And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all people.” (Luke 2:8-10, emphasis added)
If there’s one thing I was taught as a kid about Jesus, it was this: Jesus is good news for everyone. Jesus is so loving, so peaceful, and so happy, that the natural response to him is joy! But as I grew older, I was taught about a new Jesus. This Jesus wasn’t happy as often. This Jesus was always getting upset at something or someone. Sure, he was peace and love, but this new Jesus taught that:
- If you weren’t willing to surrender your life the very moment you heard about him, you were a heathen and should prepare yourself for hell
- If you weren’t willing to become a more moral person by stopping drinking, smoking, and having premarital sex, God would have nothing to do with you
- If you had an abortion or were pro-choice, God saw you as a murderer and would punish you
- If you were attracted to people of the same sex or thought that you were born with the wrong sex (or no sex), you were breaking the natural order of creation and would suffer consequences all of your life
- If you weren’t comfortable in a church, there was no possible way for you to connect with God
- If you found Christians to be hypocritical, ugly, and boring, you should have realized that you were just as bad or even worse than they were
- If you cared about the environment or animals, you had backward priorities and needed to start prioritizing humans
- If you were a woman and wanted to fill a leadership role, you needed to see understand that your place was submitting to a man
- If you believed that human beings evolved over millions of years, you were ignorant and rejecting the clear truths in the Book of Genesis
- If you thought people were poor or oppressed for any other reason than laziness, you were promoting socialism and rejecting the Bible’s view of hard work
- If you called Jesus by another name or if you elevated other great thinkers like Gandhi or Confucius, you were lowering God and over-elevating humans
I followed this Jesus for many years and, in my defense, I thought that this message was what people needed. This Jesus was an angry, judgmental, legalist, but I just figured it was one of the “hard truths” about following God. Whenever someone told me about just how bad my Jesus was, I would feel offended. I would tell myself that I was being “persecuted for the truth” and move on. I never stopped to question whether or not I was promoting the same Jesus from the Bible whom I had fallen in love with as a child.
When I started to encounter Jesus in recent years, something inside felt “off”. I would later discover that his feeling was due to a conflict: the Jesus I believed in was different from the Jesus I experienced. My Jesus was more like a Western, middle-class, White, American who was more comfortable with super-religious Pharisees than the poor, the immigrants, or the Samaritans.
I’ve come full circle: I believe again in the same “peace and love” Jesus I did when I was a child. Now, when I talk to people, I feel like I’m proclaiming the same message that the Angels did 2000 years ago: “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all people.”
What if we’re on a journey to continually conform our message to that of the Angels? How would this change how we preach, teach, or talk about Jesus?
What would it mean to us if we actually believed that, like the Angels said, there was no fear in connecting with God, only joy? Do we have pictures of a God in our mind who is always angry, looking to punish us or our friends? What if we could partner in turning away from a bad-news-Jesus and accepting the good, true, beautiful, joyful-news-Jesus?