Jesus — An Unwanted Christmas Present?

A Devotion for Christmas Day and beyond.

“Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me… If you love me, keep my commands. 16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever— 17 the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you.”  John 14:1, 15-17 

I don’t think I’m alone in having memories of certain presents that I received at Christmas as a child as being ones that I wasn’t particularly thrilled about. You know what I’m talking about — the gifts of socks, sweaters, hats, gloves, underwear, ugly Christmas sweaters, pretty much anything made out of fabric or cloth.

One year, when I was a teenager, one of my grandmothers mailed me the gift of a “crazy quilt” made out of left over bits of cloth from all of the many items of clothing that she had made for me over the years — clothes that I felt embarrassed to wear to school and to church. “Great. A blanket. And not just a blanket, but one that reminds me of all of the unwanted gifts she’d given me since I was a toddler. Gee. Thanks.”

Now when we get Xmas gifts of unwanted “gay apparel” that were purchased from a store, we can take them back to the store and exchange them for something that we’d rather have instead. If a child is allowed to do this, odds are good that they’ll exchange the cloth gift for toys made mostly of plastic.

My favorite gift that I ever received was a toy magnum revolver that an older kid named Johnny gave me. I looked up to Johnny, he was a role-model, and that he’d think to give me one of the toys that he used to play with was super cool!

This was back in the 1970’s, when toy manufacturers made their guns look realistic. This pistol was made from die cast metal. It was heavy. It felt real. You could cock it back, and the barrel would spin, one chamber at a time. And if the barrel hadn’t been halfway filled with steel, I’m pretty sure it might’ve fired a bullet.  My second favorite toy was a green machine gun that, was a plastic version of an AR-15. When you pulled the trigger, it made a sound as if it were spraying bullets. I was a skinny, scrawny, little dude, but when armed with these two bad boys, I was on an equal playing field when I played “Army” with the neighborhood kids.

The apostle Paul said that he “When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me.” Like Paul, I grew up. I packed on a lot of muscle and engaged in martial arts training in Tang Soo Do and Tae Kwon Do. I grew to be a man who “knew how to handle himself.” But I grew beyond that. I converted to following Christ and his Way and as I’ve done so, I’ve pledged to (as that great gospel song “Down by the Riverside” puts it) “study war no more.”

Jesus rebuked his anxious disciples when they were scared for their lives in that swamping boat during a storm. He called them out for having little faith. Jesus said that those who live by the sword shall die by the sword. He taught us that if struck, to turn the other cheek (a form of nonviolent assertiveness and subversive resistance). He promised us that if we believe in him and his way, even though we die, we’ll be living life as it is meant to be lived. He rebuked Peter when he pulled out a sword and used it to try to protect Jesus.

And he allowed himself to experience the violence of capital punishment — state-sanctioned murder — showing us that he truly practiced the non-violence that he preached.

Then he arose from the dead and told his disciples that he’d leave them with a gift, the gift of the Holy Spirit – the comforter and advocate –- a presence that will comfort us in our time of need and intercede on our behalf.

Uh oh. “A comforter.” Another home-made gift.  : P

It’s hard for Americans in particular to receive this gift. We’re a nation born of violence and we glorify that violence every 4th of July. We’re a nation that enslaved and committed genocide against African “brutes” and Native American “heathens” with the point of the gun. We’re 5% of the world’s population yet we consume over 1/3 of the world’s natural resources. To protect “our way of life,” we spend more on our Defense Department than nearly all of the nations in the rest of the world spend on theirs –- combined, we have over 1,200 military bases stationed around the globe; and we have enough nuclear weapons to make the planet inhospitable to human life.

Turn the other cheek? Not use our swords? Let Jesus be killed? Carry our own cross? Trust in the promise of a Comforter? As Jesus’ first disciples put it,

“This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?”

Well, I finally have. I finally got what Paul got, that “it is in dying that we live.”

Armed with this knowledge, I’m free to live life fully, without fear, and without the need for a gun. The early Christians knew this too, and even though they were violently persecuted, they stuck to their (lack of) guns, and the more they were persecuted, the more their movement took off and grew.

As I’ve continued to grow in Christ as an adult, there are times when I’ve stepped in the stuff that surrounds the manger, when I take that crazy quilt that my late grandmother gave me down from off the wall where I have it prominently displayed, and wrap myself in it to find solace and comfort and “a peace that surpasses all understanding.”

Friends, we have a choice to make. We can either fully receive this gift of Jesus’ teachings and his gift to us in making known to us the reality and on-going presence of the Holy Comforter. Or, we can reject them and exchange them for weapons and buying our kids bullet-proof backpacks – and feed industries that profit on fear.

We can follow Jesus — with all of the seemingly foolish vulnerability and risk that it entails, or we can be scrawny, frightened children who pretend that we’re God and have the right to take the lives of others even as we think we’re protecting our own. We can be Christians or not.

My prayer is that most of us will choose to wear God’s gift to us of “embarrassing hand-made clothes” and wrap ourselves in the comfort that comes only from God instead of buying an arsenal of lethal toys. One way leads to life, the other to death.

Yeah, I know… I get it.

Oh well, Jesus did say that his way was a narrow one.

Merry Christmas anyway.

Roger

 

Rev. Roger Wolsey is a United Methodist pastor and author of Kissing Fish: christianity for people who don’t like christianity

Print Friendly

About Roger Wolsey

Rev. Roger Wolsey is an ordained United Methodist pastor who serves as the director of the Wesley Foundation at the University of Colorado at Boulder. He's the author of "Kissing Fish: christianity for people who don't like christianity."

  • Gayle Lin

    What a remarkable article. Thank you for saying so nicely what some of us out here are thinking.

    I plan to share this far and wide.

    • http://www.progressivechristianitybook.com/ Roger Wolsey

      Gayle, Thank you for your kind words. My intent was indeed to “put in writing what many are thinking.” Thank you for sharing. Merry Christmas!

  • http://www.progressivechristianitybook.com/ Roger Wolsey

    Another recent blog of mine that is related:

    “Fast Hog to Breadhouse” (aka Bethlehem : )

    http://www.patheos.com/blogs/rogerwolsey/2012/12/fast-hog-to-breadhouse-2/#comment-126057

  • http://www.progressivechristianitybook.com/ Roger Wolsey

    (Please pardon the typos. I’ll have the editor correct them later in the week.)

  • mrkaphie

    So, do you think Iesua would be against defending loved ones, even if the situation required violence? However you answer, could you please explain why?

    • http://www.progressivechristianitybook.com/ Roger Wolsey

      Based upon his example of not allowing his loved ones to defend him, I’d say no. However, I think he’d completely understand the instinct to do so and I suspect he’d “be okay” with ways of defending someone who is being attacked that aren’t likely to kill or inflict serious harm upon the attacker; e.g., placing your body between the attacker and the victim; restraining the attacker’s arms; employing a painful wrist-lock; pinning him/her to the ground, etc.

      I could possibly imagine that he’d forgive certain more aggressive measures if the victim’s life was truly in danger; e.g., breaking the attacker’s patella (knee bone), punching them in the gut or on the jaw; and maybe even bonking them on the head with a stick. And I could even imagine the possibility of shooting someone in the leg or buttocks in dire situations.

      However, I am convinced Jesus wouldn’t condone violence beyond what is needed to end the attacker’s attack on the victim. And, I do feel that he would consider any striking or shooting (even if aiming at the legs) as sinful — albeit forgivable.

      Jesus taught non-violence and he modeled, and lived, and died a life that incarnated it. He practiced what he preached.

      Peace.

  • http://cynthiabeard.wordpress.com Cynthia Beard

    Excellent thoughts here. Thanks for reminding us that we often resist the gifts that mean the most, including the gift of peace.

  • http://www.progressivechristianitybook.com/ Roger Wolsey

    On a related note, “Celebrating the Prince of Peace in the Land of Guns, Michael Moore:

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/michael-moore/gun-violence-united-states_b_2358115.html?utm_hp_ref=tw

  • http://www.progressivechristianitybook.com/ Roger Wolsey

    I didn’t mention this in that article, but I should also mention some other facts that have some bearing on these matters.

    * Guns owned by gun-owners in the U.S. are far more likely to be used to harm or kill their owners or their owner’s loved ones (via suicide, domestic violence, and accidents) than they are to be used against bad guys.

    * One out of every four Americans has, or will experience, a mental illness.

    Things for would-be gun-owners to consider. Peace.

  • Carole Wolsey Pankow

    So. .the gift that was at first unwanted, unwelcomed, unappreciated.. .becomes a gift of a loving legacy. .each stitch sown into into that “ugly” crazy quilt, was sown in love and a reminder of each gift given previously, in love. What a wonderful reminder of God’s great love for us. .He gave His one and only Son as a true expression of His love. He came into this ugly world and for 30+ years was unappreciated, unwelcomed, unwanted (and still by many this day). Yet, only when He was “gone” from this world (as dear Grandmom is now gone from us), can we TRULY appreciate the GREATNESS of HIS GIFT! And, like that dear crazy quilt, He just asks that we wrap ourselves in His loving arms to feel and receive His gift of love. We just need to take the step to receive it…..

  • Karen Farney

    Thank you for your gentle but unflinching reminder of what it means to follow Jesus. You verbalized a dimension of the gun conversation of the past week. I found you on Ashleigh Gaultney’s page. Ashleigh has been my grand daughter by marriage since se was in preschool and I love her very much. It makes me happy to know she is a friend of yours. Faith can be difficult in these times when Evangelical seems to be code for Republican and our Church bishops council priorities are removed from calling for a commitment to peace.

  • http://www.progressivechristianitybook.com Roger Wolsey

    To prove that assertive non-violence can be powerful and effective, consider how Gandhi organized thousands of Indians and had them line up in the streets facing off against British troops with guns and vehicles. Some of those Indians were run over and shot, but in the end, the consciousnesses of the British troops was pricked and the Indians forced the end of British colonialism in their land. Consider also these “badasses” of pacifism — as well as that of Jesus, the original nonviolent badass:

    http://www.cracked.com/article_20157_the-6-most-aggressively-badass-things-done-by-pacifists.html

  • http://www.progressivechristianitybook.com Roger Wolsey

    Here’s a related blog by a kindred spirit. “Is He Really the Prince of Peace, or Just a Figurehead?” http://xanskinner.blogspot.com/2012/12/is-he-really-prince-of-peace-or-just.html

  • http://xanskinner.blogspot.com Alexandria Skinner

    I really liked your blog post! The illustration you used also reminded me of a Hauerwas essay linking paranoia and building walls with alienating ourselves from the “other,” the stranger, to whom we are in fact called to act toward with compassion.

    • http://www.progressivechristianitybook.com Roger Wolsey

      Alexandria, I’m glad you liked the blog. Having something I’ve written be associated with Stanley Hauerwas is a marvelous Christmas gift. Thank you!

  • Thierry Phillips

    As someone who does not label myself a Christian, thank you.

    What you say here is part of what inspires love in my heart, the same inspiration my true Christian friends give me.

  • http://www.progressivechristianitybook.com Roger Wolsey

    A prayer to accompany this blog: Holy One, help us to truly accept and receive Your gift to us of “embarrassing hand-made clothes,” and to wrap ourselves in the comfort that comes only from You and Your Spirit. Lord, we know that violence begets violence and that retribution isn’t Your way. We know that you call us to beat our swords into plowshares. Help us to trust Your Son’s teachings, and to have the faith to follow them. Lord, as a concerned father once put it to Jesus, “we believe, help our unbelief.”
 Amen

  • http://www.progressivechristianitybook.com Roger Wolsey
  • http://www.progressivechristianitybook.com Roger Wolsey
  • A Medrano

    Hello there roger!

    You probably recognize me from our many disagreements on a FB group ;). I have a folder in my Evernote labeled “guns and violence”. I was going through some of my notes and pieces I have collected over the past few months and came across this blog piece I wasn’t able to read until now. After reading it, I find at the bottom this name, and thought “is this that guy?” Lol. Heck, I guess there are some things we agree on! ;)


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X