Good News Of Great Joy

From “Jesus Was a Liberal:
Reclaiming Christianity for All”
by Scotty McLennan, b.1948

The essence of Christianity, as shared by conservatives and liberals alike, is love.

Conservatives often argue that liberal Christians don‘t take truth seriously enough: biblical truth, the truth about how God rules and the truth of Jesus Christ as the divine way, truth and life. Yet, all Christians are clear about the fundamental proclamation that God is love. Jesus is the human incarnation of that divine love. Here's where we need to begin for any understanding of the Christian life.

The radical kind of love that Jesus embodied and taught, loving even one’s enemies, also makes Christianity unique among the major faith traditions of the world. University of California (Berkeley) professor Huston Smith is the author of “The World's Religions,” a best-selling book that has chapters on Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam, Judaism and Christianity, among others. As the author examines Christianity comparatively with other religions, he finds that its unique contribution, the essence of its good news, is a new and different kind of love as preached and practised by Jesus and ultimately by many of his followers.

Smith points out that this kind of love dramatically reduced Christians' fears, including their fear of death. It also released Christians from the crippling confines of ego. They were freed to find the joy of their full selves after letting go of their small. everyday selves.

I can remember as a child in Sunday school thinking that the Christian life sounded pretty burdensome. “Take up your cross." “Give away all that you have." “Sacrifice.” “Follow the straight and narrow way.” Basically. it didn’t seem like a lot of fun. Did Christians ever laugh and play? Did they ever just hang out? Did they ever do anything l'd now call frivolous or indulgent?

A biblical commentary I use articulates my childhood feelings in this rather elegant way: “The Christian mode of life must be an intolerably dull and boring affair, a repressing of what everyone wants to do, a forcing of oneself to comply with what nobody could wish or choose, a shivering with chattering teeth in the gloom of a chilly monastic twilight.”

But that's not it at all!

It took me a while, but later in life, I stumbled upon these wonderful words of Jesus: “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.“

Now you're talking! A breath of fresh air! The abundant life, not the life of renunciation. Out of the cold gloom into the warm sunlight. Maybe laughter and playfulness and fun have a role after all. So Christianity took on a completely different cast for me. I began seeing things in terms of the joy of unconditional love that Jesus represented. I started experiencing holy days as holidays or occasions for celebration, not just obligation. It became a kick to sing in church and to listen to the magnificence of the organ. I came to delight in the sense of friendship and community I could have in church.

Christmas was the holiday that epitomised celebration and warm human relations for me.

In college, I heard anew the biblical story of an angel announcing to shepherds out in the field: “I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people.”

As I came to understand, that means for all of us: for those of us rushing about desperately trying to get ready for the winter holidays, for those overwhelmed by the commercialism of the season, for those who can‘t find enough time for families and friends, for those who experience this as one of the most stressful times of the year. for those who have lost jobs in a sour economy, for those who despair of peace and justice ever coming in a world filled with terrorism and oppression.

So, what’s the “good news of great joy” for Christians?

Here’s what I came to understand. First of all. it‘s the momentous news that, through Jesus, God is seen to have entered into the daily life of this workaday world and redeemed it. Everything is thrown into a new light with God represented in this particular human form. Exactly how God has redeemed or saved the world through Jesus, I learned, has been debated by theologians for millennia. For me, though, it primarily came to mean that, through a new kind of divine love, all of our evil deeds are ultimately forgivable and we’re given a vision of loving-kindness as our ultimate meaning and purpose in life.

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