Today people wear a variety of silicone wristbands to express solidarity with some cause or another. One can still spot the yellow Live Strong band, the pink “breast cancer” band, or the white, “One Campaign,” as well as many other colors and causes. But one of the first wristbands came in almost any color but had the simple four letters on it: WWJD.
It stood, of course, for “What would Jesus do?” Almost as soon as it became popular, people pointed out its shortcomings. “What would Jesus do?” — well, how would we possibly know? How could we know what a first-century Palestinian Jew with minimal formal education, who only lived 30-some years, and seems to have preached publicly for about three and half years. He didn’t write anything down, sometimes misquoted the Hebrew scriptures, and left instructions for his disciples that we a tad vague.
But I think the question, “What would Jesus do?” and the associated questions of “how would he do it, when would he do it, what would he use— all of these really do go to the heart of faith, if our faith is to be living and active. If we say we follow God, with no focus for that following, chances are that before long, we’ll be following an exaggerated image of ourselves, justifying whatever we might do or think according to some deep, “gut sense” of things.
The Gospel for Christmas Day says, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being.” This Christmas, as I think about our world desperately lurching in any direction for hope, for purpose, for direction, I’m reflecting on those words from the Gospel, “All things came into being through him.” And later in the Gospel, this idea is repeated, “He was in the world, and the world came into being through him.” Christ shows us the way to light, to the Creator, and in following Christ, we are adopted and claimed, loved and named, as God’s very own children. And so, somehow, who Christ is and what he does is a part of the design and pattern for creation. And so it becomes the essence of faith to discern WWJD, “What would Jesus do?”
Of course, the question can sound facile and arrogant, if we suppose for a second that Christ’s will is always clear and evident. But especially in Christmas, that question “What would Jesus do” sounds a lot like another question: “What would Jesus want?” And to begin to discover the answer might be a lot like the process we’ve gone through to ask that question about a friend or loved one. We’ve asked it at malls and online sites: “What would this person want? What would make them smile?” Perhaps we ask, “What do they need?” Or if you have a lot of people in your life who are fortunate and have few material needs, we ask, “What might honor or please this person?”
To answer the question, we might do at least three things. We might first look closely at the person, study him or her. And then we might try to walk in their shoes for a time, to see what the world might look like them. And finally, we might simply ask them what they want.
To approach the question, “What would Jesus do?” which is to explore today’s Gospel about the purpose, meaning, and pattern of life as it leads us into God.
We would begin by looking closely at Jesus, at his life, his teaching, the way he moved through this world. This means reading scripture, listening to scripture, noticing the images and stories that come out of music and hymnody, and looking for traces of Christ in creation.
Just like I might try to figure out what a friend might like as a gift by imagining what it’s like to walk in her shoes, I might imagine what it would be like to be with Jesus, to look at the world as he seems to have looked at it. I’m not Christ—nowhere near. But at my baptism, I was given his Holy Spirit and that Spirit will guide me to conform more to his image and likeness.
To know what Jesus might do we might study his life, we might walk in his shoes for time, but finally, when all else fails, or even alongside other ways of getting to know him, we might simply ask him. This is prayer. The Christmas prayers of the people we are using in our worship come from the Church of England’s Common Worship, and I love them for their simplicity and directness. The refrain is, “Jesus, Savior, hear our prayer.” How much better would my day, my week, my life go if I simply said that prayer more? When I’m trying to make a decision about speaking a hard truth to someone, I can ask Christ for help, ““Jesus, Savior, hear my prayer.” As I’m worried about friends and parishioners who are in the hospital or facing questions about their health I can ask Christ to heal them and carry them, ““Jesus, Savior, hear my prayer.” When I feel like never reading the newspaper again or ever hearing the world news because it seems like people are mostly filled with hatred and violence and pettiness, I can ask Christ to intercede, “Jesus, Savior, hear my prayer.”
The question Christmas gives us is not so much “What would Jesus do?” but more, “What would John do?” “What would Elizabeth do?” “What would any of us do?”
“To all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of human will,” but born of God. We are born and reborn of God. This Christmas, may the Spirit guide so that we might more nearly and clearly know the will of God in Christ Jesus our Savior.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.