There’s no question that 2020 has been a tough year. Many great images have encapsulated it, including one I shared around Halloween, humorous new hymns for the seasons, and an image I saw recently on social media (and now have lost—2020?!), of a decorated Christmas tree chewed down by an artfully placed toy beaver. While I appreciate the lightheartedness of many messages about 2020, I thought I would spend at least part of this Advent season reflecting on the fact that many people found Jesus and his messages to be challenging too.

The idea arose a few weeks ago as I was writing some daily reflections for These Days, which will be published next August. One of the assigned scripture passages was John 6:56–69, which has Jesus telling his followers, “Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them” and “Does this offend you? . . . It is the spirit that gives life; the flesh is useless.” I can well imagine many in the crowd being confused, horrified, even gagging, then taking their friends or young kids and saying, “That’s enough! I’m outta here!”

Scripture is clear that there were many people who did: “Because of this many of his disciples turned back and no longer went about with him.” And Jesus didn’t go chasing after them. Which leads me to believe that truly living as Jesus taught us is not for everyone. Sure, anyone can go to church on Sunday (well, until COVID-19 anyway!), follow along with the hymns and the prayers, and walk out saying, “I’m a Christian.” But to truly follow Jesus means a lot more, and most of us, frankly, would find it pretty darn difficult. Staying faithful can definitely be challenging at times.

Consider these messages from Jesus:

“You want to follow me? You do realize I don’t have anywhere to sleep at night, right? Do you like camping?”

“Sell everything and give the money to the poor—and yes, I mean everything.”

“I’m headed up to Jerusalem, where the powerful religious leaders—yes, religious leaders—will arrest and torture me, then get the Romans to kill me. Wanna come along for the ride?”

Over two thousand years of repetition and reinterpretation, we seem to have lost the radical sense of these messages. We prefer the cute, quiet baby Jesus in the manger. He doesn’t say uncomfortable things or make radical demands of us.

So, as Christians enter a new church year and the season of Advent (and look forward to leaving 2020 behind!), I invite your honest reflection:

  • If you’re Christian, what kind of Christian are you, really? Would Jesus recognize you as his follower?
  • If you’re not Christian, what do you think of these words of Jesus?
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