Each month we’ll be hearing from one of our Regional Ministers, to encourage us along the way as we continue empowering missional disciples in our communities across the West of England.
WHAAAT?! It is only the 6th November. I’m in a busy café and the background chatter of the people has been interrupted by ‘Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer’ or, to be precise, the song written about him! Now, as soon as Halloween is done and dusted, folks start putting up lights and trees and festive ‘muzak’ fills our common lives. Meh!
Whatever we think of this cultural shift (aided in large part by capitalism and consumerism), Christmas remains a wonderful festival. It is a time when God’s people celebrate the birth of a boy into a 1st Century Jewish family in Palestine.
As he grew, he observed local customs, engaged with many cultural norms, and spent time with folk who shared this heritage, observing the same practices and festivals. To casual onlookers, Jesus and his friends would have seemed like a regular bunch of Palestinian Jews. Even those closest to Jesus spent most of his public ministry assuming that he would fulfil their culture’s messianic expectations.
If asked about their worldview, a first century Jew might have said something like: ‘We are created by the One God, Yahweh. We are his chosen people, and we live in the land he promised to our fathers. Although we aren’t physically in exile anymore, we are still in a kind of exile because we are ruled by Roman oppressors and morally compromised Jews. We are waiting expectantly for a new kind of God given ruler – one who will re-establish the true rule of God in the land.’
Whilst Jesus shared much of their worldview, he wasn’t about to fulfil their expectations, certainly not in the way they’d anticipated. Instead, Jesus was subtly planting seeds of a very different kind of fulfilment of that worldview – in the hearts and minds of his followers. This fulfilment would challenge both their long-held assumptions and their societies beliefs regarding political power.
In Luke 4:18-19, 21, we read about Jesus reading parts of Isaiah 61 from a scroll and saying…
‘The Spirit of the Lord is on 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, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.’ … Jesus began by saying to them, ‘Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.’
This kind of subtle subversion became apparent enough to lead to Jesus’ death and significant enough, within a few years, to give rise to a new and culturally distinct community – a band of disciples who would experience both persecution and marginalisation yet continue to expand.
After following Jesus for a few years, the story his disciples would tell would be the same story, but with a different ending. Through Jesus, God would act, finally fulfilling all his promises to Israel.
All that had once been found in the Temple could now be found in and through Jesus. Their world would now revolve around the cross of Jesus Christ – a new kingdom had begun. A kingdom that would no longer be understood as limited to a place, the Holy Land, but rather would extend to embrace the entirety of creation. A new people had been formed – one new humanity that would extend to include Gentile followers. Through Jesus’ own life and ministry, the kingdom was being fulfilled! Jesus had come to set the oppressed free, but the ultimate enemy would no longer be Rome or corrupt Jewish powers, but Satan himself.
As Jesus lived alongside his first century disciples, they found their thinking stretched and their understanding shaken. But through his death and resurrection, they found fresh meaning in many of their cultural and religious practices, renewed purpose in their lives, and their worldview and futures utterly transformed!
As we spend time with Jesus, we too will find ourselves caught up in many things we do not fully understand. Our thinking may well be stretched, and our understanding uncomfortably shaken. We can take comfort in the fact that Jesus has never worked quite how we might have expected. What is certain however, is that God, through Jesus, will fulfil his promises.
As we head towards the season of advent, why not invite Jesus to prepare your heart for the things he wants to reveal to you as you live your life with him? Why not ask him to open your spiritual eyes and ears so that you too can find fresh meaning in both your own/family’s cultural practices and those of the church – perhaps particularly those of the festive season? Trust Jesus with free reign in your life this coming season – you might just find that your life, worldview, and future are utterly transformed for the sake of the Kingdom!
This month, we’ve thought a bit about life with Jesus and how he subtly subverts and transforms culture. Next month we will look more at how we can cultivate the culture we’re in so that it looks a bit more like the kingdom of God.