Friday, December 30, 2011

Let Jesus Occupy Your Heart

This Christmastide, now that Christ is here, I've transitioned from thinking about how to make room for the Christ child in my heart to thinking about what it is to have Jesus in my heart. My first thought was that if Jesus is in my heart, that is, occupying a space (the same space I created during Advent when I made room for him), does that not mean that Jesus is occupying my heart? It's a cute phrase, and it can be used in the sense that internet memes re-use the same material in creative ways for humor. But what if I was serious about using the word "occupy?" What if I wanted to use it in the same sense that the Occupy Together movement uses it? What would that really mean?

Well, when the Occupy Together movement began using the word "occupy," they meant "march aggressively into another's territory by military force for the purposes of occupation." In reality, what those in the camps were doing was more like "be present in; be inside of," "to inhabit," and "to engage... wholly" (definitions found here). By engaging the culture and one another, and by covenanting to live together and be present with one another, the participants of the movement took ordinary actions and made them political.

Likewise, allowing Christ to occupy my heart is also a political action. Now, when I use the word "political," I don't mean modern American partisanship. I'm using it in the classical sense of the word. Bryan P. Stone explains it well in his book, Evangelism After Christendom:
“To speak of the church as a polis or to talk about the politics of evangelism may sound strange at first. Most of us are familiar with the word politics in the context of the public life of a nation, where it refers to options such as Democrat or Republican, liberal or conservative. As with that usage, politics here refers to the processes, rules, and skills that help us as a people to understand, order and form our involvements and relations. It likewise has everything to do with power, conflict, change, and authority. Politics originally referred to the shape and organization of the polis and thus to the particular grammar of a people’s common story and life together. As [John Howard] Yoder says, “Anything is political which deals with how people live together in organized ways: how decisions are made and how they are implemented; how work is organized and how its products shared; who controls space, land, freedom of movement; how people are ranked; how offenses are handled”... The church then is not called merely to be political but to be a new and unprecedented politics; not merely in public but as a new and alternative public; not merely in society but as a new and distinct society, a new and extraordinary social existence where enemies are loved, sins are forgiven, the poor are valued, and violence is rejected." (pp. 178-179, emphasis mine)
Stone is suggesting that the politic of the Christian community is an alternative politic to the one employed in our modern American society. Rather than retributive justice, we value restorative justice. Rather than hate and retaliate against our enemies, we love and forgive them. In the Christian politic, the poor are cared for, not forgotten, and swords are beaten into plowshares. When we take the Christian politic seriously and strive to live it, we are bringing about the Kingdom of God on Earth.

What does that have to do with Jesus coming into our hearts? Well, A. P Jones wrote that "to occupy is to be concerned about, to pursue with vigor" something that is important to us, and to do so is our Christian duty. If Jesus is in our heart, then should we not be concerned about the things that concern Jesus himself? Should we not pursue the things that he pursued? If my heart is to be a fitting home for the Christ child, I must pursue the Kingdom of God; I must be concerned with the poor, the downtrodden, the grieving, and with becoming a peacemaker (c.f. Matthew 5, 25; Luke 6). When I concern myself with the kinds of people who concerned Jesus, and pursue the Kingdom of God as he did, I become the kind of person Jesus wants me to be.

Allowing Jesus to occupy my heart means I have to give up my agenda. I have to stop living for my own success, comfort, and convenience. It means I will go out of my way to love those who have been forgotten, ask God's forgiveness for my sins and forgive the sins of others, and become a peacemaker in these times of strife. These are all political actions because they are shaping my Christian community and they are shaping the way I live in that community. Ultimately, these actions shape the entire world around me, as Christ's transforming power radiates out from the Christian community into the world. By letting Jesus into my heart, I am participating in a new politic- a new way of doing things- the Christian way of doing things. I'm making a statement to the world: "I'm doing things God's way!"

As the New Year fast approaches, it's time to evaluate whether we have been doing things my way or God's way. What can we do to let God's Spirit transform us into the kinds of people Jesus wants me to be? How can we let Jesus Occupy our hearts this Christmastide, now, and forever?

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