I've written in the past about my fondness for the Christmas song "The Rebel Jesus" by Jackson Browne. Back in 2006 I wrote: "The song was originally recorded for Browne's 1991 holiday album with The Chieftains entitled 'The Bells of Dublin.' In many ways, it offers an antidote to the sickly-sweet portrait of Jesus that we often foist onto our children as they are growing up and counteracts the way commercial culture uses Jesus this time of year as a shill for holiday shopping excess."
The following discussion guide uses the song "The Rebel Jesus" as a backdrop for inviting youth to consider the images of Jesus that confront us in this Advent season and the images of Jesus that have real meaning for us.
On a large sheet of paper, write "JESUS" in large block letters. Pass out Post-it Notes to participants and invite them to write down titles or names they would give to Jesus that explain how people think about him, such as "Messiah," "Son of God," and "King" (one name per Post-it). Have each person stick their Post-its on the block letters. When all have posted, read some of the responses to the group. Another Option: Lay out a long sheet of butcher paper and have the group trace the outline of some one's body on the paper. Now, have the group work together to transform the outline into a portrait of Jesus, each teen adding his or her own personal touch. Afterward, discuss how the portrait represents many different ideas about how we see Jesus.
REFLECTING: Invite youth to turn to someone around them and share which titles for Jesus are most meaningful to them. Ask: Where do we get our ideas about who Jesus was/is? (e.g. Bible, parents, media, experiences). Invite youth to consider that some people get their ideas about Jesus from their interactions with Christians and Christianity, and that these experiences are not always positive.
DIGGING IN: Play the song "The Rebel Jesus" by Jackson Browne. It might be helpful to pass out copies of the lyrics to read as the song plays. In small groups discuss:
- What words does the songwriter use to describe Jesus? Which of these images/words resonate with you?
- What criticisms does the song writer have of Christianity? Culture?
- How do you think he feels about Jesus as a person?
- Where do you think the song writer has developed his thoughts about Jesus/Christianity?
- What do you think of the song's observation that we have filled our churches with "pride and gold?"
- Do you see any signs of the "rebel" Jesus in our typical celebration of the Advent season (in the malls, at Wal-Mart, in our decorations, or festivities)?
REFLECTING: Just as we partially create an understanding of Jesus from our experiences, so too did the gospel writers create an understanding of Jesus from their experiences of being with other believers. Read together one witness to how they understood Jesus: Luke 2: 8-20. Considering Luke penned these words decades after Jesus’ death and possibly did not know Jesus personally, what do you think Luke might be trying to say to us about who he thought Jesus was? What could it mean that Jesus is first described as a tiny baby? Why include that as part of the story? What could it mean that Luke chooses to describe angels announcing the birth? Why use shepherds in the story (persons of low standing in that culture)? How do the characters react to the baby’s birth? What do people expect now that Jesus is born? Is this the way you would tell the "origin story" of a rebel?
TAKING ACTION: What would it mean to say that we follow a "rebel" Jesus? Are the things he taught still radical in the world we live in today? Why not covenant as a group to do something rebellious in the name of Jesus this Advent? Something that will get the attention of others. Many years ago I worked with a youth group to hang a huge banner on the front of our church that read "How can we worship a homeless man on Sunday and ignore the homeless the rest of the week?" Cars and people passing by the church couldn't help but see it and it generated several complaints! What can your group do to challenge the status quo thinking about Jesus? What image of Jesus can your group offer your community that speaks to the truth of the Gospel? Perhaps the lyrics to the song can inspire you.
See our other Advent ideas here.