Sovereign God or Cosmic Janitor?

ImageI have two Bible verses that have been bouncing around in my head for the past few days. I’ve read both before, and possibly have even seen them linked together in some context or another, but they suddenly converged this week and grabbed my attention. And not just grabbed my attention, but Jedi Mind-melded with it, affixing my thoughts whenever I wasn’t actively occupied with something else.

Both verses have to do with The Problem of Evil. Here’s the first verse:

Romans 8:28 – “We know that all things work together for the good of those who love God: those who are called according to his purpose.” (HCSB)

This verse is usually quoted by Christians as proof that even when things go wrong, God can and will use those circumstances to our benefit in some way. Often, we imagine some sort of tangible benefit (gaining wisdom, being able to see a new opportunity, etc), but it’s also used as guarantor of spiritual growth (we come to know more about God). Either way, the verse is quoted as encouragement to remain true to the faith no matter what life throws at us.

Personally, I think it’s a fine use of the verse. In fact, Paul himself wrote the verse as an encouragement to the saints in Rome; in a passage where he details the sufferings and sorrows of human experience, Paul points the Roman Christians beyond the temporal discomfort of the age to the eternal glory that awaits. What seems too much to bear now, is, in fact, revealing the better things that are to come. Stay strong, he says, and God will use these afflictions to bless.

It’s comforting. It helps provide solid ground in unsteady times.

But how does God do it, exactly?

Sometimes, when we quote this verse, we make it sound like God is a detached Midas, someone hanging in the shadows until the mess hits the fan. Then, in the nick of time, He benevolently/miraculously steps in and turns our tough times into gold. Our sufferings are made into blessings, and He retreats back into the shadows until we need Him again.

There’s a couple of things troubling about this view: one, if God is in the shadows, that means someone/thing besides Him is in control. Two, God is relegated to a position of wish fulfiller/pooper-scooper that is an affront to His holiness and power. Three, it puts the emphasis on our receiving good instead of on God’s power to bring it about. It’s a defective view of our relationship with Him.

That’s where the other verse comes in. I mentioned two, remember?

Isaiah 45:7 – “I form light and create darkness, I make success and create disaster; I, the LORD, do these things.” (HCSB)

This verse gets brought up a lot when you’re talking about evil because the King James version translates “disaster” as “evil.” But the verse isn’t talking about moral evil (or the choosing of the not-good); it’s talking about physical incidents that bring about disturbance in human events. It’s talking about things like natural disasters, sickness, struggle, hardship. It’s uncomfortable for many Christians to associate these things with God, but from the Old Testament on we see that God not only uses such things to His will, He also brings them to pass when He deems it necessary. Think Pharaoh’s hardened heart; think Noah; think Joshua and the sun; heck, think about Jesus calming the stormy sea.

When you think about the sovereignty of God being that absolute – that He can not only bring about calamity, but use it to bless His people – you have a much different God than one that just hangs around and cleans up messes. You have a God who doesn’t just want worship, He deserves it.

There will be those that disagree, and I will readily admit that this is an issue I go round and round with a lot. It’s easier for me to reconcile and make sense of an all-good, no-bad God when that God is incapable of ever doing anything I would consider bad (like natural disasters, diseases, etc). But that kind of God is also reduced to a bystander; either by His desire or His limits, He’s not able to actively work in my life. He can only respond to the things that happen to me, even if the response is to bring about good for me. Plus, if He’s limited to just making lemonade out of life’s lemons, that means praying for Him to intervene beforehand is useless.

For God to be able to stop disaster and suffering, He must be more than a bystander. But that means He’s more than most of us are comfortable with. He’s greater than our feeble imaginings. Either God is sovereign, able to “make success and create disaster” according to His will, or He’s less-than-the-One-True-God. It’s challenging to think about if you’re used to God just being your cosmic janitor.

What about you? Are you worshiping the Sovereign God or a safety valve?

Why Youth Need Apologetics

apologetics2Questions. Everyone from the smartest minds in the largest universities to the simplest minds in the smallest towns have them. But there may be no other group as predisposed to asking them than teenagers. It’s actually a great paradox how an age group generally regarded as self-conscious and peer-pressured can suddenly become animated askers of even the most embarrassing questions—if the answers they are getting and person they are asking seem to connect.

Particularly questions about God. Because while you may or may not believe it, they’re talking and thinking about God stuff an awful lot.

Perhaps one of the most thorough testaments to that truth is Kenda Creasy Dean’s book Almost Christian: What the Faith of Our Teenagers Is Telling the American Church. It’s a couple of years old now, but it’s still full of insight into the youth of our nation, and in particular, the youth or our churches. Based on the most intensive study to date on the religious positions of American teenagers, Dean’s book highlights the simple truth about teens and belief: they’re not against it. In fact, most teenagers have nothing against religion at all, and seem to actively embrace it as something good for their life.

But, as Dean points out, it’s what they’re embracing that is so startling. She writes that religious kids embrace a something that could best be defined as “Moralistic Therapeutic Deism,” a faith that teaches God’s will for your life is to feel good about yourself and do good to others. Beyond that, God is not too concerned about who you are or what you do.

Here are the five basic tenets of MTD, as outlined by Dean:

  1. A god exists who created and orders the world and watches over life on earth.
  2. God wants people to be good, nice, and fair to each other, as taught in the Bible and by most world religions.
  3. The central goal of life is to be happy and to feel good about oneself.
  4. God is not involved in my life except when I need God to resolve a problem.
  5. Good people go to heaven when they die.

This is bittersweet information. On the one hand, it shows that kids are not resistant to the idea of faith or religion. On the other, it shows that what they are being exposed to is a deviant mish-mash of concepts from Christianity, culture, psychology, and other religions. With so many contributing factors to their definitions of what is right/wrong/good/bad, it’s no wonder so many of them have questions.

Dean’s insight into the culture of Moralistic Therapeutic Deism is particularly of interest to me: of the many questions the students at my church ask, I would guess that a full 80% are weighted towards issues that collide with MTD theology. Indeed, if God really wants us to be good and do good, then why does He allow evil? Why didn’t He just make us love him? Why doesn’t He just show Himself and get everyone to fall in line?

Or, in my particular case, if God is so good why did He allow your daughter to die?

These are questions that most Christians either can’t or won’t answer, and as I’ve interacted with people in my Sunday school class, my neighborhood, even my former seminary buddies, I’m starting to lean more towards can’t. Part of it has to do with the fact that these questions on evil and suffering, on death and dying, on the human condition and existence, are deeper than many people feel comfortable going. To meditate on those types of things would be depressing, if not outright hurtful.

It also has to do with the fact that many adults are afraid of admitting that what answers they do have aren’t satisfying to them, much less to anyone else. There’s a cycle of silent desperation within some of our churches, where the sins and insecurities of the fathers are being passed on to the sons. And that is actually the issue writ large: most Christian adults practice Moralistic Therapeutic Deism themselves. The kids are, as Dean argues so convincingly in her book, just following the lead of their elders.

The answer to all of this seems easy enough: just get the adults trained and interested in the Christian answers to these questions and the kids will follow. The reality is that most adults seem resistant to changing their thinking habits, so getting them to consider a completely different (even if more historic) theology isn’t likely. Heck, if adults struggle to break destructive thought patterns for habits they know are deadly (smoking, drinking, drug use, gambling, sex) how in the world can we expect them to utterly revise the belief system that currently allows them to cope with said patterns?

I fully appreciate that there are adults who change their behaviors, beliefs, and ultimately their lives, on a regular basis. I’m not saying it can’t be done. What I am suggesting is that such changes are difficult. Are they worth pursuing? Without question. Will they necessarily bring about the kind of sea-change we’re looking for in the lives of students? Not so much.

Perhaps, then, the answer lies in taking apologetics and Christian training straight to the kids themselves. There are certainly several talented speakers and organizations out there that are aiming to meet this need—Alex McFarland, Sean McDowell, the folks at Stand To Reason—but the gap is so significant that more must be done. The question becomes: what?

Perhaps the question should become: who?

And if that is the question, then the answer is simple: you.

Apologetics is, at its heart, a discussion on why Christianity is true. It can be deep and philosophical; it can be academic and evidentiary; it can even be relational and experiential. But apologetics is always, at its core, a personal dialog between interested parties. Sometimes that communication is between the believer and God, sometimes between a believer and friends. Why not, as a believer, bring that conversation to the students at your church? Why not sit down and talk about who God is, why that matters and how it impacts a person’s life.

If we don’t have these conversations because we’re fearful—of giving wrong answers, of accidentally turning someone off to the Gospel, of being perceived as a religious fanatic—then perhaps we should re-examine our own faith. In all honesty a faith that can’t be discussed or even scrutinized, a faith that has all the virility and strength of a hot-house flower, isn’t much of a faith at all. It’s a weak philosophy.

My experience has taught me that I don’t have all of the answers—there are things in my theology and understanding of God that require more study, more prayer, more thought—but I do have something even more important: an integrity in answering questions that speaks as loudly to the students as my words do. Or, as one student said, “You don’t shout at us because we don’t think the way you do. You’re actually kind of respectful, and that means a lot. And it makes me curious about what you believe.”

I’m not a Norm Geisler or Ravi Zacharias or William Lane Craig or Lee Strobel, but that doesn’t matter to the kids I teach. They don’t necessarily want an authority figure teaching them; they just want someone real. It takes courage to stand in front of forty teenagers and say, “Let ‘er rip.” It’s as draining as running a marathon and feels like it takes twice as long. And sometimes, you can’t get the answers out the way you want; sometimes words fail or you don’t really understand what a kid is driving at with a particular question.

But for a generation that is rapidly dissolving into a lukewarm pseudo-faith, there is no more important mission than to stand with humility and conviction and discuss the faith that you have based your life upon. There will be bumps and bruises, like when a kid scowls at your response or a few completely ignore you, but they are worth it.

Because, as Jesus said in Scripture, the kids are worth it. Let’s not hold them back.

My Struggle Against Grace

ImageThe students at my church, whom I love dearly, whom I would gladly do just about anything for (except for the typical stupid-youth-pastor stuff), have organized multiple benefit events to help my family with medical expenses. No one in my family is deathly ill, as one might think whenever the terms “benefit” and “medical expenses” are used. Rather, we’re just like a lot of American families who are besieged by medical costs in the 21st century: we make it, but just barely.

I’ve not talked about this much at all with anyone other than my wife and couple of close friends, mainly because I am ashamed that the kids believe my family is worthy of such lavish love.

Hello, my name is Jason, and I am a Christian who absolutely struggles with grace.

I am much more comfortable sacrificing. I don’t believe in a salvation that comes from works, but when it comes down to practical things, I’m quicker to work and suffer than I am to bask in unearned favor. Up until a few weeks ago, I wouldn’t have been able to articulate that truth; but now, thanks to the extravagant and beautiful love of a few teenagers, I’m forced to admit that I have a problem with the essential truth of the Gospel.

I’m not good enough, and yet God saved me anyway. And not just saved me, but fills me, indwells me, uses me, and loves me as His own.

To be honest, I like suffering and sacrifice because it makes a good shield against those people who aren’t gracious at all. That sounds stupid, I suppose, but there are people who constantly remind you that they don’t think you’re special, that they don’t see any reason why you should be treated better than they. In reality, their attitude has more to do with their own inherent selfishness than with my undeservedness, but the subtle slings and barbs sting all the same.

Often, people on the road to hell want nothing more than to take you with them. And so I like being able to point to my life and use my works as a defense against those who would want to remind me of my unworthiness.

But when people come alongside you and overwhelm you with love that simply cannot be justified by your life…well, that strips away those defenses. It lays you bare before God and everyone else, and it exposes you for what you are: unworthy. Imperfect. Flawed.

The human response is to either recoil from such love, or to lamely attempt to justify it. I know that’s certainly been the case for me. Before my students put their plan into motion, one of their parents came to me and asked for my permission, told me that if I didn’t offer my blessing, the kids probably wouldn’t go through with it.

I hesitated. The large part of me, the part that knows my flaws and sins and unworthiness, wanted to put and end to it right then. A simple no, and I could go on living my life comfortably uncomfortable. The justifications were plentiful: it’s a down economy; we’re not that bad off; I don’t want the kids getting hurt if people don’t respond the way they might imagine; I don’t want them to feel like they have to do this.

But at my core, in my soul, I felt a conviction that told me I couldn’t say no. That I was going to have to, as my friend Polly Sage put it, suffer in a different way: receiving a love I could never earn or repay. So I gave my blessing. And thus began one of the most powerful struggles of my soul, a statement I don’t make lightly. The only other time I have felt this conflicted was after my daughter, Ruthanne, was stillborn.

In death, most people retreat from you. There is an instinctive notion within the human heart that a person who is grieving needs space, and so people withdraw, leave you alone; they don’t look at your life or question what you do. You are anonymous in grief, and even though your soul and mind might be melting from the white-hot pain and confusion, you learn to find a desirable peace in the solitude. Your foibles and internal flaws remain yours and yours alone.

Life – love – is the opposite. It doesn’t leave you alone, it drags you onstage, warts and all, and proclaims from the top of its lungs that you are special, beloved, worthy. And it’s there, in the spotlight, that you as the object realize fully just how flawed and ugly and worthless you really are. And you feel acutely that the audience can see – if not all, at least some of – those same flaws. You can feel the eyes of judgment on you, even if those eyes are far fewer than your mind tells you. You know the truth, and yet you’re spoken of with such loving terms that you want to believe and run away all at the same time.

Folks, that’s the Gospel in a nutshell. And I’m struggling with it.

I am so blessed to have students who have listened to my incessant cries for the church to be more compassionate, less judgmental, more others-focused, more willing to help the poor and unfortunate. Not just because they are a beautiful picture of the ability of the youth of our world to shine brightly the Light of Christ, but because they are showing me that God’s love is greater, deeper, truer “than tongue or pen could ever tell; it goes beyond the farthest star and reaches to the lowest hell.” I just never expected that they would then turn that love on me.

But no one does. That’s why the persistent cry from the lips of Christ was that “God so loved the world, that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever would believe in Him would not die, but gain everlasting life.”

Today, I understand in an entirely different way, not just that God loves me, but that inside of that love are things I cannot comprehend, much less make my peace with. I am stripped naked, shown undone, and yet He still says, “Beloved.” Not because of me, but because that’s just who He is.

The same is true for you.

May you be so blessed as to discover the terror and wonder of that love so deep.

God With Us

* This is the manuscript to my sermon from this morning. I delivered this message at my church, Chestnut Grove Baptist, for our final Advent candle – the Christ candle. I post it here for those who might be wondering, in the wake of current events, just where God is when we need Him.

* * * * *

baby jesus“Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel (which means, God with us).” – Matthew 1:23

It has been a very long week for our country and community. Between the Newtown shootings on the 14th and the murder of Paul Sampleton on Wednesday, a whole lot of people have been asking the collective question:

Where was God?

In the face of any tragedy, this is the almost-universal human impulse; both believers and non-believers alike instinctively turn their minds to the question of, if there exists an omnipotent, omniscient God, where was he when we needed him?

Professional theologians call this theodicy; the more understandable version is the problem of evil and suffering. Whatever you choose to call it, the issue is one of the great intellectual and emotional barriers to the Gospel. It is an issue that must be addressed carefully and with great wisdom.

While I want to be brief today, let me summarize for you the basic structure of the problem of evil: if God is all-powerful and all-good, then evil should not exist because God would have the power to stop it and the moral imperative to do so. However, based on our simple powers of observation, we see that evil does, in fact, exist. Therefore, either God is not all-powerful (meaning he can’t stop evil from occurring) or God is not all-good (meaning he has no moral imperative to prevent evil), or God is okay with evil and suffering. None of those seem like truly great options.

The rhetoric on this issue runs deep, much deeper than we have time for this morning, but I bring this up because it is such an ingrained part of our human experience whenever we encounter tragedies such as Newtown or Paul Sampleton’s death. We experience it even more personally when things in our life don’t go according to plan; whether it’s the illness of a loved one, the death of a friend, the loss of a job, or the plain reality that life is harder than we would like for it to be, we run headlong into the problem of evil and suffering at almost every turn.

In fact, if I were to take a quick survey of the people in this room, asking if anyone here has struggled with some form of suffering or evil in the past few days, I believe almost every hand would shoot up toward the ceiling and stay there. Pain, it would seem, is a constant companion.

The Apostle Matthew knew this. Being a Jew, and a tax collector at that, Matthew was well acquainted with the realities of suffering and evil. And when he sat down to pen his Gospel account of the life of Christ, he did something remarkable: he bookended the story of God’s Messiah with the generations of Israeli suffering and the massacre of innocents.

Take a quick look at Matthew 1, and you see that he begins with the genealogy of Jesus Christ, tracing his Jewish roots from Abraham down to Joseph. Three sets of fourteen generations, a highly symbolic accounting that pointed not only to the divinity and fulfilled prophecy found in the birth of Christ, but to the history of God’s people who suffered faithfully while looking forward to that same birth. While many modern readers would tend to skip the long lists, there is so much to be gleaned from them; not only the remembrance of the more famous individuals, but the collective perseverance on the part of God’s people. To read those lists is to face first hand the pain and suffering (much of it self-inflicted, but pain and suffering nonetheless) of the chosen people of God, a pain and suffering that the author of Hebrews said was credited to them as righteousness.

We dismiss this part of the story at our own peril. Often times, our suffering is seemingly made worse by the idea that we know/believe that God is powerful enough to end it, and yet chooses otherwise. We have been conditioned to believe that somehow, God SHOULD end our suffering because we have become his adopted children through Christ, a less-than obvious twist on the blasphemous “prosperity gospel.” History tells us, as does Jesus himself, that our sufferings are not anomalies to be quickly dispatched, but instead are circumstances in which we are to learn the character and faithfulness of God.

For a specific example, consider the apostle Paul, who, we learn in Acts 9:15-16 was Jesus’ “chosen instrument.” As Jesus told Ananias, Paul was “to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel. For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.”

So the prelude to the birth of Christ is the historic suffering of God’s people. Suddenly, after generations of patient endurance, Christ arrives and enters into history as promised.

Only he comes as a child. A tiny, defenseless infant incapable of anything more than the most basic of human functionalities: breathing, eating, moving.

To underscore this point, Matthew shares with us a second look at suffering, a foreshadowing of what awaited the infant Christ: the suffering of death. Matthew carefully records King Herod’s command to kill all of the boy children under the age of two in Bethlehem and surrounding areas. And the soldiers execute the order — and execute what many historians estimate to be around 20 small boys. Church history has rightly called this the Massacre of the Innocents, with an Orthodox day of observance on December 27/28.

Many people have rightly connected this historic atrocity with what happened in Newtown last week.

We shudder at the death of children. We consider the lost potential, the tragic cutting short of life before is allowed to blossom, and we weep for what could have been. Mostly, we think of those children to whom we are close and we despair that it could have been them. The world offers no illusions about the fragility of life; when we think of the smallest, weakest, and most innocent among us being wantonly killed for reasons either unknown or incomprehensible, we feel the world spin out of control and we ask again: where is God?

Matthew surrounds the narrative of Jesus’ birth with two accounts that ask the question “Where is God?”, and in so doing, he magnifies God’s answer: the birth of Christ. Where is God in our times of patient suffering? Where is God in the midst of our horrific tragedies? The answer is as simple as it is profound: he is with us. In our midst. One of us, inhabiting our flesh and bone and suffering beside us.

The mystery of the Incarnation isn’t merely that God became man, it’s that God chose to live among our sin and feel it for himself. As the writer of Hebrews wrote, Jesus was “tempted in every way we are, yet did not sin.” He was “a man of sorrows, well acquainted with grief.” Yes, he came to put an end to the sin that destroys us, but he didn’t do it as we would imagine; he didn’t come and conquer the world and turn it immediately into paradise.

He was born as a baby. He had to grow as we all grow, slowly, painfully, one day, one week, one month at a time, until the time was right for his ministry to begin. Then, he still took three years to invest his life in the lives of the apostles, pouring out his wisdom and insight into men and women who were – admittedly – a little slow on the uptake. He died an excruciating public death, was buried in a public tomb, was resurrected and appeared to numerous people, all to show humanity that the faithfulness of our souls was made possible by the faithfulness of God.

In other words, nothing about the birth, life, death or resurrection of Christ points to God being in the quick-fix business. And while we know that suffering is not something that we’ll endure in heaven, it’s part of the journey that takes us there.

But if you listen to some of our most basic, everyday church language, you see that we don’t understand that idea. If you really pay attention to what we say as Christians, you will hear that we really don’t believe that hardship has a place in the Christian life, or in the immanence of God. We pray all the time for the alleviation of suffering, instead of our enlightenment through suffering. We pray for God to be with us, when he already is.

And while these heartfelt prayers don’t come from a place of malice or malevolence, they still speak to the fact that we simply do not understand some of the most fundamental truths of our faith, truths that are revealed from the beginning of Scripture and are most obvious in the life of our Savior.

If God didn’t spare his own Son suffering, but brought about our redemption through it, will he not do the same with ours?

It would be easy to go off the rails at this point and address whether or not suffering was part of God’s plan. You can chase that particular rabbit all day and never come away with the obvious answer: regardless of the plan, the reality is that we suffer.

But we do not suffer in vain, and we certainly do not suffer alone.

The birth of Christ, the birth of the one called Immanuel, wasn’t merely the ticket to eternity that we have sometimes mistakenly made it out to be. It was an invitation to walk with God again as in days of old. It was an invitation to understand anew that the Father God who made us is the Son of God who walks with us and the Spirit of God who fills us. We see this in the outpouring of support for the families in Newtown; we see it in the way people have responded to Paul Sampleton’s death. As my friend, Ayubu Hashiguchi, one of the youth pastors at Grayson UMC said, it is in our sufferings that we find God revealed through the people who come alongside to comfort, assist, and pray with us.

Where was God at Newtown? Everywhere. Where was he in the case of Paul Sampleton? Right in the middle of it. Where is God right now, in the midst of your struggle? Inside you, beside you, walking with you through every moment of pain and doubt.

Don’t mistake the absence of easy answers for the absence of God. As my friend Dawn Hood is fond of saying, “Life is hard. God is good. Don’t get the two confused.”

The Christ candle we lit today serves to remind us of the most amazing of all our theological truths: that God so loved the world that he sent his one and only Son into our midst, into our flesh, to show us himself and remind us that we are not alone. Ever.

God is with us. Right now.

Their Pain, Our Joy

melchizedek_abraham1The Gospel of Matthew begins with some of the most horrific words in all of Scripture: “A record of the genealogy of Jesus Christ the son of David, the son of Abraham…”

Instantly you are thrown into one of those dreaded Bible lists, the kind that – if you’re reading in the King James Version – invariably contain the word “beget” more times than you’d care to know. Matthew, the writer of the Gospel, takes the reader from Abraham’s seed (Isaac) to the birth of King David.

But he continues, listing Solomon as David’s son and plowing on through until you get to little known player Jeconiah, just before Israel was sent packing into exile.

Then, you pick up with Jeconiah’s son, Shealtiel, and follow the generations until you arrive at these words: “and Jacob the father of Joseph, the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus, who is called Christ. Thus there were fourteen generations from Abraham to David, fourteen from David to the exile in Babylon, and fourteen from the exile to the Christ.”

Three groups of fourteen generations, each one detailed in specific, just to connect the fulfillment of the covenant, Christ, with the father of the covenant, Abraham. For Matthew’s readers, this was an impressive display, an imperative bit of evidence that rooted the authenticity of the Messiah’s lineage in the history of the nation of Israel.

For us modern readers, though, it’s reason to yawn. And skip ahead. Let’s get on to the birth of Jesus part, shall we? Isn’t that what really matters? He’s here! Let’s boogie.

But we miss out on so much. Hundreds of years of pain, rooted in the family tree of Israel, etched into the faces of those whom Christ came to seek and save, shouldn’t just be prelude to our getting a fancy new soul. Yet that’s what we make this passage: a delay to our own gratification. Yes, congratulations, Jewish people, you’ve suffered much and now God has sent his son to make everything right. Bully for you. Now let’s get down to sharing the message with the Gentiles so I can watch internet porn and still go to heaven.

I’m being crass, I know. But be honest with yourself: don’t you skip the lineage stuff at the beginning of Matthew because you either find it boring, or, perhaps more accurately, find it pointless?

It’s not, though.

If you follow it carefully, you’ll see something that should make many of us modern-day Christians sit up and take note. From Abraham to Isaac to Jacob; from Boaz to Obed to Jesse; from David to Solomon to Rehoboam; from Amon to Josiah to Jeconiah; from Matthan to Jacob to Joseph – there is a history of faithful perseverance, a willingness to wait for the timing of the Lord and to see his handiwork fulfilled. Generations of men and women went to the grave not knowing what the true consummation of the covenant would be, and they went to the grave still believing. Still trusting.

Then Jesus. He who was very God made man, the one in whom the fullness of God dwelt so that those who saw him saw the Eternal Father. The Messiah, the one who fulfilled the covenant and revealed its depth and breadth in a way that took the world by storm and seemed to bring pain to the very people it was meant to bless. Jesus, who suffered in his body the penalty for our sins, who stepped out of the eternal into the microscopic measurements of time, living second by second, marching towards a destiny unlike any before or since. He went to the cross, aware of the pain, aware of the separation, aware of the death that awaited him. Still trusting.

So we come to our part in the story, the place to where we rush when we first crack open the Gospel. Thanks to the patient faith of the forefathers, thanks to the sinless faith of our Messiah, we now stand in line with those who came before us and bask in the love and glory of our Father God. Being blessed with a faith that is a gift of God’s very grace, we have become adopted heirs in the Kingdom, brothers and sisters to our Eternal King Jesus. What Abraham and David and others looked toward, we stand in the midst of, enjoying.

And how do we celebrate?

By skipping the parts of the story that don’t contain us. By not learning from our collective faith history. By assuming that instant gratification and immediate results are the hallmarks of sincere faith instead of a patient willingness to suffer for our Lord’s sake.

Shame on us.

Christmas is a time for reflection, a time to think deeply on the birth of Christ our Lord, and to consider what that really means to our lives. Let us not skip a word of the narrative, even if we’re so excited to get to the better known parts that inspire celebration. Because without centuries of faithful, patient suffering, with the fourteen generations from Abraham to David, fourteen from David to Jeconiah, and fourteen from Jeconiah to Jesus, there would be no celebration. It is through their pain that our greatest joy became known.

Take some time today and think about that.