Bring On the Christmas Inconveniences!

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“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.”  Luke 2:14

Yesterday, two days before Christmas, was an interesting day.  By early morning, two of the things I had planned for the day, already wound up being altered.  That didn’t leave me confidence about the rest of my plans.  It’s been one of those years really.  I just don’t have too much confidence in my plans.  But I knew they could change.  The only thing is that when my plans change like that, especially when it leaves me out of control like that, sometimes it’s not a good feeling.  But then I have to remember that I’m not the one in control anyways, and it’s really O.K.  Because You, Lord, are the One who is really in control of my plans, no matter how big or little they are.

And here I am today, still in Luke.  John is growing up strong in the Spirit at the end of chapter 1.  But today, in chapter 2, I’m confronted with and reminded of that wonderful little word again, “ginomai,” “it came to pass.”   And it’s not just that this random event happened.  This particular event happened because You, Lord, brought it to pass.  It even looked like someone else was in control, but they weren’t, You were in control all along.  You had said in the Old Testament that Jesus would be born in Bethlehem.  Here’s Micah’s words from so long ago, “But you, Bethlehem Ephratah, though you be little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of you shall He come forth unto me that is to be ruler in Israel; whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting.”  Yes, this little glitch in everyone’s plans wasn’t an accident.  Every glitch is a divine intervention.  It just depends on how we look at it.

So Caesar has this urging in his own little heart to gather everyone to their own town so that he can count all the people and receive their taxes.  Funny how Caesar’s little “pagan” heart has this urging at just this “right” time for Your purposes, Lord.  Isn’t it funny how this major inconvenience imposed by a “pagan” brings Mary and Joseph exactly where they are supposed to be?  What if they had missed that Scripture in Micah?  What if they hadn’t understood it’s significance in their life?  What if Joseph’s training in Scripture hadn’t taken him deep enough to have that ingrained in his head?  How else would they wind up in Bethlehem at just the right time?  Well, I suppose we all need divine inconveniences like this.  I’m just wondering what other things we, or I, would miss without Your divine inconveniences being placed in my life.

So Mary and Joseph go back to Bethlehem.  And while there, they met with other inconveniences in their schedule, in their plans.  I mean, first of all, it surely wasn’t the most opportune time to travel for Mary.  And then, all their relatives had so many people in the house already, even their spare guest rooms were full and they had to stay in the area near the animals.  And whether I call that the barn, or it was in the main house near a special room attached for the animals, window and manger at the base of the room in the house, it certainly wasn’t the most optimum area for giving birth.  There was no handcrafted crib made by Joseph’s hands, only the eating trough of the animals.  Well, the swaddling cloth was probably one constant, that really might not have been out of ordinary.

And those poor shepherds in the field that night.  Even they suffered from divine inconveniences.  Everything was going along like ordinary when all of a sudden there plans are changed.  There is this angel and they are afraid.  And the angel has good news for them, actually good news of great joy for all people.  It was time for them to get off their tushes and go see this baby lying in a manger wrapped in swaddling clothes.  And then came inconvenience number 2.  A multitude of angels appeared and started singing praise to God!  Imagine that interruption!  “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.”  Now, I’m coming back to this praise, Lord, but first, I just saw that word again!

“And it came to pass”  that after the angels departed, the shepherds acted on what they were inconvenienced by.  They went to find the baby.  Did it just so happen that they went or that they even felt like going?  Oh, my, how could it be more obvious that this interruption changed their hearts and their desires.  You brought this to pass in their hearts.  You gave them this desire.  You urged them on.  And they responded to You.  And they found what You wanted them to find.  And they spread the news abroad.

What was the news that took so many interruptions and inconveniences to find?  “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men!”  This was the Savior.  This was a Savior not like any other savior, even in the humble way he arrived.  Here is the Savior, who would bring peace, “eirene.”  The Greek implies prosperity, quietness, rest, to set at one again.  Skip Moen knows the Greek better than me.  I want to see what he has to say about this word.  “The Greek word for ‘peace’ is eirene.  In the New Testament, the word is about relationships, not external conditions.  The word is not primarily associated with resolution of political conflict, good health, personal well-being or even prosperity.  It is associated with words like love, grace, glory, honor, righteousness and mercy.  Its opposites are also words about relationships:  anxiety, anguish, fear, confusion, division, distress.  Peace is the settled confidence that my relationship with God has been repaired.  Jesus tells us that he ‘gives’ this peace and ‘leaves’ this peace with us.  It is not an announcement that we have accomplished something.  It is a gift left behind for us to enjoy.  Jesus is giving his followers a going-away present.  That present is unbroken fellowship with God.  It is a present that we can have right now and it will last forever.  It places a safety net over our lives that nothing can take away.”

This is what the angels were singing about to shepherds, lowly shepherds.  This was the peace that this baby was coming to offer all men and women, boys and girls, if only they would be willing to be inconvenienced to receive it.  But it doesn’t stop there.  There is more good news.  Jesus is bringing good will toward people too.  Now, I’m not sure what to think here, Lord, because nine other interpretations of this Scripture say, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom He is pleased!”  (Luke 2:14)  But I wonder if that is missing part of what You want us to see?

See, Your being pleased in me is putting this great act in my ball park.  I mean, it’s saying that my response determines the greatness of what You have done this night in Bethlehem.  If it’s up to me pleasing You, then this gift isn’t as big as the angels make it to be.  Because how many people are really pleasing to You?  Then this gift for all people, has just become a gift for some.

But what if it’s not about me and my ability to please at all.  What if it is all about You.  What if it’s all about Your “eudokia”, Your good will toward men?  Now that’s a whole different story.  What if it just satisfies You to intervene on the behalf of men?  What if it just delights You to interrupt our lives so that we can actually see and understand and know You, who are so above us?  What if it just delights You to instill Your peace in us?  What if it just delights You to make me something I’m not, to make me good like You?  What if it is Your absolute kindness, to make this offer to me?  What if this is Your wish, to change my heart and life and make them after Yours?  What if this is Your purpose for me in all of creation, to be a recipient of Your GOODNESS, of Your GOOD WILL?  What if it’s not about Your good intentions for us?  What if it’s all about Your good working in us?

What if every “ginomai”, every change in my plans, is because You have this wonderful, blessed, holy desire to change me into Your GOOD image?  What if everything that comes to pass, is so that I can learn to trust You more deeply?  What if it is really so little about me, and so much about You and Your workmanship in me?

I mean, why me?  Why Joseph?  Why Mary?  Why the shepherds?  Why Bethlehem?  Why do You choose us?  Well, it’s not because me, or Joseph, or Mary, or the shepherds, or Bethlehem were anything special.  It’s because You, God, are Special.  See, we’re all depraved.  But not You.  See, You’re not obligated to show us grace.  It’s not something any of us deserve.  You choose me not because of my merits, but because of Yours.  You choose me not because of me but because of Your good pleasure.

Paul got it.  Paul saw what I’m seeing in the Christmas story today.  It’s all about Your “predestinating us to adoption through Jesus Christ to [Youself], according to the good pleasure of [Your] will.” ( Ephesians 1:5)  See, this “eudokia”, this good pleasure means “to think well of.”  It’s more than nice thoughts though.  God, You think these good thoughts toward us and then You are willing and resolved to act in accordance with these good thoughts.  Because of Your thoughts toward us, You act in benevolence and grace.  But why?  Why do You feel this way and think this way toward us?

Because it’s more than thoughts in You.  This “eudokia” is based in Your character.  It’s because You are good.  And it goes beyond the fact that You do good things.  Even Your good things come about because they come out of Your good character.  Your goodness is why You are the way You are and why You act the way You act.  Skip Moen put it this way, “The goodness of God is the concentrated energy of active holiness, zealous to promote and produce what is benevolent, just and pure.  The goodness of God is not God’s life-enhancing acts.  It is His very being, a person who is thoroughly and utterly committed to righteousness expressed in action.  God is good because goodness is Who He is, not because He simply chooses to act compassionately today.  When Paul expresses election as the result of God’s good will, he is telling us that the very essence of Who God is will be found in the choices God makes.  There is never any discrepancy between what is good and what God does.  God’s good pleasure is to bring into existence what is righteous, by thought, word and deed.”

So, now I have the answer to why You choose me God.  It’s a righteous act.  By choosing me You get to show Your holiness, Your goodness, Your righteousness in me.  See, I’m not righteous.  I’m everything but.  But You are more powerful than me.  Why would You want my sinfulness to block Your goodness from being expressed in me?  You don’t want it to.  So You choose me.  You choose me to magnify Yourself.  You choose me and my circumstances so that Your character can shine in Your creation, and I’m part of that creation, designed for Your glory.

So here’s the inconvenient part of the deal.  You choose me.  That’s amazing in itself.  But will I allow myself to be inconvenienced, will I allow my plans for my life to be changed, and will I choose You?  I mean, if I really think about it, You inconvenienced Yourself beyond measure for me, just to actively engage Yourself in goodness on my behalf.  Jesus left heaven, had to live like a baby, go through the birth process and everything.  It’s a miracle but it’s not pretty and it’s pretty uncomfortable.  He went through the pain of being disbelieved and misunderstood and ridiculed.  He suffered derision and physical persecution, and betrayal by his closest friends.  He suffered excruciating, unimaginable pain for the cross.  He suffered the weight of my sin, the sin of all the world, and the wrath of His heavenly Father, You, God.  Yes, You inconvenience Yourself for me more than I have ever inconvenienced myself for You.  And why?  Because You are so full of GOODNESS that it absolutely delights You to make others who are so unlike You, just like You.

Yes, I want to respond to You and Your goodness in obedience.  I can’t be good without You because only You are good.  And I am so overwhelmed that You choose by Your goodness to share Your goodness, to impart Your goodness in me.  So bring on the interruptions of my plans and the inconveniences.  No matter the cost, Your goodness is worth everything.

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