Jesus: Born To Misfit

Read the rest of the Via Creativa: Island of Misfit Toys series

Jubilee! Circle, Columbia, S.C.
Readings for the Fourth Sunday of Advent:

He shall be the one of peace. (Micah 5:1-5a)
He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly. (Luke 1:39-56)
The greatest wisdom seems childish. (Tao Te Ching, 41st verse)

Our first song comes from the English rock bank The Kinks. Formed by brothers Ray and Dave Davies, the band went on to become recognized as one of the most influential rock bands of their time. They had their first hit in 1964 with “You Really Got Me,” and they were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2005. Today’s song is the title track of their 1978 album Misfits.

you’ve been sleeping in a field
but you look real rested
you set out to outrage but you can’t get arrested
you say your image is new but it looks well tested
you’re lost without a crowd yet you go your own way

you say your summer has gone now the winter is crawlin’ in
they say that even in your day
somehow you never could quite fit in
though it’s cold outside
I know the summer’s gonna come again
because you know what they say every dog has his day

In the classic Christmas television special “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” the main characters are misfits — including Rudolph with his red nose, and an elf named Hermey. In one scene, we see Hermey making toys in Santa’s workshop and he’s lagging behind the other elves. This causes the elf supervisor to get mad and yell at Hermey for shirking his elfly duties.

Hermey confesses that he doesn’t like making toys. In disbelief the head elf yells, “What!? You don’t like making toys.”

Hermey replies, “I want to be a dentist.” At this point, all the other elves laugh at his dream.

The supervisor then shoves a load of wooden trucks in front of Hermey and says, “You’re an elf. And elves make toys.”

The supervisor lets everyone but Hermey out for a break. Hermey shoves the unfinished toy aside and pulls out his book on dentistry.

Being a misfit is never easy

Perhaps we’ve all been Rudolph or Hermey at some point in our lives. Maybe we were rejected by the other kids, no allowed to play their reindeer games, or perhaps others have laughed when we’ve told them about our dreams for our lives.

I remember telling a high school guidance counselor that I wanted to a writer, and while she didn’t laugh at me, she did lean earnestly over her desk and suggest that perhaps I should also get a degree in accounting or some other “real job” so I could support my writing habit.

Being a misfit is never easy. The world often has a different agenda for us, and it will try every trick in the book to get us to abandon our dreams, or to not even give heed to our dreams in the first place.

Growing up as a Southern Baptist, I knew that I could never be a preacher, and not because I’m gay, but because I am a woman. The Southern Baptists still will not ordain women to the ministry. If, like Hermey, I had told some Southern Baptist official that I wanted to be a preacher, his reply would be similar to Hermey’s supervisor.

“You’re a woman. Women keep the home, they can’t be preachers.”

The great thing about misfits, though, is this: They usually don’t care what the world has to say about their dreams. They dream them anyway, and some of them even make those dreams come true. Because, y’know what they say, every dentist elf has his day…

you’re a misfit, afraid of yourself so you run away and hide
you’ve been a misfit all your life
why don’t you join the crowd and come inside
you wander round this town like you’ve lost your way
you had your chance in your day
yet you threw it all away
but you know what they say every dog has his day

look at all the losers and the mad eyed gazers
look at all the loonies and the sad eyed failures
they’ve given up living ‘cos they just don’t care
so take a good look around the misfits are everywhere

More misfits: Micah and David

In our Hebrew scripture reading this morning, we hear from the prophet Micah, a misfit from the eighth century BCE who speaks about a future ruler of Israel who will be born in a little town called Bethlehem.

Now, this passage is most often used by Christian theologians to predict the birth of Jesus as that long-expected ruler who would bring ultimate peace to the people of Israel.

But, to be true to this text, we have to remember Christians were not the first audience for this passage. Instead, Jews who had been exiled to Babylon from their homeland were the ones Micah was addressing. It’s easy to see how later Christian theologians could read Jesus back into this passage, especially when Micah says that “Israel will be abandoned until the time when she who is in labor gives birth.” To later Christian ears, that sounds a lot like Jesus’ mom, Mary.

Earlier in his prophecy, Micah uses the image of a woman in labor to underscore how painful the present circumstances were for the Jewish exiles. But when the pain of childbirth ends, there is great joy when the child finally arrives. All the pain of exile, the pain of oppression, the pain of poverty and despair will soon be over, Micah tells his people. Do not fear, because God is sending us a new leader, one who will bring peace and lead us all home.

Even in context, we can still read the Christ child into this narrative. Not much seemed to have changed from Micah’s time to Jesus’ time. People were still suffering in Israel, they were still suffering those birth pangs in search of a leader who would restore their nation.

What’s most important about this passage for our ears today, however, is where this future leader will be born — Bethlehem. This is the small, insignificant town where Israel’s most beloved king, David, was born. David was a misfit in his own right, a shepherd who rose to become a king. He was a great warrior-king — waging wars, passing edicts and laws.

It’s no surprise then, that Micah predicts that Bethlehem will again produce a leader in the Davidic tradition. But Jesus is a different kind of king, one who never rules in the worldly sense, never wages a conventional war, but promises total transformation of the world from the inside out.

Out of Bethlehem will come the biggest misfit of all… A guy named Jesus who would turn the rule of law on its head, who would remind people that our world of winner-take-all where the powerful rule over the weak is not the true world. And it’s okay to be out of step with that world, because when we are seen as misfits in this world, that means we’re doing it right.

Breathe deeply.

this is your chance, this is your time
so don’t throw it away you can have your day
’cause it’s true what they say every dog has his day

you’re a misfit, afraid of yourself so you run away and hide
you’ve been a misfit all your life
why don’t you join the crowd and come inside
you wander round this town like you’ve lost your way
you had your chance in your day yet you threw it all away
now you’re lost in the crowd yet, still go your own way

Rejection, self-acceptance and belonging

“The way of illumination seems dark,” reads the 41st verse of the Tao, “going forward seems like a retreat, the easy way seems hard, true power seems weak, true purity seems tarnished, true clarity seems obscure, the greatest art seems unsophisticated, the greatest love seems indifferent, the greatest wisdom seems childish.”

When we embrace ourselves as divine misfits, don’t be surprised if the world rejects you.

What we call light, the world will call dark, what we call easy will be seen as hard, what we call power will be criticized as weakness, what we call wisdom will be put down as childishness.

And the world will be right, our wisdom is childish, because it comes from a baby born in a lowly manger in a backwater Middle Eastern town to two scared and confused parents. That childish wisdom goes something like this: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” not, “Do unto others before they can do it to you.” Our childish wisdom says, “Love your enemies and do good for them,” not “Destroy your enemies before they can destroy you.” Our childish wisdom says, “Feed the poor and clothe the naked,” not “Forget the poor because they didn’t work hard enough to get theirs.”

That kind of wisdom does seem pretty childish to a world that insists we must do everything we can to fit in, to play the game, not stand out, to be like everybody else. And we play that game. Most of the time we go along to get along. But, fitting in is not what the Holy calls us to do. Instead, we are called to belong, because then we’re free to be exactly who we are, misfit and all.

When the song invites the misfit to join the crowd and come inside, it’s not an invitation to fit in, but to belong — to be accepted by all the other misfits as who we really are, no matter what the world says or thinks.

Author Brené Brown says:

Belonging starts with self-acceptance. Your level of belonging, in fact, can never be greater than your level of self-acceptance, because believing that you’re enough is what gives you the courage to be authentic, vulnerable and imperfect.

Be who you are, Jubilants, because you are enough. This is all the Holy asks from us. Be as vulnerable and as childish as Hermey, or Jesus, or any of those other rejected inhabitants of the Island of Misfit Toys. That’s the greatest wisdom.

Breathe deeply.

Talkin’ bout a revolution

Our second song comes from singer and songwriter Tracy Chapman. Born in Cleveland, Ohio, Chapman started playing guitar at the age of 8 and says she was inspired to start playing by the TV show “Hee Haw.”

She was discovered while singing on the street near Harvard Square. “Talkin’ Bout a Revolution” was the second single released from her 1986 debut album.

Don’t you know we’re talkin about a revolution
it sounds like a whisper
Don’t you know we’re talkin about a revolution
it sounds like a whisper

While they’re standing in the welfare lines
Crying at the doorsteps of those armies of salvation
Wasting time in the unemployment lines
Sitting around waiting for a promotion
Don’t you know we’re talking about a revolution
It sounds like a whisper

In our Jesus story, we encounter Jesus’ mother Mary singing a song of revolution.

My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.

This song from Mary is so famous, it even has a name, the Magnificat, which is the Latin word for “magnifies.” Her praise to God brings the revolutionary act of the Holy into focus for the whole world to see. From the lowest servant, a young woman about to be wed, God will bring forth a miracle — a baby boy who would never fit into this world of greed and violence.

Instead, through Jesus, God will bring down the powerful, lift up the lowly, feed the hungry and send the rich away empty.

Mary celebrated her pregnancy, even though acknowledging it to Joseph could cost her everything — and when the world found out, she herself became a misfit. This pregnancy made both her and Joseph suspect, but Mary knew that this was no ordinary child — that though he would never fit in, her misfit son would bring greatness from the lowliest places.

It is the misfits of the world that change the world. It is those who take their place among the odd, the weird, the eccentric and the strange who make the world take notice, who shake us from our complacent slumber and put us squarely back into the mystery that is the Holy — that mystery of the Island of Misfit Toys.

In her song, Mary invites us onto the Island of Misfit Toys, to be out of step with society, and get in step with the rhythm of the Holy, singing a different tune than the rest of the world — a song of revolution, a song of change — not from the powerful in the world, but from the powerless.

In the end, Mary is justified. She goes against the world’s norms, but she prevails in the end — a mother who may not completely understand her misfit son, but loves him and is proud of him anyway.

In the TV show, Hermey, Rudolph, and all the other misfits also find a place to belong in the world around them. The elves decide that having a dentist around isn’t such a bad idea, Santa gets a fancy new headlight, and all the misfit toys get delivered to children around the world — and they are treasured for what they are, not what the world believes they ought to be.

This is the key to real revolution, Jubilants — start small, where you are, and be who you are. The world will change simply because you are here.

Breathe deeply.

Poor people are gonna rise up
And get their share
Poor people are gonna rise up
And take what’s theirs
Don’t you know you better run, run, run, run, run,
run, run, run, run, run,
Oh I said you better run, run, run, run, run, run,
run, run, run, run, run,
Finally the tables are starting to turn
Talking about a revolution
Finally the tables are starting to turn
Talking about a revolution oh no
Talking about a revolution oh no

How to live as a misfit

This is the fourth Sunday of Advent as we prepare for the birth of Christ on Christmas morning. We have lit the candle of love, which is significant for misfits. Misfits need a lot of love, but they understand that others need love, too. What Rudolph and Hermey learned from their visit to the Island of Misfit Toys was a lesson on love. Each of these toys felt abandoned and unloved, but on the island, between themselves they found belonging — a sense of love that is deeper than just fitting in. Being on the Island of Misfit Toys means we understand that everyone needs that kind of love, that kind of belonging.

Just like Jesus learned though, that message can be misunderstood, marginalized and hated because the world doesn’t want you to belong — it wants you to fit in and do what it expects from you. If you’re an elf, be an elf. If you’re a woman, don’t be a preacher, or a firefighter, or any vocation the world reserves for men. When we step outside of the world’s prescribed roles for us, the world reacts harshly to put us back in our place.

Jesus was supposed to stay in Nazareth and build shelves and houses. He wasn’t supposed to set out on his own to spread his childish wisdom to a world who wants children to be seen but never heard. Jesus, this original misfit, refused to conform to what the world expected from him. His mother was in on it — and she understood that her baby boy would change the world.

God is always using the misfit, the insignificant, to transform this world and bring just a glimmer of the New Jerusalem into being. Out of Bethlehem comes the king and the anti-king, the great worldly warrior and the peaceful, nonviolent leader who continues to make the powerful look weak and uses childish, kindergarten wisdom to rebuke the unfairness of the world.

Jubilants, how would it change the way you lived if you knew that your heavenly parent created you to be a misfit? How would it change the way you lived if you understood it is exactly what makes you misfit in this world that makes you special in God’s realm? How would it change the way you lived if you understood that the Holy has chosen each of you misfits here to change the world?

I invite you, Jubilants, release your inner Hermey. No matter what the world tells you it wants you to be, proudly embrace the misfit nature that the Holy has implanted in all of us. We are each pregnant with possibilities and the ability to change the world around us.

In this season of Advent, I invite you all, here in the insignificant southern town of Columbia, South Carolina, to give birth to the Holy misfit that grows inside of each of us. Bring forth that misfit that understands it’s our calling to feed the hungry, house the homeless and care for those marginalized and forgotten by this dog-eat-dog world. If we all do that, Jubilants, we could just start a real revolution.

While they’re standing in the welfare lines
Crying at the doorsteps of those armies of salvation
Wasting time in unemployment lines
Sitting around waiting for a promotion
Don’t you know you’re talking about a revolution
It sounds like a whisper
Finally the tables are starting to turn
Talking about a revolution

Oh, Yeah!