Wednesday, December 24, 2014

At Just the Right Time

The story is so familiar: Jesus, God with us, born to a young girl, who had her first baby in an animal stall, because the local inns were all full.

He grew up in Nazareth, of Galilee, a backwater town with a less than lofty reputation.

He lived in a time where the locals were occupied by powerful Rome, under a ruler who was know for being power-hungry, and paranoid.

He entered into his active ministry of proclaiming the gospel at age 30, without the communications advantages we have today: mass media, public relations people, the Internet – to spread his life-giving message. Instead, he walked from town to town, and spoke to those who chose to listen (and to many who didn’t).

I’ve often marveled that God would choose that time and that way to send His Son. Would it have seemed like the right time to you?

But God makes it clear that His timing for Jesus’ birth and life is perfect: when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. (Galatians 4:4-5)

What about the timing of his death? After a mere three years of earthly ministry, He is sentenced to death. What might He have done with, say, 10 years on earth? Or 20?! His closest disciples certainly didn’t seem to have grasped the heart of his teaching; they appear weak-willed, lacking the fortitude to persevere once He is arrested.

And the particulars of His death: grotesque, shameful, excruciating, casting aspersion on everything He’d ever taught or done. How could God die? And such a cursed death?

But God makes it clear that His timing and manner for Jesus’ death is perfect:

Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree” (Galatians 3:13)

For when we were still without strength, at just the right time, Christ died for the ungodly. . . But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:6, 8)

When we measure these events – or the events in our own lives – using our own perspective as a measuring stick, we miss vital information and insight. We can’t see what God sees. We don’t know what He knows. We imagine His kingdom coming in ways that are sensible, measurable, comprehensible; what He does looks crazy. The timing, the setting, the plotline: we would surely write the story differently.

But isn’t that the point? We aren’t writing the story. God is. His timing is intentional; His methods are flawless; His purposes are perfect, to reveal who He is and accomplish what He intends.

His kingdom is coming; His loving purposes in the lives of His people are being fulfilled. Even when we don’t understand the setting, the timing, the events. Even when the rising action confuses us, when the conflict appears too great and without resolution; when the conclusion evades our common sense reasoning.

God sent His Son into the world at just the right time! And, in God’s perfect timing, Jesus died for us, the ungodly, in order to redeem us from under the law, that we would be reborn as God’s very own children.

Trust the Lord with all your heart
And lean not on your own understanding.
In all your ways, recognize Him
and He will direct your paths.

Proverbs 3:5-6

Sunday, December 21, 2014

His Coming

The true light, who gives light to everyone, [has come] into the world. . . The Word of God became human flesh and took up residence in our midst. We observed His glory, the glory as the One and Only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.   
John 1:9 & 14

This morning wasn’t the first time we’ve invited Sherry and her girls to church with us. She has seemed nervous yet eager to join us. Always, at the last minute, she has wriggled out, fretting about her children’s shoes not being nice enough (she says) -- more likely fretting about being out of place, different, not-good-enough (she probably feels).

It’s hard to enter a new place, an unfamiliar context. You feel exposed. Uncertain. On guard. Even in a church where many will welcome you. Where the grace of God for needy people is preached. Where we sing to celebrate God’s goodness and mercy to us in Christ.

At Christmastime, more than ever, we are praying that she will come. Because we know that Jesus has already come. For her.

He has come to us, so that we may come to Him.    

God has held out His flesh-and-bones hand through Jesus, that we might place our hand in His.

. . .

We smile at the mental image of shepherds lifting tattered robes from ankles, coming quickly to the barn, wide-eyed, after a skyfull of angelic beings rocked their world.

We marvel that learned men travelled for months, maybe years, in search of the King that they discovered in the stars.

We love hearing people tell their stories of coming to Christ in faith.

But first, He came to us: an unassuming invitation wrapped in Jewish flesh, a glimpse of God that made Him real to us. The distance He travelled boggles the mind, making Dr Who’s adventures in the TARDIS look like a brief stroll in an itty-bitty park. Across the universe that Christ Himself created, all the way into the womb of a young girl in Galilee, He took his first human breath in a stable, beneath the night sky that He had formed.

From the beginning, His plan, with the Father and the Spirit, was to come to us, for us. To meet us in a way that would make sense to us. To speak our language and paint word pictures that we could understand. To touch us, and be touched by us. To live in “our” world for a brief while, to share our earthly everyday experiences. To be fully human, even as He has always been and always will be God.

This is how far He has come.

This is how close He has come.

To you. For you.

. . .

If Christmastime is a bittersweet time for you, shadowed in sadness or grief or regret, I bring you good news of great joy:

Jesus, “God with us,” has come! He has come to you and for you. He is as near to you as your breath, your next thought, your hand reaching for His open, outstretched hand.

Arise, shine, for your light has come,
    and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.…
And nations shall come to your light,
    and kings to the brightness of your rising.   
Isaiah 60:1 & 3