Wednesday, December 28, 2016

The Omniscient Bearded One We Worship In America Today

Every Christmas season our family will inevitably spend some time watching a few Christmas themed movies such as Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, National Lampoons Christmas Vacation, It’s a Wonderful Life, or Die Hard (maybe not a Christmas movie but kind of). However, one of our favorite movies to watch each year is Elf. 
This year when we sat down to watch Elf, I enjoyed it as usual but was also struck by how much the popular view of God in America resembles the way we think of Santa. I know most folks don’t conceive of God as a jolly, old, obese guy in a red suit but many folks do in fact imagine God as an old bearded dude who is cold and distant but powerful nonetheless. 
Think about some of the lyrics we sing about Santa: “He sees you when you’re sleeping, he knows when you’re awake, he knows if you’ve been bad or good so be good for goodness sake” or “He’s making a list and checking it twice, he’s gonna find out who’s naughty or nice…” I think many folks conceive of God in the same way - He has omniscient powers which he uses to tally up the good deeds in our lives and then reward us if our good deeds meet his standard. 
In the movie Elf (spoiler alert) the climactic point of the movie is when Santa has had to make an emergency landing in Central Park because his sleigh’s jet engine has malfunctioned. We learned earlier in the movie that Santa has to use a jet on his sleigh because there has been a decline in Christmas spirit over the years and Christmas spirit (specifically belief in Santa) is what magically powered the sleigh in the old days. So the movie wraps up as the main characters gather on live TV to start singing praise to Santa and stir up their belief and Christmas spirit in order to magically fix the sleigh. And of course you know what happens, everyone joins in and Santa miraculously has the power to continue on his journey of rewarding those on the good list. 
While belief is a powerful thing whether on an individual or social level, why do we so often think that God needs us to believe in him so that he can be empowered to act in our lives or in the world? If that is the case then it doesn’t seem like God is really all that powerful. 
If we really want to know what God is like we need only look at Jesus. Jesus reveals that God is not remote, distant or cold but that he is Emmanuel - God With Us. Jesus reveals that God doesn’t simply bless the good and condemn the naughty but that God loves both extravagantly and generously. Jesus reveals how God’s power is not rooted in violence, intimidation or coercion like that of movers and shakers of our world but is rather humble, vulnerable, merciful, and kind. And when it comes to belief, Jesus reveals that God does not need us to believe in him so he can be powerful but rather invites us to be participants in the very life that exists between Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Is God powerful? You bet! But how does God use his power? This is a much more interesting question! We find in Jesus that the power of God is not power over but power under. God’s power is not demonstrated by dominating and controlling, but in humility and serving. As we follow in his footsteps we find the very power of God at work in our lives and relationships with one another. We find that it is truly more blessed to give than to receive, to forgive than to become embittered, to live generously instead of hoarding all that we have, to extend hospitality to those who are different than us rather than to make them enemies or projects, to view people as created in the image of God rather objectifying them. 
I will close with one of my favorite passages from the Bible which reveals not only how different God actually is from the way we typically think but also encourages us to follow his example in our relationships with one another. 
Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.
In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:
Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death—
even death on a cross!
Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:1-11)

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