If this were a normal year, churches and some schools would be busy preparing for the annual nativity play. Old curtains tied with rope, shiny cardboard crowns, gold-wrapped empty boxes and white sheets with tinsel. If this were a normal year, some groups would be keeping it simple, while others would be driving the event to a whole new level. If this were a normal year, some groups would see guests filing into their seats, only to realize behind the stage that Jessica forgot to bring her doll to be Jesus. This is no normal year.
What happens if you lose Jesus? In a normal year it would mean a parent driving home like he was being chased by the Police (hoping he doesn’t get chased by the Police). This is no normal year. So what does it mean if you lose Jesus, not just from a nativity play, but from Christianity itself?
Some preachers preach with Jesus eerily absent. Their sermons tend to drift towards moral lectures and the policing of church and society. Nobody in the world really cares what we think of its failures, and to be honest, we in the church don’t find this kind of preaching that helpful either.
Some evangelists lose sight of Jesus, too. Their presentations end up offering some sort of moral-change gospel – which is no gospel at all. You have been bad, judgment is coming, God can help you fix yourself . . . uh? The Gospel?
Some Christians accidentally drop Jesus as well. Our personal spirituality gets marked by a distant God, and we then become very “fallen human” again. Everything becomes about me. I must try harder, be more disciplined, behavioural in my focus. Bible reading will tend to focus on “walk worthy,” but my eyes will miss the truths underlying these exhortations.
In John 5, Jesus rebukes the religious elite for being diligent Bible men but at the same time, for ignoring him. They knew their Hebrew Bibles, but they missed how God revealed himself throughout those sacred books. They missed how his call to them was not primarily behavioural, but a call to faith – trusting not only the promises, but also the Promiser who walked amongst them on so many occasions. They had read their Bibles with self-glorifying lenses in their reading spectacles and so had lost sight of the person revealed throughout. Lose him and the relationship becomes a religion.
When we lose Jesus from Christianity, we lose any real sense of relationship with God. We become self-glorifying and we become vigilantes policing those around us. There may be no nativity play to worry about this year, but think about the bigger danger – the danger that we drift from a Christ-at-the-centre Christianity in our personal spirituality, in our evangelism, in our preaching.