In the news this year: an extraordinary cast of characters. Some are public figures, and some we’d never heard of until recently. Together, they speak prophetic truth to power; breathe hope into the chaos; model forgiveness and sacrificial love; and ultimately, maybe restore our faith in humanity.
This kind of post has ‘troll bait’ written all over it, so let me just be clear…I do not mean to say that these people ARE Jesus, or that we should worship them. Also, some of these folks are not Christians, so let me clarify that I am not trying to ‘claim’ them for team Christ. They can do their good news as an atheist or as a Muslim or whatever. But we, who seek to follow Jesus and be more like him, should acknowledge those who show us what that looks like in the flesh, in our time and place–whether they would name it as faith or not. That said, here are 10 people who were caught in Christlike activity this year:
1. You had to see this one coming, but; Pope Francis. He wrote a daggone epistle, calling the Church to let go of ideological warfare and recommitt itself to the work of the gospel. He advocates for the poor. He works for peace. And oh my goodness, he dresses up in disguise and sneaks out at night like Batman, so that he can bless the homeless without being dogged by an adoring crowd of people just wanting to touch the hem of his garment. Does that sound like anybody else you know?
2. Senator Elizabeth Warren is absolutely bringing it when it comes to speaking up on behalf of lower-income Americans; especially children affected by significant cuts to the SNAP program. Lord knows, this is not a popular stance among constituents, and certainly not in circles of power. She goes and says radical things like “Hard working men and women who are busting their tails in full time jobs shouldn’t be left in poverty.” Oh wait. That should not be considered radical. And yet, she’s making people nervous. Kind of like Jesus. Who went and said radical things like ‘feed my sheep,’ ‘love your neighbor as yourself,’ and ‘do for the least of these.’ That didn’t always go over so well for him, either.
3. We end 2013 in a place of global reflection and celebration for the life of Nelson Mandela. Maybe he’s been no more christlike this year than in any other. But in his broader story, we witness themes of courage, sacrifice, and prophetic leadership. He’s famously quoted as saying “I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.” I can’t help but think of Jesus in that boat with the disciples. They were terrified, and he said, “oh you of little faith…” He spent his whole showing them, not that there was nothing to fear, but that fear had no power over them; that there was a greater power at work in the world; and that death would not have the last word. Madiba lived, and led, like one who knew this to be true.
4. Tiny Prince George. Because he, too, is going to be king some day, and he made like a baby and was born. Might seem like a small thing, but well…babies are small. And lest we forget, tis the season to celebrate the fact that one as powerful as Jesus would make himself so vulnerable, and come to us as a child. And the government will be upon his shoulders…
5. P5+1–The 6 world powers who came together and made progress towards an arms deal with Iran. I confessed in one of my Advent sermons that when I first heard this story on the news, I didn’t buy it. The whole ‘world peace’ dream sometimes starts to feel like just that–a dream–and we can’t quite trust any human negotiation that sounds like a hopeful step in that direction. How extraordinary, then, that some of the world’s most influential governments continue to work for a more kingdom-like image of creation. Here’s hoping we can all take up the dream again in 2014, and go about that whole ‘beating swords into plow shares’ thing like we mean it. (Ok, so that was Isaiah. But Jesus was a fan).
6. If world peace is a dream, then an end to poverty is a fairy tale. Unless you’re Bono. Yeah, I know, you can’t hardly have a ‘famous people who do good things’ conversation without him being all up in it. That’s because he continues to do such good things, on such a global stage. Check out his TED Talk on the progress as of 2013, and hear his take on what’s next. When he talks about ‘the route out of despair and into hope,’ you’ll swear you’ve heard that kind of talk somewhere before. Maybe like, in a sermon. On the mount. (Or was it a plain…?)
7. Antoinette Huff. Y’all, I can’t even. I’m a rock at weddings, funerals, and chic flicks, but I can’t read anything about this woman without having a box of tissues handy. If you’ll recall, she was the office worker who talked down a gunman after he walked into a Georgia elementary school. Where others would have seen only a monster, she saw a human being. She spoke to him like a person, shared her own story, reminded him again and again that he was loved and worthwhile and more than the darkness of the moment. After an hour of this, he laid down his gun. In the wake of all the public attention, Huff continues to insist, ‘it was all Jesus.’ I’ll say. But Antoinette, here’s the thing…Jesus only works like that if you let him. Thanks be to God for her living faith, and the lives she saved that day. Including, yes, that of the gunman. Not many people cared so much about him, but I’m guessing Jesus, the healer of the demon-possessed, cares plenty. And so did Antoinette.
8. So maybe it was 2012 when a Taliban extremist shot then-15-year-old Malala Yousafzai as she walked home from school. It was last year that her advocacy for girls’ education made her a target. It was last year she nearly died. But this year was the resurrection. This year, July 12 was officially named “Malala Day.” This year, she became the youngest ever nominee for the Nobel Peace Prize. This year, she has shown the world what it looks like to forgive the unspeakable; and to transform violence and hate into a hopeful story. “Nothing changed in my life except this,” she says. “Weaknesses, fear and hopelessness died. Strength, power and courage was born.”
And the darkness has not overcome it.
9. The People of Boston also showed us how to bring light into darkness this year. In the wake of the tragic marathon bombing, by-standers rushed to aid in the rescue efforts; businesses opened their doors to those in need of food, water, and places to charge phones and reach loved ones; and ordinary citizens opened their homes to strangers in need of a place to stay. Like, literally just opened their doors and said, ‘come on in.’ Those wandering travelers didn’t even have to (behold) stand at the door and knock.
10. And also, you. And your friends, and neighbors, and maybe the people you call church family. You are the body of Christ in the world, and I bet, at least every now and then, you act like it. In large and small ways, you go about serving the poor, mourning with those who mourn, healing those who hurt, and speaking good news in impossible places. Lest we forget–this is important work. It was important this year, and the year before that. It will be important in the year ahead. I hope these stories of courageous, extraordinary people remind us that it’s not impossible to transform the world, and that it doesn’t have to be complicated. We show up. Remember who we are. Try to put others first. And always look for the better story. Sometimes, that’s all it takes to embody the gospel, and to keep Jesus moving through the world.
Whether the media catches you at it or not…I know you do it all the dang time.
Blessings for a hopeful, grace-filled, story-making new year. I’m grateful for you all.