Monday, December 28, 2009

The Messiah in your Midst

My oldest son is currently learning to drive. This is a new experience for all of us. It’s an anxious time for a parent, a liberating time for a kid. It’s amazing how competent teenagers are, at least when it suits them.

I like the Ben Bergor quote, “It is amazing how quickly kids learn to drive a car, yet are unable to understand the lawnmower, snow-blower, or vacuum cleaner.”

There is a funny scene in the 90’s movie Clueless which stars Alicia Silverstone and Britney Murphy who died this past week. Cher, a precocious valley girl played by Silverstone, is taking a driving test. The whole time she is driving in between two lanes, she is thinking about her teen romance problems. She mindlessly runs bicyclists off the road, hits parked cars and causes general havoc on the streets.

The driving instructor demands that she pull over. She asks him, “So how did I do?”

“How did you do?” he says. “You can’t park, you can’t switch lanes, you can’t make right hand turns, you damaged private property and you almost killed someone. Offhand I’d say you failed.”

She protests, “Isn’t there someone else I can talk to? You can’t be the absolute and final word on driver’s licenses?”

Then the driving instructor gives one of the classic movie lines of all time. He says, “Girlie, as far as you’re concerned, I’m the Messiah of the DMV.”

And that brings us around to the true meaning of Christmas. Not the birth of Santa, as Bart Simpson said, but the birth of the Messiah in the most surprising form. Messiahs are like that. By definition, you wait for them and they surprise you. You can easily miss them if you aren’t paying attention.

You see, Cher was so lost in her own world, she didn’t realize the power of the one sitting next to her. Do you ever find yourself so distracted by the trappings of life and the holidays that you fail to see the Messiah who is sitting right next to you?

I hear you say, “Have you seen the person sitting next to me? More to the point, have you seen me? Because I’m sitting next to someone, that means I’m a Messiah for them. I mean I barely got my Christmas shopping done in time, I haven’t volunteered in years and I’m holding onto some deep grudges. I’m no Messiah.”

The Messiah is Ordinary

If the Christmas story is about the arrival of the Messiah, the Messiah arrives in the most human form. The gospel writers tell us that the blood line of this Messiah was a mixed bad of dubious pedigree. It included a prostitute, a product of incest, an adulteress and Ruth who got Boaz drunk then forced him to marry her. Mary and Joseph had an embarrassing situation of their own, and were being chased by a crazy tyrant. If this was the Messiah, he wasn’t exactly what you might have expected. Presumably as Jesus grew up he caused some mischief at times, like the time when he ran away from home to join the religious circus of his day. As a child I imagine Jesus would have said of himself, in the words of Monty Python, “I’m not the Messiah. I’m a very naughty boy.”

How do you expect the Messiah to look and act? Do you expect the Messiah to be otherworldly and perfect, or genuine and fallible?

Once there was a monastery with a long history of commerce and a thriving spiritual community. But as time wore on, fewer and fewer villagers visited the hallowed halls. Fewer people turned to the monastery for advice. Even the sale of their famous wines began to dwindle. The abbot began to despair for his community. “What should they do?” he wondered. They prayed daily for guidance, but the brothers only became more dispirited. The monastery itself reflected their mood, becoming shabby and untidy. At last the Abbot, hearing that a wise Jewish rabbi was visiting, swallowed his pride and went to visit the rabbi to ask his advice.

The abbot and the rabbi visited for a long time. They talked of their respective religions, and the fickleness of human nature. The abbot explained his problem to the rabbi and asked for advice, but the Jewish sage only shook his head and smiled. As the abbot sadly departed, the rabbi suddenly rose and shouted after him, “Ah, but take heart my friend for the Messiah lives amongst you!”

All the way home the abbot pondered the rabbi’s words, “The Messiah lives amongst you.” What could he mean? Did the Messiah live in the abbey?

The abbot knew all the brothers very well. Could one of them really be the Messiah? Surely he, the abbot, was not the Messiah… Was it possible?”

Upon reaching the monastery the abbot confided the rabbi’s words to another brother, who told another brother, who was overheard telling another brother. Soon the whole abbey had heard the news. “The Messiah lives amongst us!” “Who do you suppose he could be?”

As each brother speculated on who the Messiah could be, his view of his brothers began to change. Brother Louis no longer appeared simple, but rather innocent. Brother Jacques was no longer uncompromising, but rather striving for spiritual perfection. The brothers began to treat each other with greater respect and courtesy; after all, one never knew when he might be speaking to the Messiah. And, as each brother discovered that his own words were taken seriously, the thought that he might become the Messiah would cross his humble mind. He would square his shoulders and attend his work with greater care and start acting like a Messiah.

Soon the neighboring villages began to notice the change that had come over the monastery. The brothers seemed so happy. Villagers flocked to the monastery and were energized by the spirit of the Brothers. And so the spirit grew and the monastery flourished. As each new brother was welcomed, the question arose, “Could he be the Messiah?”
Apparently the monastery still prospers today and it is often whispered both within its walls and in the surrounding towns that the Messiah lives amongst them.

As you celebrate Christmas this year, remember that the Messiah lives among you.

If you are waiting for perfection, Christmas is going to be a lonely and frustrating time. If you are waiting for some future time, the wonders of this moment will pass you by. If you are expecting salvation outside yourself, you might miss your own wisdom. If you hold your loved ones to impossible standards you just might miss the Messiah who sits right next to you.

This idea that there is more than one Messiah is not a new idea. Many of the first century Rabbis believed that there is a messiah in every generation. The Talmud tells of a highly respected rabbi who found the Messiah at the gates of Rome, sitting among the poor, the sick and the lonely and asked him “When will you finally come?” He said, “Today.” The next day he returned, disappointed and puzzled, and asked, “You said messiah would come ‘today’ but he didn’t come! The Messiah replied, ‘Scripture says, “Today, if you will but hear His voice . . .”

Every person has a Messiah within them. The Messiah has already arrived. You have a Messiah within you, if you will just hear your inner voice telling you that everything you have ever been waiting for you already have. Salvation is at hand, if you stop chasing your impossible standards and accept what is. All the love and peace you ever wished for is yours this Christmas.

The Most Surprising Messiah

Messiahs turn up in the most surprising places, if you have eyes to see and ears to hear. Some say that the composer Handel was a manic depressive. He wrote the Messiah in under a month while in a manic state. Maybe he knew that the cracks are how the light gets in; accepting himself and allowing the raw edges of his humanity to create beauty in the world. Few would question the genius of the final product.

Your Christmas gift is the genius of your own life. Allow your inner Messiah to shine light and love on the world. Allow the raw edges of your humanity to create beauty in the world and this will create a happy Christmas.

The famous Jewish Rabbi Hillel once said, “I get up. I walk. I fall down. Meanwhile, I keep dancing.” The Messiah is arriving in you this Christmas as you walk, fall, get up and dance in life, accepting yourself and others and letting your path unfold.

The Messiah is within and in your midst. Keep your eyes and ears open. Christmas love to all.

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