The Impossibilities of God in a Broken World, the story of Christmas, Meditations:
10. The Wonder of it all
Lk 2:6,7 While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, 7 and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son.
The art of Bible Meditation: As I have been writing this brief series about the events that we lump together to call Christmas, I have not sought a neat chronological dissertation but more to anchor various thoughts that have stood out to me this year as I have pondered the story. Meditation, and more specifically Bible Meditation, should surely be the result of chewing over the facts and seeing what particular flavours stand out, what, as we wait on the Lord, He allows us to see. It isn’t neatly dissecting the word of God into neat order – that is ‘study’ – and I know I sometimes do that under the umbrella of what I sometimes loosely call meditations. But this time out I have just been seeking to sense some of the big issues that God wants to draw to our attention. The day has come and gone; can we hold onto these truths?
The big issues: So it was, at the start, there was why God should want to leave heaven to come to this war-torn earth. It is only when we wrestle with that will we realise our real plight and the wonder of God’s love. I dared to suggest the Christmas story was not the beautiful, gentle romantic story that is so often conveyed, but more simply an expression of the affairs of mankind that are so often chaotic, appearing as luck, chance, fate or maybe even providence, so often the weaving together of multiple threads coming from different distant directions. Yes, that is the fallen world in which we live, but then God intervenes and the unexpected happens which we then have to struggle with. Sometimes, in our human frailty and limitations, we don’t do very well, but even then, we find the love of God prompting us onwards in His purposes. He doesn’t give up on us.
An almost invisible plan: And yes, we come to realise that life isn’t just the chaotic ramblings of a confused and self-concerned humanity, but underneath it all, for those who have eyes to see, or those who will take the time to consider, there appears this sense that despite all the bad of the world, God is there in it all, working for good and working to an end where those who will see, hear and respond, will find a joy in eternity beyond anything we can comprehend today. But this plan, this strategy, by God, is not seen like vapour trails in the sky revealing the silvers dots carrying hundreds of passengers, clearly visible to any watcher on the ground.
No, this plan is only perceived when you pause and you ponder on the actions of the ones and two’s who are making a tiny mark on the world that will, like the butterfly of chaos theory we referred to, cause great things to happen. Thus a young girl, in a stable with a no-doubt worried husband, brings a baby into the world, and the world is never the same again. All over the world, no doubt there were thousands of other babies being born, but this one was different, this one was the Son of God, this one would die for the sins of the world, this one would open up a possibility for mankind that would mean that prisoners to sin would be released, and orphans of sin could become children of God.
The art of distraction: Magicians, conjurors, slight-of-hand artists, all talk about the art of distraction, or the art of misdirection, which is the ability to make us, the audience, miss the truth of what they are doing and be led to believe something else. Now isn’t that what the enemy seeks to do with us at Christmas, in the West at least? I suspect this varies depending on where you are in the world, but briefly consider the things we major on at Christmas in the West: presents, decorations, lights, food, drink, parties; these are the things so many are taken up with for weeks if not months beforehand. If we are religious maybe our efforts go into Nativities, special services, Midnight Mass and, yes, the elements of the story are all there in neatly formulated entertainment packages. The measure of the value of such things is what we are left with a week later. If it is just a sense of relief that it is all over, we missed the target. If it is just a case of looking forward to the New Year, we missed it. If our pondering on the wonder of the Christmas story has left us with a fresh perspective of life and a fresh sense of worship, it has been of value. It has been and gone. Where are we?
Mary: We have a distinct advantage over Mary, at least in being able to look back with such clarity. The best Mary could do is look back to her heritage and take comfort in the stories she heard each week in the synagogue. As the apostle Paul would write decades later, “the people of Israel. Theirs is the adoption to sonship; theirs the divine glory, the covenants, the receiving of the law, the temple worship and the promises. Theirs are the patriarchs, and from them is traced the human ancestry of the Messiah.” (Rom 9:4,5) i.e. she had all their history to reinforce her faith when the angel came and spoke, for he was speaking into a long history of Israel with God, coming to fruition: “You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. 32 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, 33 and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.” (Lk 1:31,32) Jesus would appear in the line of David as prophesied and thus often be called “son of David” (e.g. Mt 9:27, 12:23, 15:22, 20:30,31, 21:9,15, 22:42). Mary would have known the prophetic history and when the angel spoke of her son ruling on the throne of David, it was like saying, “And he will be the promised Messiah.” The circumstances were difficult and trying but everything that was going on fitted within the plan of God that had already been hinted at by the prophets and now taught by the teachers of the Law, and she responded, and the world was never the same again. How amazing. Now he has come!
And Us? We, of course, now have all the records, we have these stories that we have been considering this past week, but even more we have all that followed in the Gospels and Acts and the teachings of the apostles in the New Testament. Christmas for us is the crucial pivot-point of history when the Son of God left heaven and appeared on earth in a way that challenged the minds of the chief priests and teaching of the day, a baby born to a carpenter of Nazareth. Nathaniel was the first to voice it: “Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?” Nathanael asked.” (Jn 1:46) Today it is the sceptics who utter similar words. But I have sought, very inadequately I admit, over this past week or so to give us sufficient to think about, to dig into the story afresh and ponder the big issues. Today can we join with the angels and sing aloud, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favour rests,” and realise that we are those people and His favour rests on us, because he has come and with Isaiah we can declare, “Immanuel, God with us.” He came in the vehicle of a tiny baby, demonstrating infinite humility, he came to a young couple demonstrating vulnerability, and he was welcomed by shepherds to demonstrate his availability to all, no outsiders, no outcasts in God’s economy! He has come and now we are different. Hallelujah!