“Coming of age” stories are prevalent in movies, TV dramas, and literature. Books like Emma and The Outsiders, TV shows like Boy Meets World and Laguna Beach, and movies like Risky Business, Stand by Me, The Breakfast Club, and Varsity Blues all provide examples. There is a scene in Varsity Blues that appears in all of these stories in one form or another - Jonathan ‘Mox’ Moxon is having an argument with his father who wants his son to work harder at football. Mox gets so fed up with his father he snaps back to him, “Playing football at West Canaan may have been the opportunity of your lifetime, but I don't want your life!” (Mox is played by James Van Der Beek, and he does this line with a terrible Texas accent). In all of these stories there is a moment or moments when the main character realizes that he or she does not like the path that they are being forced down. Sometimes this force comes from parents, society, or their peers, but wherever it is coming from there is a definitive moment when they say, ‘No.’ When was the last time you said “no” to a direction that your life was traveling?
As we catch our breath after the busyness of the holiday season we will take a pause as if on a long hike and look towards the next hill of the New Year wondering what it will hold for us. We will also look back at the old hill of this last year and think along with C.S. Lewis, “isn't it funny how day by day nothing changes, but when you look back, everything is different.” As we enter into this reflective season there are two questions that are at the heart of any earnest reflection. ‘What do I think about myself?’ and ‘What do I think about God?’
These two questions feed into each other. As John Calvin writes, “Nearly all the wisdom we possess, that is to say, true and sound wisdom, consists of two parts: the knowledge of God and of ourselves...no one can look upon himself [or herself] without immediately turning [their] thoughts to the contemplation of God, in whom he [or she] ‘lives and moves.’”
In the Gospel of John we see John the Baptist being questioned by others. They are curious both about his identity and the identity of the God who sent him. Like Mox in Varsity Blues, John the Baptist can only say with certainty what he is not, and he says he is not the Christ. This is the first answer for all of us to the question, “What do I think about myself?’ This answer frees us from the burden of being our version of perfect and from the burden of shame that we feel for not being the perfect that we long for. This answer also, just as Calvin suggests, turns our thoughts to the contemplation of God.
In this same interaction between John the Baptist and those who question him, John tells them that “there is one in the middle of you, that you do not perceive” (John 1:26). As you wrestle with these questions, consider the one who has been in the middle of your life. This is what we celebrate in the birth of Jesus, that God so loved the world that he entered into the heart of it. He did not come as a general or a superhero, but as a child. Dorothy Sayers writes, “[Jesus] has himself gone through the whole of human experience, from the trivial irritations of family life and the cramping restrictions of hard work and lack of money to the worst horrors of pain and humiliation, defeat, despair, and death.”