“Jesus loves you!” A truth so simple it’s at the core of the gospel message.
But how can Houston’s church communicate this to our broken world?
The message we want to share changes depending on the medium we choose to communicate with. Here are some examples of what I mean.
In the war with Iraq “Jesus loves you!” was scrolled onto a bomb by a US military soldier and dropped with full intent to invoke Shock and Awe.
Or consider the same message shared with me personally this week by a dear friend over spicy hot Cajun etufe.
In the first instance, the message seems to be completely lost, if not transformed into something meaningless or an outright lie. It’s impossible to communicate God’s love at the tip of a smart bomb, rifle scope, or spear.
In the second the medium itself (the relationship, the time together, sharing life) was the unmistakable message.
The medium is the message!
As Christians the gospel is our message.
We might sum up our Christian message this way: the good news that God in loving grace is creating a beautiful new world right in the midst of the old, and invites us to be transformed in it.
This is a message that needs a medium, a delivery method to spread it.
What medium should we use? Mass or social media such as billboards and blogs?
How do you spread the word that God’s love is overwhelmingly real, face-to-face real, around the table real and not separated by cubicles?
Twitter, magazine articles, checks written to organizations half a world away?
How do you spread the Word about how powerful God’s love is, powerful enough to make kings bow down and the human heart let go its decades old brokenness?
Families, casseroles, churches?
Well, what’s worked in the past?
God wasn’t satisfied with the old mediums. It was time to change the delivery method and transform the medium. So God became one of us: “The Word became flesh and lived among us,” or as The Message translation says, God “moved into the neighborhood.” God perfectly matched and incarnated the message into the medium of Jesus humanity. You can’t separate the two. Just like you can’t separate word from deed, with our good works functioning as the delivery system a lost and broken world needs to receive our message.
Now if God is so interested in medium-message integrity, what might a faithful sharing of the gospel look like in Houston this Christmas?
Both Isaiah and Mary cultivated a radical imagination that imagined the world as God intends for it to be. A beautiful practice to capture this message might be using the best creative arts the church has to offer to share these visions, rather than Elves, fake snow, or fancy train sets which have no connection to the Jesus story. Isaiah pictured the Christ child leading to a peaceable kingdom where wolves lie with lambs. And Mary pictured a fantastic new world where the poor have everything they need. As Martin Luther once said, “We need more poets!” Indeed.
Isaiah and Mary also both praise the God of radical justice. A practice that integrates message and medium would be extravagant generosity to those near and far. Advent Conspiracy and Just Celebration are two amazing programs in Houston that combine word with deed in sharing Christ’s love. Many area churches are partnering with Advent Conspiracy. If we want Houston to hear the message of love, we first have to live with love.
Finally, the Christmas story is nothing if not about incarnational presence. Not sharing space on the same couch presence. But sharing casserole with laughter and authenticity and depth, the kind of encounter you walk away from realizing you were just in sacred space. A practice of incarnation might be refusing to engage any form off parachute ministry or one-off mission project and instead consider Relocating to a neighborhood with high needs.
And as for those presents we love to sling around, if we want to have integrity with the story we’d have to spend our time discovering what gifts worldly outsiders are bringing to God’s people. And not, shall we say, racking our brains trying to decide what to buy for the person (or kid!) who has absolutely everything already.
These practices are intimately part of the DNA of the Christmas Narrative, and may just help Houston understand the gospel message more freshly this year. May it be so for us all!