“He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him.” (John 1:11 ESV)
This is part of how John chooses to start his gospel. He’s telling a non-Jewish audience that Jesus, a Jew, came to his own people but they didn’t receive him.
This is immensely significant because Jesus was the Messiah the Jews were waiting for. For centuries they’d been waiting and when the moment came, they missed it. Even today, 2,000 years later there are many Jews who are still waiting for their Messiah.
It’s clear that not everyone believes that Jesus is the Messiah, the one prophesied throughout the Old Testament. Even during the years of his ministry Jesus wasn’t accepted by the vast majority, and those of his home town rejected him.
John the Baptist prophesied that Jesus was the promised Messiah and pointed him out to the crowds, and yet after a while even he had to check that Jesus was indeed the Messiah.
Why is this?
I think that John the Baptist’s story, and the stories you pick up reading the gospel accounts point to a jarring issue which affects us all: Jesus subverts our expectations.
Jesus entered a world, a culture and a history that had created an idea of what the Messiah should be like, and how he should be, and what he should do. The problem with Jesus was that he simply didn’t fit that mould. Whichever way you looked at him, he was no Messiah. Rabbi, yes. Miracle man, yes. Messiah – as in the Messiah – no.
Rome was stood on the neck of the Jewish nation, and whilst the jews were finding new ways to subvert Roman rule, Jesus was subverting their expectations of who the Messiah was and what he had come to do.
His teachings further frustrated and compounded any claims that he was the Messiah.
Love your enemies? Ridiculous.
Turn the other cheek? What a cheek!
A Samaritan is my neighbour? Forget it.
Eat my flesh and drink my blood? He’s lost the plot!
Jesus didn’t change anything about the prophesies of the Messiah and fulfilled them all perfectly. In every way Jesus was, and is, the Messiah. The trouble with seeing Jesus as the Messiah is a problem with our sight, not with Jesus.
Every person exists within a culture and a history which act as lenses through which we understand the world. We look at Jesus through these same lenses and get a distorted image of who this Jesus is because he entered into a different reality to the one we exist in, and he also transcends culture and history.
Jesus has come into the world so that we might receive him. We don’t receive him by making him be someone he isn’t, or projecting onto him ideologies that aren’t his.
The Jews thought that the Messiah was coming into the world to take sides; their side. But Jesus came into the world for all people, Romans and Jews alike, and everyone else on this planet we call home. Yes he came to the Jews and they were “his own” but they didn’t all receive him.
Time and again Jesus turns up in our lives and in our churches and subverts our expectations of him, not to be awkward but so that we will receive him for who he is and not for who we’d like him to be.
This is good news for people who have no expectations of Jesus and have never met him. As they encounter Jesus they get the real Jesus as he really is.
For those of us who have become familiar with who Jesus is, or perhaps become familiar with the person we think we know from reading the Bible, this is not necessarily good news. Jesus will not meet our expectations or fit our moulds and this can be difficult to accept and unnerving as it can disorient us.
But he does this because there’s much at stake. Jesus has come to have a relationship with us and to show us the Father. Unless we receive him as he is and as he comes then it’s no different to how a friend might react if we started to tell them how they ought to be so we can feel that we know them.
That first Christmas Jesus came into the world in a way few were expecting. He came as a baby who needed to be held to be received. There is nothing complicated about receiving a baby. You just put your arms out and hold it.
The message of Christmas to us about our Messiah is that simple: receive me as you would a little baby. No expectations, no prejudices, no concerns, just holding.
John gives us some amazingly good news in the next verses of his gospel;
“But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.” (John 1:12-13 ESV)
If we receive that baby born on the first Christmas; if we receive Jesus as he is and not how we want him to be; then we receive the right – the power – to become children of God, in the same way Jesus is. That’s amazing news!
This Advent, may you receive Jesus just as he is.
May you see in that newborn baby the Jesus who must be held to be received.
May you discover Jesus for who he really is, not who you thought he was, and in receiving him become like him as a child of God.