basically that means believing who he revealed himself to be. God in human form so that I can have a personal relationship heart to heart, rather than try and figure out the complexity of God’s existence using my mind as a starting point. From my vantage point there are too many questions, and not a lot really makes much sense. Allow him to speak first. The volume was turned up when God’s Word became flesh in this remarkable, revolutionary person, Jesus, historically of Nazareth.
And the conversation we have at the end of our lives will be similar to that which Jesus had with the drenched and disconsolate Peter as he scrambled ashore after catching no fish. He had failed miserably in keeping his promise to stay beside Jesus no matter what. As we all will – repeatedly. Jesus did not berate him. He said, “Do you love me?” Peter answered, “Yes, you know that I do.” Jesus accepted his response and told him to go and feed his sheep and care for his lambs. In other words, “As I have loved you go and love others. Be filled to overflowing with grey-ce. Because that is what will transform people’s minds and hearts – just as it did yours.”
May 2022 be less fixated on what we think, relegating God to our minds rather than have him dwell in our hearts. There is a vast difference. May we be more rooted in listening, serving, reconciling, and empowering one another to live in relationship – rather than be trapped in like-minded bubbles fenced with hostility and animosity. Humility is easy, because once we’ve stood alongside Peter before Jesus, aware of our failings, we can never be proud again. We can never trust our own insights and perceptions as fully formed. Anticipate surprises where you least expect them. Joshua Bell and Jesus could be around the next corner and we don’t want to pass by and miss the gift hiding in plain sight.