“Land of Zebulun and land of Naphtali,
the Way of the Sea, beyond the Jordan,
Galilee of the Gentiles—
the people living in darkness
have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of the shadow of death
a light has dawned.”
I’ve been meditating of late how Jesus of Nazareth is truly the Savior from the margins. He was from an oppressed nation under Roman domination. Nazareth was in the remote north, far from the religious center of Jerusalem. He was likely of darker complexion. From a human point of view, his conception seemed questionable. The circumstances of his birth were “lowly.” The first to pay him homage were shepherds, people who lived on society’s margins. His early years were as a refugee, his parents fleeing to Egypt to save his life. His was in the building trades, working as a carpenter.
I’ve read a number of books by people on the margins this year–people of color, women who have been abused, even in the church, climate refugees, the poor. It strikes me Jesus would have much in common with these people, and it was for such as them, those living on the margins in the land of Galilee that he came, light into the darkness.
In one sense, I’m one of those, apart from our shared humanity, with whom Jesus had the least in common. The wonder of it all is that he came even for me. The truth is I am no more deserving and perhaps less than these. What has become increasingly clear is that I don’t get to remake him into a middle class, educated, American, white guy. This reminds me of a book of poems from my Jesus movement days, “Good Old Plastic Jesus” by Ernest Larsen, which is about all the ways we try to re-make Jesus. Instead, he came to those in darkness and dying to remake them, to bring light. So I find myself, especially in this tumultuous year of protests and pandemic, asking, “how would Jesus come and remake me?”
For much of my life I’ve been taught that those on the margins are “them,” the “other,” and to be feared and guarded against. I like to think of Jesus as with me. What a shattering thought that Jesus may likely be with “them,” that he is the “other.” One thing I’ve noticed about Jesus though. He doesn’t exclude. Sinners, tax collectors, women of questionable reputation are all at his table. Pharisees and religious leaders are as well, when they choose to be, and outside when they choose that. Usually they are outside to distance themselves from “them.” When I distance myself from others, I distance myself from Jesus. Then who is in the light of Jesus, and who in the darkness?
At the end of this year of protests, politics, and pandemics, I am weary of those who would separate us and them and make me choose. I want to choose to be where Jesus is, bringing light into darkness rather than cursing it. And I need Jesus to come and shine his light into all the hidden, dark places in me, the places where I still divide the world into us and them, the enlightened and the benighted.
Come, Lord Jesus and bring light into our darkness!