catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 9, Num 23 :: 2010.12.17 — 2010.12.30


Hello, Jesus!

About fifteen years ago, I was working a city farmers market with a teenager from church.  I didn’t know her that well, but we were making small talk and I asked if she had plans with her friends that weekend.  She told me she was grounded, because her mom had caught her singing along with a song that was high on the pop charts that season, Joan Osborne’s “One of Us.”  I knew the song, and was surprised that her mom labeled it blasphemy, because the words contemplate whether God could live among us as a human person.   The Christmas celebration is a remembrance of the day he actually began doing so as Jesus of Nazareth for a lifetime and beyond.  But then I recalled the very first time I heard the song.   Initially, I too had felt uncomfortable with the idea of God among us as a sloppy stranger riding the city bus on a fall day in 1995.  He may have pitched his tent with us once, but that job is all over with, and what would be the point of mixing with us anonymously now that he has overcome the curse of death and the grave and received his place of honor? 

In some of my favorite stories which include a royal character, the princess is not presented in her full glory or royal identity until very near the end of the plot.  Or the king exits his realm quite publicly after handing over the keys of the kingdom to an interim ruler, then returns to mingle anonymously in order to get a closer look at the actual attitudes and situations of his citizens.  One of the most exciting tales in the collection of Robin Hood legends is the story of King Richard coming back to his land undercover to figure out which of his subjects is part of a plot to dethrone the absent king.  My favorite Shakespeare comedy, Measure for Measure, features a duke who prominently leaves his authority in the hands of two trustworthy deputies, re-enters the city quietly under cloak, inserts himself into the midst of a thickening plot, then reveals his true identity at the moment of unavoidable crisis.  The current reality TV show called “Undercover Boss” gives a modern spin to this veiled royalty narrative by embedding corporate executives as new hires in the lowlier ranks of their own organizations.

The last that we all heard about the location of Jesus Christ is that he was raised bodily from the dead, and then ascended bodily into the heavens to be glorified by and reign with his Father until he returns again.  He has never stopped being fully human as well as fully God.  Of course his Spirit is present with us at all times, but where is his actual physical self?  Is he sitting on a distant throne constantly for all these centuries since?  I think he might be the sort of king who would take an interest in coming back among his human family for long or short visits in very humble situations or unlikely disguises, and I admit I often make guesses about what masks or roles he might try out.  As a child I pictured him descending from the skies on a very fast escalator, obvious to all from the first sight that he was Jesus coming back.  But these days, I imagine his return as a story of someone who takes off his veil after months or years of walking around among us being treated or even mistreated as a nondescript person.  Because of such an unexpected disguise, there will be widespread disorientation and perplexity when the unveiling happens.

Where is the most unlikely geographical or social setting we would expect to find a king these days?  What type of person would be barely recognizable as royalty?  Which identity traits would scandalize and horrify those of us ethical or proper religious types who invest our hopes in our moral self-actualization?   Which would bring great joy and relief to the marginalized or bewildered heathen types who haven’t been able to construct everyday reality into a clean dichotomy of moral or immoral actions and the corresponding rewards and punishments?

The gospel story of King Jesus’ birth in the smelliest corner of Bethlehem is not just exciting because it already happened, but also because it gives clues about his potential choices of identity and setting when he decides it is time for his long-awaited second coming.  Has he already, since that day of ascension, made entrances into human history, choosing each of those times not to be recognized?  Could he be among us somewhere this month living as a child in Gary, Indiana?  Might he be in a rented studio space writing a script for a play?  Is he building custom staircases in Toronto?   Might he be gaining local notoriety on the Seattle nightlife circuit as a burlesque beauty?  Is he cooking rice in a refugee camp in a country I would never consider visiting?  When will he come out in his fullest form and who would want to assassinate him this time around for blasphemy against the pure and austere otherness of God?  How will he reorient human cognition after his coming-out in such a way that we all can’t help but acknowledge him as the one God who is also authentically one of us?

In 2001, I worked in the office of a small special events production company in Chicago.  During that time, I helped my boss Ava plan a semi-annual banquet and fashion show for a direct-sales women’s clothing retailer called Weekenders.  The sales reps came from all over the country to attend the banquet, and the fashion show would open with a few song and dance numbers to build up the enthusiasm of the eager banqueters.  As Ava discussed and planned the elements of the show with stage production crews, models and dancers, one term was often repeated: The Reveal.  It was my first experience of hearing the verb “reveal” regularly used as a proper noun. The whole point of the evening program and the central focus of all the months of our event planning was The Reveal, that four-minute segment when the models would come out wearing the handful of brand new outfits that would be available for sale in the coming season.  Ava could tell I thought all this planning seemed a little over the top for some articles of clothing.  “You just wait and see, Jessica. The whole crowd will go crazy when The Reveal happens. They’ve been waiting six months for this.”  And just as Ava promised, the sales reps filled the ballroom with screams and standing ovations when the moment came.  

That term, The Reveal, always comes to mind now when I consider the questions of eschatology.  Where did Jesus physically arrive after he ascended?  Where is he right now?  What is he doing now?  What is he waiting for?  What does he expect of us in the time being?  What will his occasion of return be like? So many of those questions will be answered in that anticipated event: The Reveal.  I’d like to be in the general area when he chooses his big coming-out moment as God With Us To Stay and I hope to have as much enthusiasm as those Weekenders women had when the spotlight trained on that yellow boucle blazer for its own emergence on stage.

Just to be prepared, I’ve been learning the words to a joyful song of greeting that is sung when a beloved person comes down the staircase in full regalia after a long absence, this time staying for good.   It is fun to fantasize and guess different scenarios of Jesus Christ’s Reveal, but this is one daydream that I have promoted to the status of prediction, just because it satisfies my imagination and longing so delightfully.  Some variation of this Jerry Herman song will be whole-heartedly sung around the world, jazz trumpets and all, on that great day when our grandest Matchmaker returns to gather all things in reconciliation to one another:

Hello, Dolly
Well, hello Dolly
It’s so nice to have you back where you belong
You’re looking swell, Dolly

We can tell, Dolly
You’re still glowing, you’re still crowing
You’re still going strong
We feel the room swaying
And the band’s playing 
One of our old favorite songs from way back when…

So here’s my hat, fellas
I’m staying where I’m at, fellas
Dolly’ll never go away again!

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