You read that right.
Go ahead and skip church this Christmas.
But not for the reasons you might think, and certainly not for the reasons the American Atheists group are pushing in their new billboard campaign.
Here’s the thing: if you’re looking for a Savior exalted by trees and tradition and carols and stage lights and ground fog and Silent Night with candle wax dripping onto your hand, you might miss Him.
Oh, I know what some are thinking.
How could I, a Christian (and more than that, a Jesus-follower) propose people skip church on Christmas? Why, people might be there the first time in their lives! They might be saved then and there! Am I a heretic or a blasphemer? Am I a fraud? A troublemaker? Am I just plain nuts?
Maybe (and I welcome the accusations).
But I’ve been troubled for a while now by what mankind has made of religion.
I know from firsthand experience if a person goes to church, they may be mesmerized, captivated, and swept off their emotional feet by all the shine and shimmer, but eventually the church will disappoint them.
Because the church is not what saves us.
Of course the church and clergy and the ministry have been (and yes, I believe continue to be) wonderful messengers of The Gospel, and well-oiled machines in many cases. Heck, I consider my writing to be a ministry, and I pray through every word as I write my novels. But men and machines (and writers), they break. And if we put our trust and expectations in them, we will break too.
So yeah, skip church this Christmas if you’re looking for Jesus.
After all, the folks who were looking for the Messiah 2,000 years ago expected a warrior…a sword-wielding, emotionally captivating, shiny and larger-than-life solution to their problems. They never considered the G-d of the universe would show up insignificant and wailing in a filthy stable to an outcast and out-of-wedlock teenager, and from the Tribe of Judah to boot–not the expected, revered, proper Tribe of Levi. All the priests and the powerful and respected and legitimate came from the Tribe of Levi, after all. The Tribe of Judah, well, it was a *little* lackluster, by comparison.
Wouldn’t it make sense, then, that if one is really looking for the Savior today, He might not be apparent in the worldly ways we’re attracted to?
I don’t begrudge the church. I don’t. I absolutely adore the particular brick-and-mortar one that we attend. I believe the church is where Christians must go to learn to be disciples and to be accountable and to be encouraged and strengthened–as well as to encourage and strengthen. I believe church is a place where the lost can go to find Him, through the love of other believers.
It’s just that if Jesus were here today, I’m quite sure He would not be at a pulpit or on a stage. He would be among out-of-wedlock teenagers and doubters and homeless and aged and forgotten. He would be in the hospital rooms of patients who never have visitors, and the alleyways where prostitutes weep while shivering and waiting for another john. He would be sitting at the table with the man who smells abominable at the soup kitchen. He would be with the shopper out buying *one more thing* to attempt to make a *perfect* Christmas and with the atheists busying themselves with blasphemous billboards, because He loves them, too, and maybe even more because He is the Hound of Heaven after those who are most lost.
If we believe Jesus is unchanging as He says, then we have to recognize He still appears to us in the tsa’ar, צָעִיר , the Hebrew word used in Micah’s prophecy to describe the small, the ignoble, the unlikely and the overlooked.
So where should we go?
And where should we look for Him?
Try the old man with the walker you push past while reaching for a can of cranberry sauce at the grocery. Consider the lonely girl at the coffee shop trying to hide her tears behind a cup of latte. Maybe the handicapped young man who talks too much while he’s bagging your groceries. Soup kitchens and homeless shelters, women’s shelters, jails. Look for Him in the single mom and the neighbor who lost her spouse and the man with the sunken eyes working at the gas station on Christmas Eve.
Look for Him where no one else is looking.
We might just be surprised by what we find.
“But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah,
who are too little to be among the clans of Judah,
from you shall come forth for me
one who is to be ruler in Israel,
whose coming forth is from of old,
from ancient days.” ~Micah 5:2 (ESV)