When I was asked to write a guest Christmas post for you all, the instructions were clear – it had to smell like Christmas. I agreed – but let’s skip the angels, manger, wise men and camels and get to the real smell of Christmas. Darrell Bock in his book Recovering the Real Lost Gospel writes, “The gospel…is not about avoiding something, but gaining someone precious” (emphasis mine). That takes me into the heart of Christmas – and Jesus’ invitation in Luke 9:23.
And he said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.
First, Jesus tells us to “deny” ourselves. My initial interpretation of this always leans toward asceticism, austerity, starkness – interpreted meaning my life is going to be filled with unmet desires, boredom and rather drab. And jealousy of those who don’t deny themselves. The good news is that it does not mean this. The Greek word arneomai means “refuse to follow.” Who do I refuse to follow? Myself. Stop being independent…because if I am my life will be filled with unmet desires. It will be drab. Boring. A disappointment. It will be like the prodigal son who thought independence offered the perfect life.
Then Jesus says “take up your cross.” I have always interpreted this based more on movies than the Scripture. Movies always show the cross-beam as unbelievably heavy. A huge burden. Why would he be telling me here to carry a heavy burden if in Matthew 11:30 Jesus tells me his burden is light?
Hermeneutics tells us we need to understand “take up your cross” the way the original audience did. To the original hearers, seeing an individual carrying their cross meant that person was on a one way journey. And the imagery also included a pathway lined with crowds jeering and criticizing the soon to be crucified criminal.
Lastly Jesus says “follow me.” Why would Jesus say this to me? I think it’s because he wants me to be with him. And maybe even more significantly, he wants to be with me! As Darrell Bock referred to, Jesus wants me to experience an incredibly precious relationship.
Putting all this together – what do we hear Jesus saying? For me it sounds like this; “Don’t be fooled into thinking you independently know what is most fulfilling for you. Instead, come on a one way journey with me and don’t let those who criticize you cause you to turn around. Follow me because I want you to be with me, and I want to be with you. And in this relationship of ours, you will find life just as the Father and I have planned it for you – and nothing could be better.”
For me, this is the grand invitation of Christmas. From Jesus to me—and to you.