If you’ve seen the movie, “Talladega Nights,” you know the scene well.
Will Ferrell’s character, Ricky Bobby, insists on praying to “Baby Jesus” despite his family explaining that Jesus did grow up.
As Ricky’s father-in-law, Chip, put it, “He was a man. He had a beard.”
But Ricky “likes the Christmas Jesus best.”
When I watched this movie again recently, the “Dear Lord Baby Jesus” scene immediately reminded me of an Advent sermon by my pastor.
“People love to celebrate Jesus in a manger,” he said, “but hardly anyone wants Jesus to get out of the manger.”
It’s true. A lot of Christians love Jesus as a baby, but pay little attention to his life as a man.
The baby Jesus is less dangerous and less challenging. It is much easier to fall in love with an “8 pound, 6 ounce” newborn wearing “golden fleece diapers” than it is to love a homeless man bent on radical living.
But when we put Jesus in a box that fits our own specifications, we no longer worship the real Jesus. We worship ourselves.
The call of the Christian life is to joyfully follow Jesus in every season and through any circumstance. We do not get to pick which parts of Jesus we like.
And we don’t get to choose to obey teaching we enjoy and neglect teaching that is hard.
If we truly want to know the real Jesus, we have to take him as he is – all of him. This probably means that you will need to remove your own presuppositions and rediscover who Jesus is.
Though I would never advise anyone to stop reading Scripture devotionally, I think it is wise to read it objectively as well.
Every so often, one should step back from his or her own experiences (even church experiences) and read the gospels for what they are. Not what you think they should be.
Allow Jesus to teach you without assuming what he is going to say. Read Jesus with no agenda. Simply read and discover who Jesus really is and what he really said. The result could surprise you.
Though we often read Scripture to make us feel good (whether that is always a good thing is for a different discussion), the Bible can be strikingly offensive. This is especially true of Jesus.
Jesus will convict, challenge and offend you. He might even make you angry. But it is important for us to know the true Jesus rather than our own fictional preference of who we think he should be.
But we can’t stop here. Rediscovering what Jesus said and did is great, but it’s not enough.
It is one thing to know a person, even deeply, but it is another to love a person, and even more to obey him.
Once we have gotten to know the real Jesus, we must accept him as he is, and, more important, we have to take what he said seriously.
Christians are very good at proclaiming enormous admiration for Jesus but we are not as good at following his example.
We ask questions like, “What would Jesus do?” but if and when we discover the answer is something that makes us uncomfortable, we hardly ever imitate it.
But it is of vital importance that we get to know the real Jesus and follow him even to difficult places.
After a time of celebrating Jesus’ birth, we should not end the celebration simply because of a change in season.
We must embrace all of Jesus’ teachings and actions. Even when he offends us.
Our lives need to be replete with love for the real Jesus and not our own versions of him.
Justin Smith is the associate college minister at Columbus Avenue Baptist Church in Waco, Texas. He is currently pursuing a masters of divinity degree at Baylor University’s George W. Truett Theological Seminary. A version of this article first appeared on his blog, Living Resurrected, and is used with permission. You can follow him on Twitter @MrJustinHSmith.