Tuesday, December 20, 2016
Was Jesus' birth and infancy just a means to an end, something he had to go through to become the Son of Man? Was it something to skip over? Some prefer not to envision our Savior as a helpless infant but would rather only think of him as mighty and powerful. Yet, a divine being who would enter his own creation by taking on the form of an unborn, then newborn child speaks volumes, revealing the wonder and absolute love of God in an unprecedented way. Emmanuel. God with us. The baby Jesus was the beginning of the story and the most startling paradox the universe will ever know.
But wouldn't it have made more sense for him to suddenly appear already grown, majestically descending in a flaming chariot, ready to begin his long-awaited ministry? Surely an angelic escort would have been in order.
Instead, the infant king came to earth in greatest humility, in the womb of a Jewish peasant girl. One of my favorite authors, Madeleine L'Engle says it so well in her book, Bright Evening Star.
"Was there a moment, known only to God, when all the stars held their breath, when the galaxies paused in their dance for a fraction of a second, and the Word, who had called it all into being, went with all his love into the womb of a young girl, and the angels clapped their hands for joy?"
Out of the depths of eternity he came. Jesus, willingly and lovingly "did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness...." (Phil. 2:6) "Power. Greater power than we can imagine, abandoned, as the Word knew the powerlessness of the unborn child, still unformed, taking up almost no space in the great ocean of amniotic fluid, unseeing, unhearing, unknowing.... The throwing away of power requires enormous power..." Madeleine L'Engle.
Just prior to his birth, in the darkness of Mary's womb, Jesus was sensitive to the fears, stress, fatigue and anxiety that his mother felt as they traveled 90 miles on a donkey, first on dirt paths along the Jordan River, then narrow, rocky mountain trails before reaching Bethlehem. It was a grueling trip for both mother and child, fraught with hazards. Their journey took them through dangerous, heavily-forested areas inhabited by lions, bears and wild boars. Bandits and robbers were a constant threat.
Upon arrival in Bethlehem, there was no room for them and the Savior of the world was born in a harsh and bleak environment, carefully and adoringly wrapped in swaddling clothes by Mary and Joseph and gently placed into a primitive manger. Heaven was resplendent with joy but on earth there was silence.
The Son of God, second person of the Trinity, eternal and omnipotent, broke into the limitation and confinement of time for us and became flesh as the Son of Man. He went from obscurity in the womb to obscurity on earth. It would be years before anyone knew who he was.
Every year, I search for adequate expression, a way to magnify the significance of his extraordinary, yet ordinary birth. Not only am I overawed beyond words by his expansive humility, but I am stirred emotionally, imagining him as a tiny precious babe. Who cannot be moved by exquisite little toes and fingers, the spontaneous newborn expressions and sounds? Who cannot be tenderly swayed by the Christ child needing to be fed, clothed, rocked, sung to and cuddled? Picturing this makes me smile. It makes me cry. I feel drawn to him in a special way and that is exactly as intended.
It is part of the divinely designed plan for humanity. God so loved the world that he gave his only son. Our hearts are awakened and softened by the story of Mary and Joseph and a baby in a manger. As we genuinely respond to this marvelous event declaring his unending, amazing love, the expected eternal bonding continues and is strengthened.
At the moment of the conception of God's own son, the course of history was altered forever. Surely, this is cause for worship and praise, joy and celebration of the wonder of his love.
Wednesday, March 16, 2016
When I think I fail to live up to whatever standard I, or someone else, happens to have set for me, my opinion of myself ranges anywhere from impatience and disappointment to anger, disgust or depression.
That's pretty dramatic, you say. Well, yes, it is. I do tend to be rather hard on myself. And in all the drama, I assume God feels the same way. In spite of the fact that I intellectually know better, I too often forget that Jesus see us all through the eyes of compassion. I forget that the making of a soul takes a lifetime. As humans, we tend to view the soul as a finished product, especially as we grow older. And on this presumed "finished" product, we may place unreasonable demands and terrible burdens. We think somehow we should know better, do better, feel better. And maybe we should, but at the same time there is a need to remind ourselves there is an unfinished quality about humanity that will remain so until we take our last breath.
When Jesus sees us, he doesn't see someone who messed up again or someone who ought to know better. He sees someone, deeply beloved, for whom he died.
Did you know crucifixion was reserved for those who did not matter, for those who had lost all status? This manner of execution was viewed as highly offensive and vile and it was not customary to write of it or speak of it publicly. In fact, the Bible narratives contain the longest and most detailed accounts of a crucifixion that exist in ancient literature. The intention for those crucified was that they be forgotten. They were considered not worthy of remembrance. Interesting, when Jesus inaugurated the communion ceremony which was to symbolize his death, he said, "Do this in remembrance of me."
The victims of crucifixion suffered mockery, taunting, betrayal, humiliation, helplessness, rejection, bleakness, desolation, abandonment, brutality, gruesome torture. It was an excruciatingly slow death of exposure and asphyxiation, with the last vestiges of dignity cruelly stripped away.
Jesus sees us, not as someone who just can't seem to get it right, but as someone for whom he died such a death. He told us his crucifixion was to be remembered. The biblical account has been preserved throughout the centuries for that very reason. We often view his words "Do this in remembrance of me" as a command. And certainly it is. But in the context, at his last supper surrounded by his cherished companions, Jesus knew he was about to face abandonment by most of them and a death with horrific consequences. Those words were not lacking in emotion, but spoken from deep within. It was a heartfelt plea to them, and to us centuries later, to remember him. To remember the enormity of the price he paid because his love for us is profound beyond measure.
That evening, he saw each of his disciples as he sees each of us, as someone for whom he died. It was at the cross, the fullness of his love was revealed.