Advent – Day 19
YOU WILL NEVER BE THE SAME by Owen Strachan
Most evangelicals these days just want a gospel Snuggie. Wrap us up. Hold us tight. Numb us until we can feel nothing but hazy contentment. Go to sleep with a big smile on our face. We’re halfway into a dream when—
Someone is gripping our shoulder. He’s wrestling us awake. Our head hurts. Who is this crazy guy? A blurry man comes into focus. It’s Jesus. And — uh oh — he’s got a glint in his eye. That means trouble.
Come on, Jesus says. Wake up. We’ve got to get going.
Really, Jesus? we whine. I don’t want to get out of bed. It’s so comfy and warm.
Follow me, he replies. He’s got that dead-serious tone in his voice. He means business. We had heard about this, long ago in ages far away. But now he’s here and he’s calling us. Before we can offer an excuse for not going, he vanishes. We throw on some clothes, racing to catch up. This is going to get interesting.
One of His Specialties
God has been in the disruptive business for millennia. He specializes in it. He seems to love nothing more than to crash-land into people’s lives and alter them. He has a particular affinity for those minding their own business, normal folks who are off the grid and out of the fray. You carve out a quiet little existence in the Bible, and there are better-than-excellent odds that either a ferocious-looking angel or the altogether-normal-looking-but-utterly-transformative-Jesus is showing up in 3… 2… 1…
This happens over and over. Once you see it in Scripture you can’t un-see it. You won’t want to. You’ll come to take a certain glee in seeing the Lord seize another under-performing bystander for his glory. Think of Abraham. He’s barely introduced by name — Abram — in Genesis 11. We know next to nothing about him save for the fact that his wife is barren. But in Genesis 12, Yahweh suddenly instructs him to leave his blip of a life. The Lᴏʀᴅ God Almighty has chosen Abram to become “a great nation” (Genesis 12:2). It’s not written in chapter and verse, but the shock the old man feels is palpable. Him? Why? How? But the promise holds. Abraham becomes the head of the trans-millennial covenant of salvation, the central narratival reality of the Bible.
One minute you and your wife are barren and ready to die. The next you are the cornerstone of the people of God in all the ages, world without end, hallelujah.
Mary, the One-Category Woman
So it is with humble, pious Mary. When we meet her in the Gospels, her chief joy in life is shaping up to be her marriage to Joseph. Mary is on no one’s list of “Women We’re Watching as Potential Birthers of the Messiah.” She’s going to get married, bear children, and die. She’s a grain in the sand on the beach of history, a flower that grows for a time and then is cut down. This is a story as old as the world.
But Mary will not go quietly. Not at all. Mary is chosen to give birth to Jesus. The angel Gabriel appears to her, frightens her half to death, and in just a few explosive sentences unpacks how it is that she, a virgin, is to give birth to “the Son of the Most High” (Luke 1:32). It is hard to put into words how shocking this was to Mary. There were no categories for this sort of thing before her, and there would be no such categories after her. She was a one-category woman, the only integer in this number set: virgins who conceive and give birth to the greater David. No one else knew such word-choking surprise. Only Mary.
But everyone who worships Mary’s Son resonates with this call. Ahhh, we say when we read this narrative. It was for Mary as it is for me: disruption. Jesus is my disruption.
He Said Follow Me
So maybe God breaks in, shakes things up. But surely when God meets you, things get better? Easier? Right?
In their pre-apostolic state, the future apostles minded their own non-apostolic business. They were guy’s guys, really. They fished. They ate fish. They smelled like fish. On sunny days, they fell asleep in their boats. Then Jesus Christ showed up and called them to follow him. As in, now. These were not the seminary all-stars. They didn’t ace the Greek final. They were the salt of the earth. But Jesus wanted them to be the salt of his kingdom. And so they were.
Matthew’s description of their call is straightforward: “Follow me,” Jesus says, and they do (Matthew 4:19). From there, they go on to suffer with Christ, they watch him be taken away to die a criminal’s death, and they themselves die in ministry. No, things did not get easier for the apostles. Things got much, much harder. Jesus is my hardship.
What? You Settled Him Down?
Maybe we read these stories (and many others like them) and feel a little shiver race through us. Whew, we say, that was all very exhilarating. Jesus sure did call people to himself in wild ways in the Bible. So glad life is more normal now.
Whether we know it or not, we’ve got Jesus domesticated. We think we’ve calmed him down, cleaned him up, and talked to him in an inside voice. Now he’s renounced his disruptive ways. No more of this “sell everything you have and follow me” (Mark 10:21). No more of this “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account” (Matthew 5:11). No more forsaking all, no more unrelenting holiness, no more explosively exclusive truth claims. Jesus is on an apology tour. He’s holding a press conference at noon and he wants to tell everyone how he’s a changed man. He lets you keep your life now. His gospel isn’t really about dying to self, it’s about becoming your best self. If you’re shiny and happy, bonus points. He’ll throw in some prosperity and comfort to seal the deal.
The God Who Disrupts
But when you show up for the press conference, you spot Jesus. Oh no, you say to yourself. We got him all wrong. Jesus is on the move, and he’s coming straight for you. He’s after his own glory, and there’s no telling what he will do with you. He may catapult you to an unreached people group far, far away. He may send you back to normal life to stop punching the clock and start building a vocation. He may instruct you to keep on raising the kids and changing the diapers, but to do so as worship, not weary labor.
Jesus is not a Snuggie. He is not a long, languorous dream that makes everything hard disappear. He is the God who saves. He is the God who stays. Do not ever forget: he is the God who disrupts.
We thought he was gone; we thought he had gone quiet. But Jesus Christ is here, and he has that look in his eye. You and I will never be the same.