I don’t think you’re stupid if you don’t believe in Christianity.
I say that because I know a bunch of people who call themselves “Christians” may have expressed, explicitly or implicitly, that you must be an idiot if you, too, aren’t a Christian.
I also know you don’t need me to validate your intelligence for what you do or don’t believe. But nonetheless I’m going to say, whether or not you follow Jesus is not a measure of your intelligence.
I’ve had people tell me, fairly recently in fact, that I am foolish for believing what I do. One of their main arguments against my belief is that there are so many awful people who claim to be Christians. I’m not denying that, either. There are. I don’t particularly enjoy being called “foolish,” but I get it. It doesn’t always look like it makes sense, and the way I do it probably extra doesn’t look so sensible.
Here is a mystery of our faith. God is hidden.
I recently stated that I believe, in large part, because I have experienced God. A friend and a slight bit of a troll on my page, like a mini-troll, immediately responded that never having experienced God is exactly why he does not believe.
Do I argue that? Do I say, “Oh, sure you have! You just weren’t paying close attention!”
God is real and God has changed my life, but can I point God out to you? No. I can point to all the changes God has made in me, and the people who have known me longest tend to agree–“Yeah, no, he was an incredible jerk, definitely something happened.”
In Advent, we’re celebrating the coming of Jesus in human form, what we call “The Incarnation.” Today while I was driving a secular radio station played a Christmas carol and there I was singing “Christ…is the Lord.” A verse from O, Holy Night. You don’t have to turn on that secular station, you can just go Christmas shopping and you’re decently likely to hear somebody sing about Jesus being God (or a baby who doesn’t cry. Or both).
But deep in the heart of what I believe God did, there is hiddenness. Jesus was born to poor parents, peasants, who happened to be traveling far from home–forced by laws that in no way would benefit them–and all the images that we love, that make up the parts of our “Nativity Scene,” are different ways of saying, “This happened off the world’s radar, this was not held to be important, when we say ‘born in obscurity’ we mean this.” If a baby is born tonight to a mother who is part of the “caravan,” in a tiny little hovel on the Mexico border near, but emphatically not in, the United States, and the world keeps right on spinning without a blink, that is the equivalent of our God’s birth story. It’s funny that we are so into this obscurity, when otherwise people in those conditions rarely pique our curiosity.
Yet having said this, the obscure, unnoticed arrival had some remarkable witnesses. Angels sang, which I write and you read without a blink, but tell me, have you ever seen an angel singing? “Sing, choirs of angels, sing in exaltation!” I’d love to see that. I don’t mean I disbelieve it happened, I mean I’d love to see that! If one angel scares the bejeebers out of people, what would a choir of angels do?
They sang, as we all know, to shepherds. What? Or maybe they sang to God and shepherds just got to see the concert. But they got to see it! I have friends who tell me they’ve seen angels–yes, I believe them–but I never have. If angels exist, and I believe they do, they are hidden. From our view, at least. Except for this one special time, when a baby was born where no one saw it and no one cared–the songs revel in how barn animals witnessed the birth, no one else–yet angels “in their multitudes” appeared to bust out a rousing chorus. Hidden, yet revealed. Yet hidden, because only the shepherds saw those angels. They didn’t play their One Night Only concert in Jerusalem. They were out in–or over?–the fields.
Again, I believe this stuff. I don’t always know how it fits together–the magi most likely visited Jesus when he was two years, not two hours old, but I’m not going to go around pulling those crowned figures out of everyone’s Nativity sets. I’m not describing it this way to cast doubts or aspersions. I’m saying this is the deal: God chose to enter the world in obscurity and hiddenness, in near anonymity, and there’s something marvelously ironic about how we all sing about how obscure and anonymous it was. God did this wildly improbable thing, God became a human being while still God and started as an embryo, and God chose brown-skinned peasants in a tiny dot on the map but they didn’t even get to stay at the boarding house for his birth. God’s glory hidden in human form, God’s fame hidden in obscure circumstances, God’s power completely concealed.
Why? Does anybody want to ask “why?”
Circling back around, I don’t think you’re stupid if you don’t believe this stuff. I don’t think you’re foolish if you do.* I’m not going to give you a crack-the-code answer for why I think God did it this way, but more of a visceral one.
In Matthew 25, Jesus says, “For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat; I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink. I was a stranger and you welcomed me.”
Jesus was a stranger. He came to earth as a stranger and though “He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him.” He was a stranger. His parents carried him into Egypt and he was a stranger. He became a rabbi but the religious authorities rejected and then reviled him. He was a stranger. He loved his followers, gave his life to them in every way, and one of the men he shared everything with turned him over. He was a stranger. He was tried in the middle of the night, in a farce of a trial, found guilty with the help of false witnesses, and forced outside the city gates to be executed. He was a stranger.
This hiddenness, this lowliness, this becoming as the least is how God reveals his, or her, face to us.**
“Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.”
Maybe he really meant that.
God hides in the face of the stranger.
Or maybe God is waiting for us to look there.
*I’m not a big fan of saying you do while disregarding or doing the opposite of Jesus’ teaching and modeling, but that’s another post.
**Jesus was a man, God the Father is no more an anatomical male than female, and the Holy Spirit is referred to as “she” throughout the Bible.