As unique individuals, each of us have a set of interests and characteristics that we get varying levels of opportunity to express. Some of us love our jobs because we enjoy the kind of work they provide. Most people are good at their jobs because they have a certain degree of natural aptitude for the task, which is sharpened and shaped and deepened by years of experience. Many of us have hobbies or interests that spark our imagination and provide considerable enjoyment, and yet, sometimes even our closest friends have little clue as to how deeply our love for our hobby can go. We don’t talk about it. People don’t ask. It’s a hidden part of us that doesn’t often manifest itself.
But there are precious and unexpected moments when you discover that a friend or acquaintance has that same “bug” that you do. Who would have thought it! You’ve made an instant friend, and in just a few short moments you’re deep into the nuances of gardening or cosplay or indie punk rock or home brewing or interior design or organic cooking or Broadway or DIY or canning or golf or… the list could be endless. Discovering that another person has heard of, much less LOVES your favorite author (who happens to be fairly obscure) provides an opportunity to take a deep dive with a kindred spirit. When you find someone who has fallen just as in love with Baby Yoda as you have (Mandalorian fans will understand), you have an opportunity to “nerd out” with someone who has just as keen an interest in whether Rey will be “light” or “dark” by the end of Episode IX (if she survives, that is).
Now, if I’ve lost you with that last sentence, hang on! Some of you will know exactly what I’m talking about, and would be giddy to start a conversation about it. Others might even stop reading right there for fear of an even longer diatribe on the finer points of Star Wars lore. But by now it should be no surprise that I’m a Star Wars fan, or that I love Marvel superhero stories, as well as almost anything Disney. And I’m guessing you’re either like me in that respect, or not so much. It’s not something that I hide, particularly. I just try really hard not to bring it up too much. I don’t want to make people feel weird by my over-the-top fandom.
And here’s the point: I think many people treat their faith life like something that should be kept private, or mentioned lightly, like a hidden piece of personality or interest. The trend is well-documented. Americans see the privatization of religion to be a good thing. It’s not exactly a “dirty little secret,” but it’s not something that you announce with fanfare in polite gatherings. It’s personal. Something to keep to yourself. Don’t get preachy. Live and let-live. Don’t invade my personal, interior world, and I’ll stay out of yours. Everyone stays comfortable.
Some Christians will even start to believe the lie that what happens in church should be kept in church by leaning on the prayer of Jesus in John 17. It’s the place where we get the idea that we are called to be “in” the world without being “of” the world. "I have given them your word. The world hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. I am not praying that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world.” But if we focus just on that idea, we miss what Jesus says next in verse 18: "As you sent me into the world, I also have sent them into the world.”
As we prepare to celebrate Christmas, we would be foolhardy to gloss over the fact that God SENT His Son into this world, to be the “with-us God,” Immanuel. He doesn’t stay where it’s safe. He puts Himself out there. In the world. He stays connected to His Father, but He lives a very public, quite unapologetic life. He spends time with His disciples and with the crowds. He debates with His opponents. He is sent to complete the mission to save us. And He’s willing not just to become a lowly human being, in the form of a helpless infant. He’s also willing to die for you. He does that publicly. In plain view. Allowing Himself to be killed in a situation that could only be viewed as embarrassing and shameful, from a human view. This is where we find Jesus, on the cross. IN the world.
So while it’s great to have a place where we can be fed, hear God’s truth proclaimed powerfully, and be together as a family, it’s not the only place where the work of the church happens. We have one mission: make disciples (as we talked about last month). And it happens in 2 places: at church (temple) and in daily life (extended family life or oikos). We’ll be talking about these two places and fleshing that out in the coming months.
Jesus sends us into the world, just like the Father sent Him, to be a light in a dark place, salt in a tasteless world, and a picture of the kingdom coming. Our homes, our places of work, where we shop and engage in society all become opportunities for the love of Jesus to be conveyed to a hurting world. Yes, there is comfort and growth inside the church, the family of God that gathers. But Jesus calls us to more than that, scatters and sends us to accomplish His mission, because…
Adventure is out there! Pastor Aaron
PS. I pray you have a blessed, merry Christmas, and that the joy of Jesus makes your celebrations meaningful and encouraging.