Sunday, December 24, 2006

Christmas and the Search for Significance

You've got big dreams? You want fame? Well, fame costs. And right here is where you start paying. With sweat. --Fame

In the future everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes.--Andy Warhol

Everyone can be super! And when everyone's super... no one will be. --The Incredibles
You don't understand. I coulda had class. I coulda been a contender. I coulda been somebody. --On the Waterfront

I read recently that over half of bloggers say they blog for themselves, not for an audience. I have a really hard time believing that. You don't need online web space to have a journal; all you need is a blank book and a pen. Or if you'd rather type, a Word file will do. I think that even if we don't care about having a large readership, most of us posting into cyberspace are trying, at some level, to etch our own "Kilroy was here" into the ether. We hope that there is at least one kindred soul out there somewhere who "gets us." We want to "be somebody." Our whole culture is saturated with an irrational fascination with celebrity. Why else would anyone care about the verbal slugfest going on between Rosie O'Donnell and Donald Trump?

Some years ago, a friend recommended the book The Search for Significance to me. It discusses the ubiquitous need we have to be recognized in the eyes of others, and the solution to the dilemma in recognizing God's investing us with worth by creating us in His image and by giving His Son to redeem us. I liked it in many ways, although frankly that insight, by itself, doesn't seem to remove the appetite to "be special" in the eyes of other people.

And it is in this context that I reflect on the birth of our Savior. We tend to discuss the "humble" birth of Jesus in a sort of sweet and sentimental way. We use quaint and obsolete words like "manger" to avoid saying that Jesus was laid in an animals' feeding trough. We talk about Mary and Joseph being "poor," and conceive of that as being modest working class, without dealing with the reality of the struggle for survival that poverty entails. More to the point, we forget about the total obscurity that someone like Jesus would have lived in. The details of "One Solitary Life" are very true: Jesus never wrote a book, never led an army, never traveled more than 300 miles from where he was born. He was, at most, a working-class laborer, the (apparent) son of a working-class laborer, and an itinerant preacher, among an oppressed, conquered people at the outskirts of the Roman Empire. By the standards of the intellectuals of the day, the Jews would have been considered an uncouth, barbaric people. Jesus had a brief popular ministry among them, which ended up getting him into a conflict with some of their religious authorities over some obscure points of their religious dogma. So they trumped up some charges and handed him over to the Governor, who had him executed in order to avoid a riot. He died the death of a criminal, in a humiliating fashion, the Romans' favorite object lesson on What Happens to Those Who Dare Oppose the Empire.

And other than some odd stories his followers began telling a few days after the execution, that was it. God could have sent his Son to the political capital, Rome, or the intellectual centers of Athens or Alexandria. Jesus could have been somebody. He could have been world-famous. Satan offered him just that at one point. But he lived his whole life in virtual obscurity, and if his followers hadn't written about him, no one would know that he had ever existed. It wasn't necessary for him to be known, or liked, or admired, or any of the other things that most of us crave. He came to die for us, and he also set an example for us. "Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus," Paul writes to the Philippians (2:5),and goes on to outline Jesus' humility to the point of death and his subsequent exaltation by the Father.

So as we celebrate Jesus' birth and recall the events surrounding the Incarnation, let's recall Jesus' willingness to be one of us--even to the point of being a nobody. Let's take note of all the "nobodies" that cross our paths, and remember that "whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me" (Matt. 25:40).


  1. Keith,

    Do you think blogging is more about a person wanting to leave their mark...or more about trying to connect with others who are thinking about the same things (either pro or con)?

    One of the reasons I enjoy blogs (and before them, discussion lists) is that not very many of the people I see week in and week out want to discuss the same things I do. I enjoy them as people, but there are not as many conversation threads that overlap.

    Just curious what you're thinking..


  2. I definitely agree, Jennifer. A lot of it is about trying to connect up with people who have similar interests. I still don't understand people who say they don't blog for an audience, but maybe that's just about the way people hear/respond to poll questions.

    In my own case, there is most certainly an element of frustrated ambition involved. I was a "gifted child" and always thought I'd get a Ph.D. and teach in a college. Life took a different turn, and my circumstances are humbling. So the would-be theologian in me gets just a touch of a workout here.

  3. Keith,

    Some of the most effective theologians I have known are amatures, working through issues just for the love of it. :-)


  4. Ive enjoyed your blogs this holiday season - very thought provoking