On a recent journey with my wife and children we stopped off at a motorway services for some lunch. As we were choosing where and what to eat a Burger King sign caught my eye. As I read it the message seemed to me to be speaking about a lot more than a choice of burger. It seemed to sum up perfectly the orientation of our culture today.
We live in a culture which is powered by consumerism. Our lives are continually interrupted with messages trying to persuade us to buy more and more things. The skill of the advertiser is truly impressive because they know how to create a desire in you for something you don’t actually need or want.
In the 21st Century the new mantra is “consumer choice” and we’ve recently seen the volatility of global brands when consumers ‘choose’ to boycott their brand.
But inasmuch as we live in a time when consumer choice is perhaps the greatest it’s ever been, the insidious truth is that it’s actually a false choice. We have become conditioned to considering our options and making a choice without ever standing back and questioning whether this is even a choice we need to make.
The message that says, “have it your way®” (amazingly a registered trademark owned by Burger King!!!), is in truth a message that says “do it our way” (unsurprisingly NOT a registered trademark owned by Burger King).
The whole message on that sign board is intended to move you into a place where you will think about making a choice, and that that choice will be a product from Burger King.
But what if you didn’t want to make a choice?
What if you simply weren’t thinking about whether it should be my way or a different way?
We have been so saturated by media, and the messages carried in them, that we now respond as if on autopilot without engaging critical thought as to why. The moment we apply critical thinking to the content we’ve already engaged with the medium whether we like it or not.
The same is true of Jesus. Once you ask yourself questions about the truth of his birth, his teaching, his death, his resurrection… you’ve already engaged with the medium.
Choosing to reject Jesus is just another form of engaging with Jesus, not avoiding him.
But there’s something really interesting about Jesus the ‘medium’ and what his message is to the world, especially in the context of the Burger King strap-line.
By coming into the world as one of us Jesus is the message to us that God desires to dwell with us and to be in relationship with us. It’s not what Jesus said or did that communicates this most loudly and clearly; it’s Jesus himself.
The medium is the message.
And what is the content of his message? “Have it your way”.
As you read the gospels you can see that in his exchanges with people Jesus is always offering them the choice to have things their way, if they really want it that way. He never insists that they do it another way but he does offer it to them.
Jesus has come into the world to reinforce that we were created to be free. This means that we have an amazing amount of freedom to make choices, including the choice to reject the loving Father who made each one of us. He reminds us that we have made our own choices and are free to continue to do so, if we want to.
We all know that our freedom to make choices can have huge consequences, not only for our own lives, but for the whole world. What can appear to be a freedom to choose can quickly become a burden of responsibility if we stop to consider those around us.
Jesus does not take that choice away from us but he does offer us an alternative choice. He offers us the choice to use our freedom creatively and sacrificially. He offers us the choice to love our enemies, to forgive those who have wronged us, to pray for those who persecute us, to make a neighbour out of someone we despise, to turn the other cheek, to walk the extra mile, to lay down your life for your friends.
All of these, and more, are what real freedom looks like. Jesus came to show us that real freedom is not about “have it your way”. It’s about knowing that you’re not bound by anything, unless you choose to be bound. You aren’t bound by false choices because you don’t have to make that choice. In the freedom Jesus is offering not even death can limit your freedom!
And the amazingly good news is that Jesus is the message. His life was so utterly free and he tells us that that same freedom is within us. He has come to set us free by showing us in himself what it means to be that free. He has come to show us that we’ve been seeing life and the world through someone else’s lens and it’s not showing us a true picture.
This Advent may you know that you can still “have it your way®”, if you want to.
May you know that Jesus has come to set you free and that you can know what real freedom is like because you were made to be free.
May you know that Jesus, the God made man, is the message of Christmas: He has come to dwell with us and show us how to live life to the full.