‘What should I give him, poor as I am,
If I was a shepherd, I would give a lamb…’
Well here’s a thought on Christmas day, why not give him your obedience to his teachings? I doubt there are many things that would please Jesus, young or as an adult, more than the gift of his followers’ obedience. We need to resist the tendency to trivialize, rationalize, domesticate or otherwise water down the teachings of Jesus. As Wendell Berry insists “Reductive religion is just as objectionable as reductive science, and for the same reason: Reality is large, and our minds are small.” Wendell Berry calls us all to be ‘literalists’ of a sort. He explains “I mean simply that I expect any writing to make literal sense before making sense of any other kind. Interpretation should not contradict or otherwise violate the literal meaning. To read the Gospels as a literalist is, to me, the way to take them as seriously as possible.” (p. 55).
“Some of Jesus’ instructions are burdensome, not because they involve contradiction, but merely because they are so demanding. The proposition that love,forgiveness, and peacableness are the only neighborly relationships that are acceptable to God is difficult for us weak and violent humans, but it is plain enough for any literalist. We must either accept it as an absolute or absolutely reject it.” (p. 56).
The real meaning of Christmas is of course that God has come in person not merely to save us from our sins, but so that we might reflect the very character of God, who is love. This is precisely why the great commandment has to do not only with loving God with all our hearts, but with loving neighbor as self, and even loving enemies. Jesus came not merely to show us this was possible in his own person, he came to enable us to emulate him in this regard. Obedience is not less necessary just because grace abounds, to the contrary it is more necessary because it is more possible.
Why should we think God would demand less of us after sending Jesus, than before? So this Christmas, why not try something radical? Give Jesus the gift of your promise that you will try every single day until the next Christmas day to live by the Sermon on the Mount, and see what happens. I promise you it will not be dull, it will be an adventure in the midst of a violent land where guns and bombs abound, right along side the nativity scene in which lies the prince of peace. I would love to hear from you all this time next year as to how the challenge went.