The Messiah awaits our coming to the realization that no Messiah is coming to save us. The Messiah is already here. Rather, they are already here. In fact countless Messiahs are everywhere, in every country. They are our children.
But in the Christian world, one child, alone, is deemed special. In fact, he was recorded as being born of a virgin, impregnated by the Holy Spirit. Born of holiness, not humanness, which is about as special as you can get. As his supernatural birth story goes, an angel of the Lord appeared to frightened shepherds, telling them. “Fear not, for behold I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day . . . a “Saviour, who is Christ the Lord.” And a chorus of angels appeared praising God and saying, Glory to God in the highest heaven. And on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased.” (Luke 2)
Wise men also hallow further Jesus’ birth story: they followed a star that led them to a lowly manger where Jesus was born and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Then warned in a dream not to tell Rome’s occupying ruler Herod the location of Jesus’ birth, they avoided him on their return home. A “infuriated” Herod saw the birth of Jesus as so special: as a threat to his power and rule. So he determined the region in which Jesus was born, and ordered the massacre of all the male Jewish children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old or under.” Then these prophetic words: “Rachel weeping for her children: she refused to be consoled, because they are no more.” (Matthew 2) Tragically, Rachel and her children merely serve as props for the special Christ Child.
Sadly, in evangelical Christianity especially, for Jesus to be special, all other human beings are believed to be the very opposite. This is the “interbeing” of Jesus’ speciality. For Jesus to be special, all others are assumed to possess an inherently sinful nature, inherited from Adam and Eve, the assumed first two human beings created by God. As the Genesis story goes: God put them in the Garden of Eden, which was filled with trees bearing delicious fruits, all of which they could eat, except for the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, which is forbidden. A disobedient Adam and Eve ate from the tree, which “was to be desired to make one wise.” They were enticed by a serpent who said, ”God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil. They took a bite and saw the moral light. “God reacted: ‘See, the man has become like one of us, knowing good and evil.’” (Evidently, “the gods” are not immune to sibling rivalry.) Adam and Eve were driven from the Garden, with Adam’s punishment: Working “by the sweat of [his] face.” And Eve’s punishment: “Your desire shall be for your husband and he shall rule over you.” (Genesis 3 & 4) Shades of patriarchy and anti-rational and anti-moral thinking.
Evangelical Christianity especially believes that every human being has inherited Adam and Eve’s disobedient, and thus, inherently sinful nature. All are lost and face eternal damnation. They have no merit. So, out of his great mercy, God sent his only perfect, son, Jesus Christ, into the world to sacrifice himself on the cross for everyone’s redemption. Only those who confess their sins and accept Jesus as their savior will receive eternal life. Everyone else faces eternal damnation.
Here, salvation is about belief in divine grace, not moral behavior. It is about obedience, rather than knowing the difference between good and evil. It is about saving people’s souls more than supporting their self-determination. It is about evangelizing: getting people to confess their sins and unworthiness and accept Jesus as their savior, more than respecting their beliefs and join in enabling their economic, political, and legal empowerment. It is about salvation in heaven, more than about abundant life on earth.
Here the believers’ eternal reward is the unbelievers’ eternal punishment. You can’t have a heaven without a hell. Divinely legitimized eternal sadism.
Not only is Jesus special. All who believe he died on the cross for their sins also become special. And their evangelical need to convert others to their beliefs indicates an attitude of paternalism toward others, who are seen as lesser. The mere fact of being evangelistic — seeking to convert others to Christ – reveals a superior-versus-inferior dynamic, which breeds paternalism and sectarian and political divisiveness and militaristic imperialism– which supports nationalistic wars that offer the opportunity to convert even “the lost” enemy to Christ. Here is accommodating white evangelical imperialistic Christianity, fused with nationalism.
The stated doctrinal beliefs of certain Christian denominations reveal their use of guilt and fear of eternal punishment to gain power over and control people and make them loyal church members. And imperialism runs through their evangelical doctrines.
Lutherans, for example, believe that “The Bible is the written word of God, handed down to us in order to point us to the truth that we are saved from our sin and eternal death by the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.” Its truth: “There is only one true God – the Triune God – who exists in three separate but equal persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.” (‘LUTHERAN HOUR MINISTRIES,’ www.lhm.org)
The Southern Baptist Convention’s statement on “Evangelism and Missions”: “It is the duty of every follower of Christ and of every church of the Lord Jesus Christ to endeavor to make disciples of all nations . . . to win the lost to Christ by verbal witness undergirded by a Christian lifestyle, and by other methods in harmony with the gospel of Christ.” (“Baptist Faith and Message 2000,” (bfm.sbc,net)
In the United Methodist Church, the presiding minister says the following words to the baptismal candidate: “Do you renounce the spiritual forces of wickedness, reject the evil powers of this world, and repent of your sin?” When the candidate says, “I do,” The minister continues: “Do you accept the freedom God has given you to resist evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms they may present themselves?” After the candidate repeats, “I do,” the minister asked the candidate, ”Do you confess Jesus Christ as your Savior, put your whole trust in his grace, and promise to serve him as your Lord, in unison with the Church which Christ has opened to people of all ages, nations, and races?” (‘THE BAPTISMAL COVENANT I,’ DISCIPLESHIUP MINISTRIES, The United Methodist Church, www.umcdiscipleship.org) The stated mission of the United Methodist Church: “To make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.” (“What We Believe,” www.umc.org)
The Catholic Church’s catechism states, “Christ is the light of humanity; and it is, accordingly, the heart-felt desire of this sacred [Second Vatican] Council, being gathered together in the Holy Spirit, that, by proclaiming his Gospel to every creature, it may bring to all men that light of Christ which shines out visibly from the Church. (“Catechism of the Catholic Church” Part One The Profession of Faith,” www,vatican.va)
There is a different portrait of Jesus in the Gospels, one that many white evangelical Christians, and numerous other Christians, avoid. It is contained in Luke 4: 16 to 20, where he talks about other people who are special. He declares, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free.”
It is risky to speak reality and moral truth to political power. The result could be a faith leader’s loss of privilege and influence from a power structure, and also from religious superiors, many of who serve as defenders of the political status quo. It is safer to provide the Invocations and Benedictions for those in power. Better yet as evangelical Christians have done: Surround and pray for a President Trump in exchange for his appointment of pro-life judges and support of other sectarian issues. Never mind Trump’s constant lies, repeated belittling of people, and blatant anti-democratic behavior.
There are others whose lives were special to Jesus: Children. According to Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus’ disciples came to him and asked, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” This argument goes on today between faith groups. Jesus “called a child whom he put among them, and said, ‘Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever becomes humble like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.’ “(Matthew 18: 1-5)
Perhaps Jesus understood that, in all children, we see our own great human potential. We are born “citizens of the world,” fundamentally prosocial and with the transcendent potential to cross all the lines—national, cultural, religious, and so on—that, later as adults, we often come to believe unavoidably divide us. It is this very dualistic worldview, the same one that supports the moral exclusion of others, that keeps us looking to be saved by a Messiah outside ourselves. When, in reality, “the Messiah” is our own human potential, universal and born fresh every time, in every child.
(Note: The Messiah Awaits Our Coming “PART I” was published on December 25, 2013.)
This post was originally published on Radio Free.