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Waiting for Jesus

Rev. Dr. Debora Jackson

December 5, 2019

Advent is a season of waiting. We are awaiting the return of our Savior, Jesus Christ. We do not know when Jesus will return, but we are to be prepared and alert for his coming. But what Jesus are we preparing to receive?

I would maintain that we have created a Jesus of convenience with whom we are most comfortable and for whom we wait. This is the gentle, sweet baby Jesus cooing in a manger as the cattle, sheep, and shepherds look on adoringly. This is the blond-haired, blue-eyed, smiling Jesus whose picture hangs in the Sunday School room in the church. This is the back-pocket Jesus that we whip out during patriotic or sporting events, because he is for us and on our side.

He is the Jesus who co-signs our prejudices and privileges because this Jesus of convenience hates what we hate and loves what we love. And if we are awaiting that Jesus, we are going to be sorely disappointed because that Jesus is not coming.

The Jesus for whom we wait is returning to judge. Matthew 25:32 tells us that when the Son of Man comes in his glory, he will separate the nations like a shepherd separating sheep from goats. The sheep will be welcomed into the realm of God because they did the work to which they were called. They fed the hungry, welcomed the stranger, clothed the naked, cared for the sick, and visited the imprisoned. As they did for the least of humanity, they did for Jesus. Those designated as goats will be dismissed. Because they did not attend to those who were most vulnerable, they did not attend to Jesus.

I fear that as we cleave to the convenient and comfortably created image of Jesus, we edge closer to the goat line. In the goat line, we buy the narrative that the immigrant is to be feared and blocked from our borders. How else can we explain the passivity of too many who were comfortable with children separated from their parents at the borders, people placed in cages, or migrants barred from seeking asylum? In the goat line, we advocate for the right to life, but then silently watch supports erode for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.[i] This means that millions of people, chiefly the poor, seniors, the disabled, and children, will lose benefits that directly impact their livelihood and ability to thrive.

We stand in the goat line when we turn a blind eye to a school-to-prison pipeline that primarily funnels black and brown males into a burgeoning and profitable prison-industrial complex. In the goat line, we do not see the image of Christ in humanity and as a result, immigrants and strangers are vilified, children and the poor are left wanting, and black and brown men are imprisoned.

Advent is the perfect time to be reminded of Jesus’ first coming to understand the Jesus for whom we wait. Jesus first came as a poor infant, wrapped in rags, appearing to shepherds who were also impoverished. Young Jesus came as an immigrant seeking asylum from those who wanted to kill him.

As an adult, Jesus came having surrounded himself with a ragtag group of working-class followers. He engaged with sinners: tax collectors, women who were involved in adultery, and those who were societal outcasts. These were his people because the Spirit of the Lord anointed him to proclaim good news to the poor, pardon for the prisoners, recovery of sight for the blind, and freedom for the oppressed. This Jesus, the champion of the marginalized, is the one who will come again to elevate the oppressed, for as he said, “Many who are first will be last, and the last will be first.” (Matthew 19:30).

So, what must we do if we want to be numbered among the sheep and not the goats? We need to advocate for those for whom Jesus advocated. We cannot be silent as immigrants are persecuted, seniors and children are under-resourced, and people of color are imprisoned. As we do for the least in our society, we serve Jesus. Being the hands and feet of Christ is not just a catchy slogan; it’s our mandate.

We need to take Jesus out of our back pockets, recognizing that the Jesus of convenience does not exist. Jesus does not endorse our nationalism because he does not value the United States more highly than others. While we might comfortably align Jesus with our priorities, he does not champion our pet causes nor is he a promoter of privilege. Jesus came to serve. We must do the same.

Finally, we need to exercise humility. All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, and yet God loved us even when we were dead in our sins. So who are we to judge? Jesus died for all. Through the grace of God by faith in Jesus Christ, we are saved. It is a free gift for which none can boast.

Advent reminds us that we continue to wait for Jesus’ coming. In the waiting, we must remain engaged in the work, humbly advocating for and serving all of God’s people, but particularly those who are marginalized. This is our calling. I pray that we are found faithful.

The Rev. Dr. Debora Jackson is an independent consultant and author who leads custom, high impact engagements for non-profit and faith-based organizations. She was previously the Director of Lifelong Learning at Yale Divinity School. Her book “Spiritual Practices for Effective Leadership: 7Rs of SANCTUARY for Pastors” is available through Judson Press.

The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of American Baptist Home Mission Societies.

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