Lessons from the Nativity: 12: Now what?
Luke 2:40 And the child grew and became strong; he was filled with wisdom, and the grace of God was upon him.
As we come to what I believe should be the last in this little series about the Nativity, I have to confess I have come to the story this year with new eyes, it feels, and in so doing I have asked again and again, what is this part of the story telling us, or how does it challenge us? One of the feelings that I have found that has come out of it has been the uncertainty about everything and the surprise of the things happening and so, as I have commented before, it seems that so much of what comes out of the Nativity story simply reflects how life is with God.
So the wise men have come and gone, Joseph is warned to take his family to Egypt until the threat of Herod has passed, and then eventually they return to Nazareth and we are left with our verse above. We will hear no more until he is twelve, and then only the record of one instant in Jerusalem that suggests that he is still on course for his later ministry which doesn’t start until his is about thirty. All of the dramatic stuff wrapped up in the Nativity has passed and what I find myself wondering when I read these passages is, what must it have been like being Jesus’ parents in the years that follow the accounts we have been looking at over these past two weeks?
I expect you can identify with the idea of anti-climax. Perhaps you have a big service at church, maybe it’s the Christmas Carol Service, and there have been lots of preparations and you’ve sent out invitations and then the night has arrived, it’s been great and then it is all over. Anticlimax. Another example I find occurs in the life of my particular family. We have family living abroad and so every now and again they come home in the Summer and stay with us for three weeks. After the initial decision to come, we are counting days, planning how we will put them up, what we will do together while they are here. Then there’s the last few days countdown and all the excitement, then they arrive, more excitement, they settle in, we do things together, then before we know it we’re counting days before they leave, then comes the leaving day and tears flow, and then they are gone. Anticlimax.
Was there a sense of anticlimax for Mary and Joseph I wonder? They are back home in Nazareth. It may well have been several years since that fateful time when the angel first came to Mary. Their friends and family welcome them back home. They are clearly a well established little family and the stigma of an unexpected pregnancy is forgotten. Life settles down… and goes on and goes on…. without any more spectacular signs of God’s activity.
Perhaps a better illustration of this anticlimax might be when you’ve been to some great Christian gathering where you’ve really met with the Lord. The singing was amazing, the teaching with brilliant and the sense of God’s presence was awesome. To cap it off you were given some prophetic words by leaders that indicated a new direction and a new sphere of ministry the Lord was going to lead you into. And then you come home and a couple of days later return to work, with the same old people, the same old problems. Church next Sunday seems flat by comparison with the heavenly experiences you had while you were away. Another week comes round and the memory of that time away starts to fade slightly and you realise again that this is the life you now have to live out, a life of the ordinary, waiting for God to fulfil His words spoken over you in those glorious times. What does He require of you in the waiting time? Faithfulness in the face of the ordinary. He IS working out His purposes for you and you just have to rest in that knowledge. You need to hold on to the memory of the experience so it is not lost in the mix of life. You need to hold on to the words spoken over you and wait expectantly for the Lord to show you your part in bringing them to fulfilment.
Perhaps that’s how it was for Mary and Joseph. All that we have been reading about was merely the first stage of the incredible life that was the Son of God on earth. The strange thing about the Nativity story is that Jesus plays such a small part in it. Angels, yes. Mary and Joseph, yes. Shepherds, Herod, Magi, Simeon and Anna, all yes. But Jesus is very much there in the background. It is natural to focus on all of these others for they make up the very environment into which Jesus came, and we have taken them and the circumstances involving them as the basis for lessons about life as a Christian and that, I believe, is good and right and proper. What is amazing is that God planned it like this. Talk about an unspectacular entrance!
Well that is what is so funny about all this – the circumstances ARE spectacular, some of the most spectacular in the Gospels. What is NOT spectacular is Jesus himself. He’s just an ordinary baby, suckled by his mother, guarded, protected and provided for by his father, and just living out a normal life, growing up as a normal child, except of course, he isn’t, he’s God! And that’s where our minds really start to boggle because how can we possibly understand how this child can be almighty God. No wonder there are some non-canonical writings in existence with the child doing weird things, things best cast into the rubbish bin, for it was bound to happen that someone somewhere was bound to try to conjure up some spectacular things for the child to do. However, that is the wonder of God’s grace, His Son grew in the most unspectacular way, just like an ordinary child and the best Luke can say is, “the child grew and became strong; he was filled with wisdom, and the grace of God was upon him” Enough.
Final lesson reminders? Life is often uncertain, even as a Christian, but God is always there with us working out His purposes. The Christian life is sometimes spectacular but mostly not. In the ordinary times we are called to be faithful and watching and waiting in faith with expectancy that He WILL do what He has said. There’s a life to be lived, a life focused on Him, even if at times He seems distant and nothing much seems to be happening. Watch and listen and be ready for the next stage of your life, yes, a continuation on from what has been – but better? Better isn’t a good word for this. Very simply there is more to come, and as it comes from God, the outworking of His kingdom, it is good. Enjoy His growth in you. Hallelujah! Right, what are we next going to look at?