There is power in the name of Jesus. I have lived experience of that truth. I love Jesus. And, Jesus is so much more than my lived experience. Which has prompted me to reflect on the stranger Jesus. Strange in the sense of different from my way of life or my experience. It is about perspective.
This is very important. My upbringing is in a White, North American, middle class, liberal educated, protestant mainline religious, and cultural perspective that has delighted in making things over in our own image. In the most benign sense it is expressed as, “I just thought everyone lived like me.” “They who are us,” do not. (borrowing from Howard Thurman)
I notice this most during the Advent/Christmas season, when infant Jesus is not viewed in his full incarnation, ironically. If we truly saw him in the flesh, we would know he was a baby born into a family/community living under the violent power of foreign domination enabled by religious and political collaborators. His existence at all is precariously portrayed in the gospel stories. Powers and principalities would have crushed his tiny body/skull without regard for who he was; because of who he was.
Which is kind of what we do in our modern Advent/Christmas context—crush difference, hide any strangeness, wipe away any trait that does not suit our image of an infant who is so not real that “no crying he makes.” We do it to him and to each other.
I want to love Jesus. To do that I need to acknowledge that he is a stranger to me. Jesus is free of my cultural overtones. More than representing a different time and place, another culture, and different skin tone, Jewish in practice of faith and life. Jesus has his own story to tell. A story that includes the gathering of magi, shepherds, outcast—strangers.
I do not hold the “copyright” on Jesus. Neither does my experience define everything there is to know about him.
I need to do this, so I will remember, the biblical injunction that the stranger may be the bearer of God. I do not want to miss out on the full story the Jesus brings. Or the welcome he gives to the stranger that is me—that is you.
Yes, that is the mystery again—love incarnate that all may rejoice!
Rev. Dr. Teresa Dulyea-Parker