Posted in Christian Living, Faith

No Plot Twists Too Great for the Greatest Storyteller

We cannot know what God does

In the classic satire, Princess Bride, a very young Fred Savage plays a little boy listening to his grandfather tell him a fantastic story with so many twists and turns that Fred interrupts him at one point to exclaim in exasperation, “Gee, Grandpa, what are you telling me this story for?”

So often as I study my Bible, I find myself empathizing with little Fred. I am so engrossed in the action and emotions of the story that I am reading, that I often do a double-take when the narrative shoots off at a wild angle, completely different from anything I might have predicted or expected. In those moments, I find myself asking God, “Why are you telling me this?”

A case in point is the wonderful exposition of the life of King Solomon. David’s son begins with the greatest of intentions. He asks God for the wisdom to properly rule the kingdom of Israel. This wisdom is something much more than being a walking encyclopedia. Instead, the type of wisdom Solomon asks for and receives is the discernment to “read” the world from a holy perspective. It’s the kind of wisdom that allows him to know that the true mother of a child would rather see that baby given away than cut in two. It’s a wisdom that allows Solomon to amass a fortune and demand a level of respect around the world heretofore unknown in the Jewish experience.

And yet, even with all this wisdom going for him, we read that Solomon acted not so wisely as well. He married women, so many women, even those outside his Jewish religion, despite God’s express command against such unions, a command that included the warning in no uncertain terms that such unions would lead to the nation’s downfall. At one point, we are told, Solomon had some 700 wives and 300 concubines!  Especially in his old age, these women from foreign lands were easily able to lead Solomon into worship of other gods—gods the scripture defines as detestable to the Lord.

So we come to my why are you telling me this moment involving Solomon. As I read for the umpteenth time this morning the story of Solomon’s lack of judgment which ultimately led to the splitting of the kingdom of Israel and its eventual downfall, a lesson from Solomon’s folly came to me that I had not quite considered before.

My “God messages” and “Holy Spirit lessons” have been coming to me lately involving the themes of grace and becoming. I am saved because I believe in Jesus as my savior. I spend the rest of my grace-covered life becoming what God has pre-determined I need to be for that heavenly home that lasts forever and makes this earthly existence look like the blink of an eye. But, nothing I do in the process of becoming has anything to do with the promise of my salvation. The two processes are locked together and yet intricately separate. And, if I can get this truth clear in my emotional as well as logical response to people and situations, I feel that I will be so much better at loving the world around me instead of judging it.

From Solomon’s folly, I am reminded that no matter how smart I think I am, my brain is an unreliable vessel for my salvation. I cannot stay in relationship of good standing with my Creator unless I go through His son, Jesus, and that process involves my faith, not my wisdom. Despite a mind gifted with discernment known far and wide and across time, Solomon’s choice to move out of relationship with God by turning to other idols cost him dearly.

grace is God wanting to be in relationship with us, no matter what

Even with discerning wisdom, look how quickly Solomon fell into the trap of thinking he could manage his own relationship with God. What other explanation would there be for a man so wise to ignore the clear rules God had laid out for His people? Don’t marry the women who are native to the land you are entering, lest you fall into the trap of worshiping their gods, He told the wandering Israelites as they prepared to enter the Promised Land. Despite being wise, Solomon allowed the temptation of his attraction for these foreign women to over-rule the knowledge he had of God’s law.

This leaning on one’s own understanding by acting outside of the dictates of an omnipotent God is a kind of arrogance in one’s own knowledge that makes me think about the modern world in which we live, where scientists are sure they have explained the unexplainable and intellectuals flick the ashes from their cigarettes and disdain the quaint belief systems they see as naïve at best and evil conservatism at worst.

If we really want to be wise, we would concentrate our whole selves on the goal of loving God and appreciating the close relationship we have with Him because Jesus died on the Cross for us. Anything that gets in the way of that love should be cast to the side so that we do not fall victim, like Solomon, to letting the ways of this world get in the way of our much more important connection to the next.

The “twist” in Solomon’s wisdom story isn’t so much a twist, then, as it is the wisest thing we might learn from a king famous for his mind. Seek discernment on your path toward righteous living, yes, but lean on the grace of Jesus’ gift of salvation if you expect to remain in a right relationship with your Creator, especially throughout a long life full of the pitfalls that can trap a man, or woman, bent on thinking his or her way out of the scrapes that ensue when we start listening to our own hearts instead of the heart of our ever-present and oh-so-loving God.

In Christ,
Ramona

 

Posted in Christianity, Faith, Love

The Greatest Love Story Almost Never Told

love-story

In a burial scene during the latest X-Men movies, one of the characters picks up the cross at the head of a newly dug grave and turns it before placing the two sticks back into the ground so that an X now stands at the head of the grave.

It’s supposed to be a simple statement about the person buried in the ground,  but I couldn’t help myself from seeing something deeper behind the symbolic gesture. It seemed to me that by taking down the cross in this way, the movie had literally “X-ed” out God.

But, should I really give in to the righteous outrage this degradation of my God stirred in my chest? If I look really hard at the way we Christians try, and mostly fail, to reflect why Christ’s message is good news, how can I really blame the secular world for its obsession in breaking down the things they perceive that I stand for?

I recently listened to one of N.T. Wright’s speeches at a Pepperdine Bible Lecture series. In it, he claimed that the story the world at large has learned from us when it comes to Christ is one in which God’s hatred of us led to the need for the sacrifice of His Son to save mankind instead of the truth of the absolute love story the gospel really is.

For God so loved the world. Growing up listening to too many sermons where I was reminded, like Jonathon Edwards’ congregation of the 18th century, that I might be likened to a spider dangling above the open flame of God’s wrath, I easily supplanted His overwhelming love in my fear of His inevitable judgment.

In a world where you are reminded of your failings, the love you feel from God too easily becomes understood as conditional. You have to earn His love for you, just as you earn the respect of your peers. Considering how often we stumble, I can only imagine how much He rightfully hates me. Looking at life through these conditional lenses, I can’t help but hate myself.

It’s easy enough to fall into this trap of doing to earn God’s love and salvation. We live in a world where we delineate winners and losers. We judge others according to their accomplishments. We study a Bible in which we struggle to match the Old Testament God of Wrath with the New Testament God on a Cross.

We Christians are not immune from failing to fully accept that our belief alone in Christ and His teaching is what saves us, even though nothing else we do adds anything to our actual salvation. Too often, we make these unconscious checklists of the things we should be doing to ensure what is already ours through faith, things like never missing church on Sunday or never passing a person wanting a handout without giving him something. These to-do lists are commendable goals for a grateful heart that wants to live for God, but making them a requirement for salvation proves we have fallen victim to rendering conditional a relationship that is actually unlimited.

If Christians are unclear on the absolutely unconditional love of God for humanity, how much more so will those who do not believe fall victim to our seemingly confused theology? We make it so much easier for a secular world to X out the one good thing it has going for it because the light we shine is shrouded in this confusion over the height and depth and breadth of God’s love.

The good news is that the story of Christ is not a story of sinners in the hands of an angry God, but a true love story, the truest love story, about a God who made us in love, in His own image, and has never stopped loving us unconditionally, even when we turn our backs on Him.

If you need examples of man’s inability to break the bonds of God’s love for us, the Bible is replete with them. How many times did the Jews turn from the ways of a God Who only wanted them to love Him first and foremost? And, every time, He waited patiently for the stiff necks to turn in true worship to Him once more.

The parable of the Prodigal Son is another example of God’s capacity to feel love, only love, even when we deserve His disgust.  When the prodigal wastes his inheritance, returning to his home only after he has led the most ignoble of lifestyles, the father doesn’t tell him that he got exactly what he deserved. The father greets him in love, with mighty hugs, tears of joy, and a grand feast. When one lost lamb returns to the herd, the Shepherd who loves beyond human understanding rejoices.

Perhaps the most powerful example of the love story that is Christ’s sacrifice for our salvation is the assurance that we who believe are no longer condemned. There is now no more condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, Paul assures us in his letter to the Romans (8:1), one of the New Testament’s most powerful treatises on the gift of Grace.

We’re human. We’re still going to stumble and fall. But, no matter how hard we hit the pavement, God refuses to condemn a saved soul. That doesn’t mean He won’t want better from us next time. It doesn’t mean we should go through life without thinking about our actions or trying to be a better person. It just means we can free ourselves from the burden of judgment that has been lifted. The yoke of our Mighty God is truly light. It is a yoke held up by the truest love there is.

You want to argue politics or stand on your moral high ground about hot-topic issues? Maybe there is a time and place for all of those things. But today, in this divided country we live in, I think it is much more important to make the Christian job description conducive to spreading the love story of our Awesome God.

If you want to change the world, start by making sure the world knows just how much God loves it. He put a piece of Himself on that rough wood and gave up all the power of the universe so that His children, which includes all of us, could be in relationship with Him again in a heavenly home where love conquers all.

That’s a love story of the ages, for the ages. And it always has a happily ever after.

In Christ,
Ramona

Posted in Christianity, Faith

Crafted Glory: A Lesson From Solomon’s Temple

 

talent-1

The temple was magnificent, clothed in precious metals, high above the city, the very best that man could create in honor of an immortal, all-mighty God. Imagine the morning sun rising to its zenith, glinting off the gold and silver and bronze that had been hammered and polished until it gleamed. In a city that had known nothing except rebellion and blood shed, the uncertainty of a hostile world despite their powerful King David, how different it must have been to face each day with this overpowering symbol of God’s sovereignty, an ever-present promise of the peace and prosperity that marked the reign of the wisest king the world had ever known.

Reading the story of King Solomon’s completion of the temple this morning, I was struck by the challenges to human nature the building of the temple must have presented to its many craftsman. So many people had to be employed to contribute to the work that it took 3600 foremen just to oversee all the builders hand-working stones in the quarry to be carted to the building site. The temple itself rose from the ground in a kind of reverent silence.

Hiram the bronze worker made an 11,000-gallon bowl they called a Sea. Statues of bulls served as the pillars to hold it up. He crafted pomegranates to give ornament to the temple. He must have worked from the first light of each day until he could no longer see even by candlelight each night, and yet his work, as well as the others, was not completed for seven long years.

When your God gives you the skill to create that which will be worthy of representing Him to your peers, how do you not at first quake at the fear of failing Him and later, as you see the beauty of what He enables you to create, keep yourself from feeling a surge of pride bordering on obsession to perfect what glorifies Him and at the same time shines a reflective light on yourself as well?

cutaway-solomons-temple

I admire the humility of these craftsman who must have kept in perspective the absolute need for God’s backing to their success despite the very real temptation to stand back at the end of a long work day and admire one’s handiwork. Their success in completing the temple and the subsequent worship that God blessed there for many years to come tells us that they were grateful, obedient servants to His word, rather than those who might fall victim to pride, mistaking the beauty of what they had created as a thing glorified rather than realizing it only symbolized the glory of a God we mere humans can only begin to imagine.

The beauty of this building cast in precious metals would have meant nothing if it did not represent a living, loving God.  I think it also represents God’s understanding of our very human natures. He who defined light and shadow needs no building from which to rule or be exalted. But we humans, especially those living in a time where all kinds of gods were worshipped in elaborate venues, seem more inclined to understand our worship when it has some kind of physical representation.  Not only did Solomon’s Temple represent the quantitative wealth of the nation of Israel, it also represented the greatest wealth Israel would ever have—the honor of being the chosen people of the one and only God.

When I use the talent God gives me to glorify His name, I can only pray that I too give full credit to the One from Whom it comes. The moment I become more concerned with how well something I have done represents or reflects on me rather than God, I have put my trust in earth’s treasures instead of those which are in heaven. And I so want to have a chest full of heavenly treasures when this race of mine is done.

God is good all the time, and any work that strives to shine His goodness in a world cast in shadow is work that is worthy of our sweat and tears and devotion, whether that work takes seven years of hard labor to complete or a lifetime.

It may not be the lesson God intended in telling us how Solomon built the Lord’s Temple, but it’s a lesson I need to hear in my life, especially when I am tempted to think that my limited skills have anything to do with me instead of everything to do with God.

In Christ,
Ramona

Posted in Christian Living, Faith

Live In Full Knowledge Of Your Becoming: God’s Perspective On A Life Lived Well

God is interested in my becoming, not my being

I wake to sleep and take my waking slow.

Poet Theodore Roethke sums up life in this refrain to his famous poem. A life fully lived takes the most advantage of every waking moment, squeezing out of every experience as much learning and joy, love and hope as is possible.

God longs for us to live this way, in constant communion with Him. He wants us to seek Him on our best days, our worst days and every day in-between. He promises that if we concentrate on Him, on His blessings in our life, on His dreams for us, on the kind of actions that bring Him glory, we will know a kind of peace that supersedes any challenges this troubled life may offer.

How unfortunate it is that when bad things happen, we flawed human beings tend to rationalize our way out of our relationship with God. We wonder how a good God could let such bad things happen to us, especially when we have spent our lives worshipping Him, studying His word, praying.  Some, like seed planted in thorny ground, give up on knowing God at the first sign of real hardship. Others continue reluctantly in the path of righteousness, maintaining a wary contact, wondering what is left for us in this world if even the worst of things can happen to people who believe.

But these reactions are in antithesis to how God is really acting in our lives. For God, the point of us lies not in our being but in our becoming. When I first had that said to me in a Sunday school class on Romans, I jotted it down in my notes and then promptly went on with the busy-ness of living. Then, I read a similar sentiment in the devotional, Jesus Calling, and something inside me clicked. So, let me say it again:

For God, the point of us lies not in our being, but in our becoming.

My limited perspective wants to settle into the being part of living. It wants to wallow in self-pity when things get rough, give in to pain, and sometimes just give up. But, if I faced a problem knowing that God can use each situation to help me become the kind of soul He needs for His kingdom, imagine how my concentration shifts from why me, to how might I grow.

I don’t believe God causes pain. Pain is a natural part of our fallen, evil-exposed world. But, I do believe God feels my pain, and that He approaches my pain from the perspective of what the sum total of my experiences will eventually make of me. No wonder Paul assures us that “in all things God works for the good of those who love him” (Romans 8:28).

Realizing that God is always working in my life to make something of me that only He knows the full ramification of and need for puts tragedy and pain into a completely different, mind-blowing paradigm for me.

Romans 8:28--God works for the good, always

Our being, our pursuit to stay in the moment of being us is where our limited human brains stay most of the time. When we set goals, they tend to reflect our most limited human perspective: we want to exercise more, eat better, follow God’s commands by being more loving toward others or increasing our volunteer time or giving, reading the Bible more consistently. It’s not that these goals are unworthy or should be cast aside. It’s not even that these goals won’t also teach the perseverance that leads to stronger character.

Even from our limited human perspective we know that a life lived without challenges is a life that is hard-pressed to grow. God, who has His heart set on what we are becoming, is the only One who grasps the full picture. He is the One who tells the oceans they can only come so far. He is the One who underscores our limited-ness by always giving us just enough. We have exactly what we need to know about Him and our reason for becoming in His Word and through our open communication with Him through prayer.

God cares about my becoming. And I only go through becoming like experiencing the pains of childbirth. I cannot think my way into another person. I must experience joy and pain, triumph and tragedy in order to change.

No wonder His word admonishes me to seek Him with a grateful heart, casting each need in the light of the thankfulness I owe my benevolent Creator. If my mind is set on being thankful and loving, my becoming will remain in the all-important arms of the One who knew where my becoming would end even before I was born.

I wake to sleep and take my becoming through the grace of my loving God. Next time you are tempted to wonder why bad things happen to good people, wonder instead at the mystery of your becoming in the arms of a God so loving that He knows all your flaws and yet willingly died for you anyway.

In Christ,
Ramona

Posted in Christianity

It is NOT, in fact, all Relative

what-istruth

“How do we know what is true?” the speaker at a workshop I recently attended asked the participants.  She wanted us to say that we “feel” what is true. I know that because when I answered “because the Bible tells me so,” she didn’t like my response one iota.

Not wanting to shanghai the workshop by launching into a debate on relativism, I let it slide. We thankfully moved on to unrelated topics, and I was able to let this question about truth ruminate in my brain over the next few days.

Ravi Zacharias, a profound speaker on Christian topics, would explain the pitfalls of a relativistic outlook in this way: Because relativism by it’s very nature denies the existence of an absolute truth, it is a failed system before it has even begun.

How do you explain what is good without having an ultimate good to which to compare? In the very act of trying to define truth individualistically, people can only make meaning by finding their way to an unwavering Power they are consciously doing their best to deny.

The human heart is absolutely incapable of always doing good or even consistently knowing what good is without reaching for an absolute groundwork that is unwavering. This absolute does not have exceptions to its rules.  It does not allow for human happiness above the need for right over wrong. It operates from a place of love tempered by a spiritual perspective that is beyond the ability of the human mind to fully comprehend. We are designed to know when the rules are in alignment with the truth of His Word, but we do not get to decide which parts of His Word we will choose to attend to or ignore.

If it feels good, then it must be good. No story in the Bible is more designed to prove the fallacy of this concept than the story of King David, a man after God’s own heart. Even though he spent the bulk of his life pursuing God’s Will, acknowledging God’s goodness and superiority in his life, and actively making choices that would please God, even David’s heart for God managed to stray from the straight and narrow path of truth as David knew it from his own study of the Hebrew traditions.

David knew absolutes. He loved God so much that when Saul stumbled into the cave where David and his men were hiding, the fugitive youth refused to harm a hair on his King’s head because any harm done to Saul, who had been crowned by God, would be an offense against the Creator.

When David turned from the reality of God’s truths, it was relativism that made David give in to the lusts of his heart and steal another man’s wife. It caused him to underhandedly try to cover up his adultery by lying to the man he had cuckolded, and then, when that strategy failed, to actually have the man killed in battle. When David turned away from God’s truths to lean on his own understanding instead, he set forth a series of events that would cause his family to suffer for generations.

Relativism made David’s son Absalom convince himself he deserved his father’s throne so that Absalom slaughtered his other brothers and launched a nearly successful coup of his father’s otherwise powerful reign. In a world where God died to make it possible to wash away my sin, I am convinced He does not make bad things happen in order to punish us. But, I do believe He makes no promises to save us from the consequences of our own actions, only the promise to hold our hand while we suffer them.

relativism-is-a-house-built-on-sand

Relativism is easy on the surface. Live and let live leaves lots of time to seek what pleases, especially since standards based on happiness are really no standards at all. Its proponents don’t have to deal with any harsh reality because they make truth a liquid that moves with their own whims and wishes.

But God, who rules this universe He created, doesn’t operate on a platform of fluctuation. He is the same, yesterday, today and tomorrow. He is the definition of an absolute, and His laws, natural, spiritual, and moral, are the ultimate movers and shakers of reality, no matter what social media or television dramas want us to think otherwise.

The more I think about it, the more I am convinced that God praises David and yet also graphically displays David’s humanness in order to prove to us that no person is capable of following God merely by “trusting his gut.” We know what is right and wrong not because of the “god” in us as so many Eastern philosophies would have us believe, but because we spend time in His Word and in relationship with His Holy Spirit in full knowledge of our dependence on Him for all things that are real and good.

the-humanheart-needsabsolutesin-order-notto-stumble

Sometimes, we love best when we are willing to stand in the truth of God’s Word, no matter if the world wants to mock and ridicule us for our belief in His absolutes. Often, doing right only feels good after the fact, when we can go to God in thankfulness that He helped us stay on the straight and narrow path. Sometimes, doing right, like sticking with a marriage to which you made a holy vow, can bring a whole lot of sorrow and pain before you round the curve back to the light. But always, when we follow God’s absolutes, we can walk forward in confidence knowing that God loves those who cling to His truth and seek His understanding rather than being guided by our ever-deceitful hearts.

Black and white is not just an old-fashioned television era when moms stayed home cooking and cleaning and the worst trouble their kids managed to wrangle was a broken window from a stray baseball.  Seek God’s truth, which is absolute, and you will ultimately grow into the person His master plan longs for you to be.

You are a key player in God’s ultimate picture for this life and the next. I didn’t say it. Christ’s broken, innocent body on a cross on Calvary did, where love and mercy, justice and forgiveness came together to save us all.

Absolutely.

 

Posted in Christian Living, Faith

Avoid Once-In-A-While Theology

holy-word

The temperature outside dropped dramatically a few weeks ago, giving Houstonians a chance to dig in the back of our closets for those few items of winter wear that we only get to use for a few days each year.

Too bad too many of us treat our Bibles like out winter wear in a hot, humid climate. We place them on a shelf and let them gather dust for much of the time, only pulling them from their nests when we trek to church on Christmas Eve or Easter.

The problem with approaching our Bible like our winter clothing is that when we reach a day when we really need the Words that are our most direct connection to the living God, we have no idea how to find the answers that would serve us best.

What a comfort it is to know, for example, that even a man like David, who loved God with everything that was in him, who was referred to in the Holy Word as a man “after God’s own heart,” could stumble spectacularly. When we stumble and think that God won’t want to hear from us, we can turn to the example David set for us. Even knowing that he deserved to be punished for his sin of adultery, David continued to plead with the God he served, whom he knew to be loving and good, to spare the life of the son who was the result of David’s sinful union with Bathsheba.

David’s life gives us even more insight into God’s love for us. With his heart, so much like God’s, David not only doesn’t hate his son Absalom when that rebel kills his own brothers and tries to usurp the throne from David, but also mourns Absalom’s death as if Absalom were the most perfect child on earth. Only a truly, deeply-loving heart could mourn the death of this rebellious son as David does. In fact, David is so overwrought when he is told of his son’s death, that he has to be told to buck up before he makes his own triumphant soldiers, who have backed him and protected him, feel like utter failures instead of the victors they really are.

If you rarely crack open this Book that is your most visible, accessible link to an Almighty, All-Knowing God, you are vulnerable to the lies this world and the devil, who has full reign in this fallen world, love to tell you. You believe that the only thing a person has to do to get into heaven is be basically good. As long as the good things you do outweigh the bad things you sometimes participate in, then you’ll turn out all right in the end. You start measuring yourself against the wrong yardstick, which is the people around you who also claim to be mostly good as opposed to measuring yourself in view of the lessons and dictates of the Holy Word in its totality.

A person who rarely cracks the thin pages of the Word may fall victim to blasphemies that sound comforting and reasonable from a secular perspective but have no foundation in the truth of the Word. You might believe, as a friend explained to me once, that as long as someone who really loves you asks for your soul to be with Jesus, then you are saved, whether or not you actually accept Christ as Savior yourself. You might find that the concept you have of heaven and hell are more in line with Milton’s Paradise Lost or Dante’s Inferno than the heavenly throne in Revelation where the angels dance.

It is a universal truth that failing to believe in anything makes you vulnerable to the fault of falling for everything. Never has it been more important to have a knowledge base of truth that allows you to weigh that truth against the vagaries of an internet-driven world. You cannot recognize the truth according to God if you only ever study His truth every once in a great while. And the only place to find that truth is in His Holy Word.

Cold-weather theology is like assuming you could learn three chords on a guitar, play them once every four to five months and then give a concert of guitar playing that would make the audience weep. You’d be much better served treating your Bible, not like cold-snap sweaters and scarves, but like the crisp, clean underwear you never leave home without. Even a little daily attention to your Holy Bible can go a long way toward growing your relationship with the Holy Creator.

Posted in Faith

Silence Broken: The Real Miracle Of Christmas

Church manger

Silence. For some four-hundred years, a people accustomed to a God who willingly communicated with them had been yearning for His triumphant return. Studying the words of the prophets, relishing the victories of their heroes David and Samson, living under the oppression of yet another imperial rule, how eagerly they must have anticipated the promised Messiah, the One they knew would free them once and for all of their current oppressors.

Yet, in 400 years, no one had heard from the God of their fathers. The Jews lived and worked under the heavy-handed thumb of the Roman Empire, who tolerated Judaism as they tolerated other religions. As long as the Emperor was given his due, the people could indulge in whatever fancied them. And still, the God who had delivered them from Egypt was silent.

For a people expecting a victorious entrance, complete with flaming sword and destruction of the enemy, the actual entrance of the true Messiah must have baffled. They knew from the meticulous records kept by their ancestors that God was able. He could part oceans and bring down walls that were six-feet deep and surrounded a city. This God, whose promise of a Messiah went hand-in-hand with His promise to make of Abraham’s sons a great nation, had even stopped time for the sake of one of Israel’s many battle victories.

Except for Mary and Joseph, a couple of peasant kids whom anybody would have scoffed as foolish if they’d even dared to tell about their experiences with the angels, nobody knew to look for the coming of the Savior in a barn, tucked in some makeshift hay bed among the livestock, the human status of God-made-flesh no better than the lowliest of outcasts.

Imagine the anguish of the peasant parents. God hasn’t spoken to anyone in 400 years, and suddenly, He has a message for these two, young kids. He tells the girl she’s going to have a baby, even though Mary is a good kid and hasn’t had sex with her betrothed Joseph, or with anyone else for that matter. Mary’s initial reaction once she got past her disbelief had to be panic. What would Joseph think of her when she showed up bearing a child Joseph did not father? At worst, he would think she was a slut worthy of being stoned to death in the city square. If he could even stay calm long enough to listen to her story of the visit from the angel, he would probably think her off her rocker. God, after all, wasn’t talking to anybody.

Fortunately for Mary, Joseph gets his own visit from one of God’s messengers, instructing the young man about his responsibilities for the child Mary is carrying. What love Joseph must have felt, not only for his betrothed, but also for his God. He determines to follow the advice of his angelic visitor and go through with his marriage to Mary, prepared to take on this child of God as his own son.

As the young, travel-weary couple approached Bethlehem that fateful night, their reception must have underscored their nagging doubts about this whole bizarre turn in their lives. If this is God’s kid in Mary’s belly, then why can’t we find a decent room in an inn to bunk at for the night, Joseph must have wondered. If God could part the Red Sea to get his people out of Egypt, couldn’t He conjure up a room for His unborn kid? Maybe Mary had been violated by some other means, and the young couple had just been deluding themselves to believe otherwise. After all, for a couple of people who were supposed to be the expecting parents of a God, life was proving to be just another day as a poor traveller on this long, long night.

Settled into the final place of shelter, where at least things are warm from the body heat of the hard-worked livestock, Mary and Joseph can do what poor people across the ages learn to be good at if they expect to survive. Using the resources available to them, they set about making everything as comfortable as possible, ignoring the foul stench of overworked animal hide and the ever-present scent of well-used hay and dung. These are familiar settings to country folk like them.

As the first pangs of Mary’s labor begin, knowing they are doing the best they can do may be little comfort when they consider that this is the reception they have planned for the baby God. Except for the ewes in the stable, neither of these young people have had experience giving birth to a human child, much less a God in the form of man.  It must have been some comfort to them that they have followed the instructions offered to them by the angels who have visited them so far. Did they wonder if their newborn baby would shoot fire from his eyes or come out of the womb speaking entire sentences? As the pains of childbirth rippled through her body, did Mary have the fleeting thought that no human woman should be able to survive giving birth to God?

Perhaps Jonathan’s famous story flashed through their minds as the long day turned into a long night, Mary’s labor crescendoing in the still darkness. “Nothing can hinder the LORD from saving, whether by many or by few,” they may have reminded themselves (1 Samuel 14:6), as the sheep bleated in sympathy. The North Star, shining extra bright, illuminating the manger in an eerie comfort, must have been their first visible reassurance that this birth would indeed mean something more. God was ready to break the silence.

That first cry, splitting the still air, announced more than a new addition to the young family who had no room for the night. God’s silence had ended with a baby’s cry. True to His character, God chose the most unlikely circumstances and deliverer to make the most important step in saving all mankind. For a people expecting a Messiah who would help them overthrow Rome and develop a nation that would be undefeated forevermore, a baby born in a manger was as far from their vision as the east is from the west.

What a comfort for Mary and Joseph when their baby’s arrival was heralded by angels singing to shepherds in the fields, when soon after the birth, three magi arrived with expensive presents to anoint this special king. Memories of these gifts from above must have comforted as they fled from the threats of King Herod, as the challenging future of raising a child from God kept them up at night, as they dreamed about the life He would lead, perhaps assuming along with the rest of Israel that Jesus would lead with a sword instead of love.

This world is full of trouble. For reasons the human mind has neither the facility nor the objectivism to comprehend, bad things can and will happen, even to very good people. God knows, and He knows from the perspective of humanity. In the small corner of the world, in the even smaller corner of a manger, He came to earth in the form of a helpless child who would experience what it means to be human.

Jesus had to learn to walk, to get along with his siblings, to help his earthly dad on carpentry jobs. He had to put up with the mockery of others when He didn’t step up to conquer enemies by shedding blood. He had to face being yelled at for driving out demons because no good deed goes unpunished, even for God walking around the planet as man.

Finally, He had to take on being spit at, insulted, taunted and mocked. He was beaten and tried for crimes He did not commit. He was sentenced to death on the word of people He had come to save. He died a painful death on the ignominious cross while His oppressors gambled for the very clothes off His back.

Mary, looking on at this child who has never fit in to the expectations she must have had for Him that long ago day in a humble manger, must have wondered even then just how He would follow through on His promise to save the world. He certainly looked defeated. But, she alone knew without doubt His holy origins. She more than anyone had reason to believe that with God all things were possible.

As we contemplate the true champion Jesus proved to be in freeing all those who believe from the burdens of sin, we know that no physical oppression can keep us from the victory of being saved by Jesus. But, this celebration of the birth of our Savior is something every bit as wonderful as His ultimate sacrifice.

After 400 years of silence, God, who never lies, came through on all His promises. He loved His creation so much that He came to the planet in the form of His creation in order to become the ultimate sacrifice.

There are lessons here beyond the faith that leads to salvation. God coming to earth in the form of man teaches us humility, shows us the depth of His love, underscores His ability to make useful that which the rest of us might label useless.

Pray knowing Jesus understands exactly what you are going through. He has literally walked in our shoes. And even though He never sinned, He loved us enough to be willing to forgive us our stumbles. He died for them.

But before that, He was willing to be born for them, in a lowly manger, to the music of animal noises and the sound of the wind whistling through the cracks in the loosely-constructed walls, to lonely parents far from home and struggling to believe.