How will you experience Jesus this Christmas season?
I have been thinking about this question lately. In an unprecedented year, with an unprecedented virus, Jesus is still the same as He has always been. But how do we experience him, and how does he show up for us?
As many couples do, my husband and I found ourselves in the midst of a soul-bearing and soul-revealing fight recently. We were both tired, at the end of our rope, and all the nit-picking and passive-aggressive comments came to a head. And as we fought it out – and I cried it out – I suddenly came to a calm, yet desperate realization that Jesus died for this. He came and lived and died for this moment. For my marriage. And I can experience his love and grace and restoration as I cry out to him in my pain, hurt and confusion. This is what he came for.
In the book of Luke we see over and over how people experience Jesus. Different people experiencing the same Jesus, but with various backgrounds and needs.
We see Mary full of pondering, questioning, storing up her thoughts and emotions as she rides the waves of unexpected joy and circumstance.
We see Simeon in the temple, who has prayed and waited his entire life to meet the Messiah. And as he holds tiny Jesus in his arms he is led to worship.
As Jesus begins his ministry, crowds of people begin to witness and experience his healing abilities-his healing touch, his voice of authority over the wretched effects of sin in our bodies and our hearts. These crowds gather, follow, and long for change. Can you relate? Is there a part of your life that you desperately need Jesus to reach into and touch?
In Luke 5, Jesus climbs into Simon’s (later called Peter) boat, along with James and John, who would also become his disciples. He preaches to the crowd from the boat, then to the fisherman’s amazements tells them to let down their nets. An unexpected command from a very unlikely fisherman. Jesus, a carpenter by trade, is suddenly telling professional fishermen how to do their job. Not only that, but these fishermen have already had an entire evening of unsuccessful catches. Yet, Jesus walks into their empty boat and fills it with his presence and with his power. This is what Jesus does – he fills our empty and longing hearts with himself. He meets us in our need. And we find wholeness and healing.
And what happened when the fishermen followed Jesus’ command? They caught the biggest payload of fish of their lives! So much so that their nets were not equipped to handle the vast quantity and began to break. They came out of a long night of fishing depleted, tired and empty. Jesus came and restored, filling and exceeding all expectations.
After this amazing encounter Jesus comes along a man with leprosy. In that day people with leprosy were considered unclean in society and were outcast. Not only that, but they had to yell “Unclean! Unclean!” to anyone who was near them so as not to contaminate. Can you imagine the shame, loneliness, fear, and depression that would come along with that disease? Not only do you experience the deadening of your nerves, but that deadening follows to your heart as relationships are cut off and you are completely isolated. In a very small way, those of us who have had to quarantine from COVID19 can see how we crave human interaction and touch. And so imagine that quarantaine as endless. No hope of improvement. No end in sight.
Yet Jesus steps into the unclean, into the isolation, into the brokenness of body and relationship and He restores. He not only heals this leprous man physically, but by the physical healing a restoration of the man’s soul and spirit are also offered. Chris Gordon and Hope Blanton comment that “his kingdom will ultimately bring total emotional, relationship, psychological, and spiritual restoration.” Complete wholeness.
Next in our Luke 5 passage Jesus enters a home, and is followed by a crowd. This crowd is elbow to elbow, packed into this house to hear Jesus teach and see him heal. Then suddenly we find out that a paralytic man is brought to the house by his friends, but there is no way to get him through the mass to see Jesus. So these friends climb to the roof, carrying the man on his mat up with them (was it stairs, or did they have to scale the side of the house I wonder?), then proceed to take apart the roof, tile by tile. Can you imagine being packed in the room of a house with the roof coming apart…pieces of clay dropping down around you? These persistent friends lower the paralytic man down to Jesus…because they KNOW he will be healed. They are so convinced that Jesus is able and willing that they take apart a stranger’s roof! They risk all they have, including money for repairs and reputation to have their man encounter Jesus. And Jesus heals the man. And more than that, he forgives his sin, healing his soul. Again, complete wholeness.
Lastly in our passage, Jesus offers wholeness to a tax collector. Levi, also called Matthew, responds to Jesus’ calling to become a disciple, immediately and unequivocally, by leaving his profession and following. What Jesus offers Levi is a restoration of relationship. No longer will he be cheating his fellow Jews out of their money and making deals with the Romans, their enemies. Now he will learn to be honest, fair, humble, and to do justice. He will learn to use his wealth for Jesus’ kingdom, not for his own profit. He will learn to make decisions that benefit others first, sacrificing his own gain. Ironically, Levi has already sacrificed his reputation among his people by taking on the profession of tax collector. In following Jesus, his reputation and sense of self-worth is restored. Furthermore, he will learn to sacrifice for his people, just like Jesus. To learn to lay down his life, instead of protecting it. He will learn to give up all worldly goods and gain for the sake of the gospel. He will become whole. He will become like Jesus.
The fishermen, the leper, the paralytic and the tax collector. Jesus comes to them individually and intimately. He restores to them what is broken and they respond by following, by worshiping, by repenting. And Jesus comes to us. Individually. In our weakest moments, In the moments of desperation, longing, disappointment, fear. And he sees us and knows us. His Spirit comforts and encourages us, reminding us that Jesus died for this moment. For each breath we take, for each experience we have. Just as we see his interventions for each of the people in Luke 5, his grace for us is intimate and specific. He aims to reach into every moment of our lives and every crevice of our hearts and mold them to his.
He comes in our weary, tired mornings when our kids have kept us up all night. He comes to us in the midst of a fight with our spouse, as words are said that threaten to undo the foundation we have built over years and years. He speaks into our loneliness as COVID19 has built up walls of isolation. He hears our angry words to our children, and opens his arms wide.
And so the question is – how will you respond? How will you encounter and experience Jesus this Christmas season? Is there a specific area of your life that you do not believe he can touch? Is there a specific area of your life that needs to be brought to the foot of the cross so that you can experience the Comforting hand of the Comforter?
My hope and prayer for us is that this specific 2020 season we seek and find Jesus in every moment, that we feel his love and grace in the ups and downs, in the mundane and ordinary routines. And especially in the crazy upside world we find ourselves in today. He was born for this moment, and died for this moment. Nothing is outside of his hands.