“The most important thing that I want to teach my kids is that no matter what they do, God is always there for them and doesn’t hold their failures against them.” This statement is an on-the-one-hand-on-the-other-hand truth. It’s certainly crucial to teach children that God’s love is unqualified. On the other hand, it’s crucial to teach them that their actions have consequences and God can’t rescue them from those consequences without obviating their freedom and ability to love: without denying them humanity. Our actions make a difference for good and ill. God’s love doesn’t change that.
The reactions of Simeon and Anna to the infant Jesus at the Jerusalem temple make very clear that Jews expected concrete, practical accomplishments from the Messiah. God had promised much more than a nice guy who would reassure them of their place in his heart. The Messiah’s role was to change the world. If he didn’t do that, he wasn’t the Messiah.
From its earliest days our community’s faith was that Jesus was the Messiah. He had changed the world. He hadn’t done everything himself, as Jews assumed he would. He had revealed God’s power in us to bring peace and justice to the world not with horses and swords but with loving service and the refusal to blind ourselves to the presence of God in even those who oppose us.
It’s easy to domesticate Jesus. We can put him at the service of social tranquility and smoothing out the bumps in the status quo. We can – but doing so eviscerates the reality of Jesus, the Messiah. As Simeon put it, Jesus was “destined for the rise and fall of many.” He did so because he challenged all he met to enlist in or desert God’s future of a just world.
Being Christian has consequences for the world. Our lives too are destined for the rise and fall of many. If people aren’t moved to choose God’s future when they encounter us, we aren’t living the Spirit of the Messiah.