Sunday, December 30, 2007

New Year, Same Stuff

Hebrews 2: 10-18

I’m old enough to remember New Coke. Some of you are too. Remember in the 80’s how Coke decided that they needed to improve the recipe of the drink they’d dominated the market in for so many years? No one knows why—maybe Pepsi was starting to gain on them. Anyway, they did adjust the recipe, the art on the cans and bottles was tweaked ever so slightly, and a very big marketing push was started.

And it sank like a rock. Quickly, Coke re-introduced the old recipe as “Coke Classic”, and recovered. I think it still says “Coke Classic” on the can, though the new Coke has long since disappeared.

Sometimes it happens like that. Once, one of my favorite football teams, the San Francisco 49ers, decided the time had come to change the logo on the side of the helmet. They wanted to go from the red, gold, and black "SF" inside the oval to “49ers” in some odd, jagged lettering. There was one press conference where they introduced it, and the outcry was so strong against the change, even among the press at the conference itself, that they never implemented it. Eagles fans would have done the same thing if they had wanted to take the wings off the helmet. I expect that fans of the Rams, Vikings, and Seahawks would have reacted the same way. Have they ever tried to put a Steelers logo on both sides?

Innovation isn’t always good. Sometimes what is old is precisely that because it can’t be improved on. Cast iron pans for cornbread are still used just like the cowboys did. Canning is still done in glass and with hot water and paraffin.

I do understand the urge to change things, though—if you were raised with something, then it makes sense to me to explore different ways of doing things. And sometimes innovation does make things better. Bill Monroe took old time mountain music, added jazz, and invented bluegrass.

When we talk about Jesus, we can say a lot of things about him that people 100 years ago couldn’t say. We know more about his diet than we did then, we can guess more accurately about what he might have been thinking because we know more about how humans think, and astronomy can tell us more accurately what the star might have been.

But some things really can’t be improved. 40 years ago, the talk was all about how God had died. No one is really arguing that anymore. Now, some people suggest that Jesus was the illegitimate son of a Roman soldier and a young victim named Mary. I expect in 40 years that that discussion will also have fallen by the wayside, too. Innovation is good, because it is always asking questions in order to learn more, but in theology and the things of the faith, the basic answers always come out in the end. That's how we know they are true.

We shouldn’t be afraid of any questions that may be asked, no matter how much they make us uncomfortable, tense, or feel as if they are out of bounds. Slavery would never have been abolished if not for new ways of thinking. Women ministers would never have been allowed if not for innovation.

In fact, it should be easy for us to explore anything that is a little off the wall, because we have a rock-hard foundation.

The author of Hebrews knows this, and is telling it to their audience throughout the letter. For them, the rock hard foundation is that Christ is for us, and for all. He is connected both to God and to us. He is considered the highest of high priests, and in our passage today, is fully human, so that we may understand that God understands us.

There is nothing innovative or new about that. Hebrews is an old text, and the author is already reminding people of what they already know, not telling them something new.

Verse 16 talks about how Jesus didn't come to help the angels, but the descendants of Abraham. The author recalls Psalm 8, where it says that God has created humanity a little lower than God, and just a little lower than the angels, presumably. There's a song that basically asks the question; if we are created a little lower than the angels, then why do we have so much trouble making ends meet? Why do we work so hard, and sacrifice so much? Why do we, to borrow the image from an ad on the radio, sometimes have to choose between diapers and tuna? If we are but a little lower than God, shouldn't this all be easy?

Apparently not. And Jesus' role is to be with us in our struggle, knowing full well what struggle is. No, he may not have needed to buy new snow tires. He may not have had to struggle with a learning disability. But he was the child of a mother who got pregnant before she was married. He may or may not have been the son of the man who claimed to be his father. Growing up the son of a carpenter may have been comfortable, or it may have been hard as work was spotty. And of course, he died in one of the most painful ways humans ever devised to kill each other. Human struggle is not news to Jesus. His humanity is what connects us to him more than how great he is as the son of God.

To put it into another term, though he was the son of God, though he was present at the creation of the universe as "the word", because he was raised as a human being by ordinary human beings, he did have "that common touch". And it's not even to say that he learned anything--if he is the Son of God, and God as well, then he knew already what being human was like. But living through it was, for us, to understand that he knew. We saw him live in the flesh, and that is the basis of our love, not just our worship and adoration.

He "gets" us. There is nothing new about that. The church claims that Jesus is both fully human, flesh and blood, and fully divine, the Son of God and the Word, the Logos. And while we don't necessarily understand the mechanics of that, how it works, we know it to be true. It has been a basic belief ever since he was alive, and 2007 years of questioning and innovation hasn't changed that. We still believe it now.

This is the last week of the old year. We'll be seeing pictures of an old man with a beard wearing a sash that says 2007 soon, if you haven't already. Jesus will be in the New Year as he was in the old. It's a New Year, but it's the same stuff. It's a New Year, but we are carrying our same stuff into it, as well; our same bills, our same problems, our same "baggage". And Jesus, in the Holy Spirit, will be walking with us, just the same as yesterday, last year, and as he has throughout our lives.

My prayer for you this year is that you trust him more than you did last year. That you can stop and listen more. That you find or carve out silence, away from radios and ipods and Nintendo and screaming kids and just listen. Don't worry about flowery language when you pray. Just say what's on your mind, and then just Listen.

He'll still be there, just the same as he's always been.

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