In this final Advent post, I will take yet another tangent which will likely be even more unpopular than those in the preceding two weeks. It’s unpopular because it is largely incomprehensible. People are quick to dismiss aspects of the truth which they do not understand or don’t want to understand. Also, we see everyday how people reject aspect of the truth which subverts their own narrative which shapes their identity.
Last week I revealed how two opposing truth claims can resolve themselves in a transcendent understanding of the truth. The example I used was that of two people on opposite sides of the earth arguing if it was day or night. In this example, a person who holds “religiously committed” to their tribal grasp of truth (i.e. one side) is said in scripture to be “under a mask” (upo-crito), or to be trapped, lost, or imprisoned in “falsehood” (pseudo) or what we might call “deceived” (those who believe a lie/falsehood). The most obvious sign of deception is that of “self-deception” (i.e. not knowing who one is).
Yes, self-deception and Christmas are related.
I know I’m diving right into the deep end here, so please, let’s put on our floaties and make sure we understand the ontological (being) implications here because this is my most desperate attempt to awaken us to the advent of Truth in the midst of our modern lives.
I’ve shown over the last few weeks that the Advent is, to paraphrase C.S. Lewis, the moment we exchange the truth as it is for us, for the Truth as it actually is. A constant theme in my work is to point out that Jesus’s ministry was not to start a new institutionalized religion. Scripture clearly reveals that his work was subversive to all institutional powers because these “principalities and powers” were given power, by their constituents to provide an identity or name them. Any person who derives their identity from any institution (i.e. government, religion, family, tribe, team, vocation, clan, etc…) and not from their Maker, is living a false self (psuedonym), or putting on a face that is not their own (i.e. living under a mask) or a hypocrite. Jesus’ message of salvation, was not conversion to a religion, but to awaken to the Truth of who each of us “truly” is, hidden in Christ, found in God. Salvation then is our true identity, or to find our ontological center of being, in God our Maker.
Christmas and self-deception are very related.
The Advent of Christ comes to all people who have ever lived “and now is“ presently being placed before each of us every minute of every day in every situation so that not a single soul can go through life and miss God. The reason so many in the world claim they cannot see God, nor have belief in God, is that religion (traditional and otherwise) has been successful at its work of obscuring the Truth or propagating the deception further. Thus the most lost a person can be, is to be religiously loyal to their preferred institution. The religious mind is the most hypocritical mind.
Throughout the New Testament, this ontological truth is depicted in Jesus’ interactions with the religious leaders of both Religion (Judaism) and Government (Rome), what we would call “Church and State.” These are historically the biggest arms of propaganda in all of human history and they have the greatest power to “name” or “marginalize” people. When Institutional religion spoke to Jesus, they were always trying to scold, or correct him back into their tradition, or rules, or framework so that he could be named just as they were. Being lost is to prefer uniformity instead of unity. In John 5 there is a long discourse with religious leaders about “Who Jesus is” (ontology) and he strongly rejects the fake ID offered by his religion and instead tries to reconnect them to their true identity in God…but of course it doesn’t work… it rarely does.
“Not that the testimony that I receive is from man, but I say these things so that you may be saved.” (John 5:24)
We see in this snapshot that the Advent comes to all people, but the hypocrite (the fake ID) cannot and will not accept it. The immense love of God is such that it will turn the volume up to those who close their ears to hearing the voice which would call all of us out of our three sided prisons. Freedom (salvation) is to leave our persona (mask or who we think we are) and walk out into the freedom of our true identity (children of God, God’s image bearers). It is the “telios” (authentic, real, true, perfect, trajectory). It is to finally see our true selves for who we are (“we are both worse than we thought possible, and more loved than we can imagine”-Tim Keller). We are the dialectic of Spirit and Flesh.
Our inner hypocrite hates this truth. He or she desperately needs a lie. Without the fictional narrative constantly inoculating us, the hypocrite will die as the true person regains their power which they have abdicated to the institution for so long. The more we insist that we are our religion, our politics, our tax bracket, our zip code, our vocation, our family, our hobby, our skill, the more we reject the face of the Advent. The more we hide in our self deception, the illusion of who we are, the more we prove the Advent is pressing upon us moment by moment. The hypocrite is that part of us which clings to the temporary and fights for more fiction.
The Advent comes to us all in and as our very life. To some our suffering is enough to wake us up. To those who religiously uphold the institutional power which gives them their mask, the Advent of Christ is that force which drives them in pride to double down, dig in their heels, and to clutch to the walls of their prison where the drama continues just a little bit longer.
“But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. For you neither enter yourselves nor allow those who would enter to go in. Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel across sea and land to make a single proselyte, and when he becomes a proselyte, you make him twice as much a child of hell as yourselves.” (Matthew 23:14-15)
The Advent has come, is coming, and now is. If we live our lives in self-deception, we create a hell for ourselves and others because we cannot see our way out of it. By “doing the best we can” we invariably compound our state of deception and potentiate our despair. This is what it means to reject the Truth or to live in a state of wrath. It is to be blind and unable to “see” all the while we think we are seeing. Until the Advent comes into our line of sight, we remain blind, deaf, and in one sense, dead.
“The Father loves the Son and has given all things into his hand. Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.” (John 3:35-36)
“Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life. Truly, truly, I say to you, an hour is coming, and is now here, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live.” (John 5:24-25)
The one final point I want to make is that if you made it this far and you find yourself rejecting these words, please know that I am not saying this as a threat, nor do I believe Jesus said them from such a tone-deaf posture. It may be that your life has been such that your pain and suffering and confusion has created an impenetrable callous which cannot be removed on this side of the grave. Fear not. While you may not be willing to deal with God in this life on your terms, you will, after death, deal with God on God’s terms. Again this is not a threat. This is a joyous moment where death is not the end. Your death will be the moment the callous is separated from you (the Real, True you). This separation, which will come to all souls is called the “krinos” or Judgement. It is the surgical precision to remove all falsehood (removal of the mask) from the true you. Everything you clung to in life that was false, all you did under the false name, all you thought you were, is burnt, consumed, and you will finally find yourself in God from where you came, separated (judged), from your pseudonym, falsehood, hypocrisy, or false self, fictional life.
“If anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire.” (1 Corinthians 3:15)
“But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion (literally translated: that part of them) will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death.” (Revelation 21:8)
Why wait for the separation? Why hold on to a fake ID? Why not follow Jesus advice to “Become authentic as your Father in heaven is authentic.” (Matthew 5:48) The Advent has come, The Advent is here. It’s not found in religion. It’s not found in any institution. It’s not in a holiday, nor any pageantry, nor a family gather. Christmas today is anything but sober-minded seeing of our ontological state. The Advent is the voice found in the midst of it all which subverts all other claims upon us. May we all take off our masks, forsaking everything else, and find ourselves in Christ. Merry Christmas.