Two thousand years ago, a baby was born who grew up to claim he was God. All the church people–the Sunday School teachers, the pastors, the Awana leaders, the evangelists and theologians of ancient Israel–they threw a fit. After all, how much more blatantly heretical could you get? According to Hebrew Scripture, you couldn’t even look into the face of God without dying. Now this guy was claiming to be God?
Thankfully, we’ve had two thousand years to get used to the idea. We’ve even invented a holiday to help us remember this incredible event: that, as unlikely as it may have seemed to people at the time, God became a human being. God became one of us. In fact, we’ve built an entire religion around this idea. And even people who don’t believe in our religion have gotten pretty used to the claim that a human being is actually God in the flesh.
It seems to me that we do often think we’re lucky to be able to look back on Jesus’ tenure on Earth and know the truth about it all. It’s true that we might not have believed in him immediately if we’d lived in first-century Palestine. But luckily hindsight is 20/20, and we’ve got two thousand years of it. We’re blessed to live in the days way after God’s great upsetting revelation to humankind. Or are we? What makes us so sure that Jesus’ life on Earth was the last major upset God had in store for humanity’s carefully laid-out conceptions of God?
I read somewhere that religions are born when people have a surprising, life-changing encounter with God and then set up a whole system of traditions and practices and rules designed to reproduce that experience, to get it to happen again. It’s only natural, I think, for us to want to feel that we’ve had the ultimate insight, to feel that we’ve finally figured the God thing out. We like order. We like neat answers. We like certainty. And our religions reflect this. I’m not sure, however, that our religions are an accurate reflection of God. God, it seems, likes to surprise us. Continually.
As we again approach Christmas, I’m beginning to reflect on just how surprising Jesus’ claim to be God in human form must have seemed to the people of his time. And I’m wondering what kind of claim could have the same startling effect on us today. What heretical idea is God trying to inspire in us two thousand years after the birth of Jesus? I’ve got my suspicions. What are yours?