I find it fascinating that, in some parts of the Gospel stories, Jesus asks people to not reveal his identity to anyone. One example is found in Mark 8:27-30, when Peter calls Jesus “the Christ”, and Jesus orders him to keep that to himself. I mean, wouldn’t it make sense for Jesus to want the word about him spread so that more people might experience his power and presence? And while the amount of speculation that scholars have done in order to try and explain this biblical motif is way larger than I could possibly fit in here, there are two theories that are worth mentioning.
First, the predominant messianic expectation of the time was that a leader might emerge who would lead a revolt against Rome, thus finally liberating Israel from the rule of foreign empires. Jesus, however, knew that attempting to end violence with more violence couldn’t possibly work, and so he deliberately distanced himself from that expectation, choosing instead to reaffirm the tradition of his ancestors as one that included everyone — even those who wanted to destroy it.
Secondly, Jesus wasn’t interested in gathering worshippers for himself; he was interested in making disciples who might imitate his love. But isn’t it much harder to imitate Jesus when we put him on a pedestal, standing above our messy and imperfect human reality?
This past Sunday, I asked our middle-schoolers why they thought Jesus told people to keep his identity a secret, and 3 or 4 kids promptly replied: “even if he chose to tell everyone, people still wouldn’t believe him.” And isn’t it true that we tend to miss out on divine encounters unless they happen in the narrow ways we’ve been trained to identify them?
And that’s part of why, I think, Jesus never intended to “monopolize” God’s presence onto himself. Rather, he stood as a symbol that God’s presence is found in flesh, bones, and blood — his own, and ours. The figure of an unassuming baby born to a poor, adolescent mother hits us as a radical inversion of values and presumptions regarding where God’s love and grace are found. Whereas we tend to associate those things with glamorous moments of triumph and success, the Gospel stories ask us to consider the very opposite: perhaps God is in the places and with the people we least expect.
So, my beloved community — this Advent, may you notice the sacredness that lies within the mundane around you. And may you dare to welcome the new life that’s already knocking on your door.