I got busted first thing this morning. Not by the police, but by…well, myself. Sort of. Here’s what happened…
Over the weekend, a friend sent me an invitation to do an Advent Devotional with her – a 5 day online guided meditation on what it means to hope in the coming of Jesus – an actual Savior – in these days leading up to Christmas. Then two things happened. Well three, actually:
First, I thought, “Oh, I’d love to do that with her!”
Then, as I considered what THAT is, I was overcome with about 14 years of built up Advent-themed self-protective cynical snark. You may have read some of it here, in earlier posts. About how disappointing it might have been for SOME of God’s people – you know, the ones who were being honest – to discover that their long-promised, long-awaited Messiah arrived in the form of BABY who wouldn’t do any saving for another thirty-plus years.
Not really me at my Jesus-y best.
Jesus displayed a WIDE range of reactions and emotions, but He was neither snarky nor cynical. Those are survival tools – defensive weapons, if you will. Jesus is 100% offense. His whole plan is to let Himself be killed, and then rise from the dead to save the world. When that’s how you roll? You don’t need snark or cynicism; you’re in a whole other realm of operation. So I pretended that I, too, was in that whole other realm of operation, shut my mouth, and accept my friend’s invitation.
Then this morning, I opened the app to the devotional, and listened to a man read a snippet from the Book of Isaiah, where a prophet shares with us the incredible love and plans God has for His people. It was all wonderful, but then the guy asked a question:
“What are you hoping for today?”
That is a horrible question!
I mean, not really. Not by definition. But if, say, one has marinated in a long season of disappointments and in response has fine-tuned one’s defensive snark skills so as to become a veritable SNARK NINJA, able to dismantle any scary risk of hope before it can grab hold? “What are you hoping for today?” is basically a declaration of war.
Which is Jesus’ exact plan. We think of Him as a nice guy, but He flat-out declares war on all the ways we try to cope, survive, live on the defensive hoping it will protect us, save us, be enough. (Enough for what? We don’t even know.) He doesn’t traffic with trends like emotional intelligence or the fake sort of empathy we’re all trying to wrestle out of ourselves these days because online articles tell us we have to. He doesn’t even try to be politically correct, because He’s not political. He’s delightfully straightforward. He simply points to each our protective adaptations, and the ways we’re twisting ourselves out of shape trying to survive, and says, “That’s a lie you were sold. You should drop it, because I’m here to give you something better…”
And He says it like it’s EASY.
It can’t be easy. It’s taken me years to build this facade, erect these walls, dig this moat to keep out…well, dragons, I guess… A lot of work went into this kingdom I’m trying to manage.
But He’s insistent. “Yep,” He says. “Pretty simple. Just tell me you don’t want that anymore, let me take it, and try what I suggest instead.”
I should pause here and admit that as I write this, I haven’t done it yet. I haven’t answered the question, or surrendered my snark. I’m in awe of the possibility, and just sort of circling it (and Jesus) like some strange new package that I’m not sure if it will be a wonderful present or some sort of gag gift. (I share this in case you’re having a hard time buying into this. I’ve been devotedly following Jesus since 2002 – a PROFESSIONAL CHRISTIAN author and speaker at some points – and still I’m flabbergasted by the implications if they’re true…)
This is why we have Advent, I guess. Because we have a hard time buying in, a hard time imagining that we could be saved by something so strange and unlike what we expect, or that our part could be easy when we’ve spent years struggling to create our own survival plan.
I did take one step towards this awful question, though. I asked God for help. “How do I do this?” Then the next picture in my mind (God speaks to me sometimes through pictures) was of the the living room in our new house, which is always dark because there are giant scraggly shrubs that block the sun. It’s as if the whole front of the house was designed to keep things out – people, daylight. All the windows are blocked, and it’s even hard to figure out how to get to the front door from the driveway. It’s 100% defensive. I can’t wait until Spring, when we can pull those bushes out out and let in the light.
“That’s where you start,” God said. “Let in the light.” Some attitudinal excavation, if you will, to allow me to see what’s actually true, and consider the possibilities.
So while I don’t yet know what I’m hoping for today, I’ll tear out the scraggly snark and cynicism that are blocking the light. I’m going to lop it off, stop feeding the roots, and then pour happy, hopeful, Jesus-y music (which at its best is other people having hope for you and setting it to a catchy beat) all over those roots until they shrivel up and disappear.
Then we’ll see what happens, what I hope for. Or maybe that’s it right there: I hope for freedom from the lies I’ve bought into, the ugly shrubs I’ve let grow in the hope that they could somehow protect me. I hope that this Jesus guy, with his infant arrival and wild claims to be our Savior, is the real deal, still. Not just then, but now and forever.
Maybe you hope for that, too.