Thanks to the influence of my father, I grew up listening to artists such as Paul Simon and Jackson Browne, musicians I probably would've never discovered if left to my own devices. These men, while not professing Christians, have written their fair share of music with a "spiritual" theme. (Just listen to Paul Simon's So Beautiful or So What album and you'll know what I mean.) As we head into the Christmas season, one of these songs has been stuck in my head. It's a Christmas song by Jackson Browne entitled "The Rebel Jesus." In the song, Browne identifies himself as "a heathen and a pagan on the side of the rebel Jesus." I love this song, and I love its message, but I don't think Browne fully understands what it means to be "on the side of the rebel Jesus."
The song begins by painting a lovely picture of the Christmas season. As another famous song has said, this is "the most wonderful time of the year," and you can see the change in many people's faces as they go about their business. This does seem to be one of the only times of the year that more than just Christians are "giving thanks for God's graces," as Browne sings. Yet he begins to turn the imagery around as the song continues. Browne begins to show the hypocrisy of such cheer and generosity, seeing as how this attitude seizes the general population only once a year. Giving to the poor goes up exponentially, but as Browne points out in the song, "But if any one of us should interfere in the business of why there are poor, we get the same as the rebel Jesus."
This song is very socially minded, mostly exploring the idea of giving to the poor. It makes a lot of great points about the stark contrast and hypocrisy in what is seen as "the Christmas spirit." And according to Browne, it's all in the name of this rebel whose birth we celebrate at this time of year. However, while Jesus did give particular interest to the poor, the sick, the lower classes, that was not His full message.
I would agree with Jackson Browne that Jesus was a rebel in His time, but in so many more ways than simply giving aid to the poor where He lived. If his message was simply humanitarian, how is it that He is still so well known, coming from such a small portion of the globe? Jesus was completely counter-cultural. Where the world said that you had to earn your way to any sort of eternal rest, Jesus said, "Come to Me." When other leaders would seek to build themselves up, Jesus humbled Himself to the point of death. When most people tend to give to the poor one time a year or when tragedy strikes, Jesus never stopped offering relief. (He brought His message specifically for the poor and weak in order to shame those who are strong and influential.)
I am proud to say that I follow the ultimate rebel, and I would consider myself as part of the Rebellion, waging war against the world of the flesh (I John 2:15-17). But this is not a battle that is fought only one time a year. That is why I appreciate Jackson Browne's "The Rebel Jesus." It is a reminder that our generosity cannot simply appear in the month of December and then retreat for the next 11 months. Generosity is part of developing a holy lifestyle, which should characterize our entire lives as the people of God.
Spread the light of the Gospel this month, and don't let your light fade as we enter into the new year.
A simple servant of the Master.