“For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given,
and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the greatness of his government and peace
there will be no end.
He will reign on David’s throne
and over his kingdom,
establishing and upholding it
with justice and righteousness
from that time on and forever.
The zeal of the Lord Almighty
will accomplish this.” (Isaiah 9: 6-7 NIV)
Something has been on my mind this Advent season. It’s a question, really, and Pastor Gary’s sermon this morning brought it back to my mind again. The question is this: If you were God, and you were going to come among your people to save them from themselves, how would you do it?
Now don’t get carried away here. You’re NOT God, I’m NOT God, even though we act like it sometimes, but think about it. What kind of plan would you hatch to be present with your creation? Keep in mind, you’re God, you can do it however you want to. After all, that is the mystery of Christmas, right? God is born among his people as one of us. That’s the Incarnation in a nutshell, Eternity steps into Time as Michael Card puts it.
Maybe you’d come in a great vision like that of Ezekiel, Isaiah, or the one described in Revelation. Riding atop a chariot, crowned with fire! Yeah, that would be pretty sweet, right? Maybe that ancient imagery isn’t your thing. Maybe you’d show up on a great tank with hosts of angel warriors at your back. Yeah, you’d know how to make an entrance, that’s for sure!
Maybe you’d prefer to be more subtle. I mean, you don’t want to put anybody off, so maybe you just appear out of nowhere as a wise sage who could convince people to cut all the crap that goes on in the world, and if you couldn’t reason with them, then maybe you get all divine, drop a couple of miracles, and reveal yourself that way. I kind of think that’s how I might do it.
Now think on this, would you do it like God actually did it?
If you were going to be born into the world, who would be your mother? Would you pick a royal woman with a lot of power? How about a young intellectual that’s moving up in the world? How about an unmarried, teenage, Jewish peasant girl that has no power or station in life apart from her father or her soon to be husband?
That’s the way it happened.
Where would you pick to be born? Maybe in the best hospital around? Maybe in a royal palace? In this day and age you might choose to be born at home with a midwife instead of going to a hospital. I bet you wouldn’t pick a cave somewhere, with only your mom, dad, and a bunch of farm animals to witness it. I bet you wouldn’t pick an animal feeder for your first bed.
That’s the way it happened.
Who would you pick to be the first people to get the news of you, God, being born into the world? Maybe you’d want your angels to show up at the White House and tell whoever the President is how it’s going to be from now on. Maybe you’d want to tell the religious leaders of the world so that they can come, see you, and get the word out ASAP. Would you choose a bunch of dirty shepherds that probably smell like sheep and whom probably nobody would believe anyway? Doubt it.
Yet that’s the way it happened.
We have so much on our minds during the Advent/Christmas season. I wonder though, do we really take the time to consider the absurdity of it all, the scandal? After all, Mary could have been stoned to death for turning up pregnant before she was married. Joseph had every right under law and custom to break it off. Can you imagine the scorn with which people looked at them, particularly Mary? Is it any wonder that she went off to visit Elizabeth after she received the news from Gabriel?
Can you imagine the indignity of it all? Mary has been told that she is carrying the Messiah, the Son of the Living God, and then she has to ride or walk out to Bethlehem. Hey, I’m not a woman, but I can’t imagine that walking that far or riding a donkey while pregnant would be very comfortable. Maybe you ladies can set me straight there, but I suspect I’m right. Then when you show up in boring, little old Bethlehem you can’t even get a room, you have to go have your baby in a cave or a barn? Not cool.
And then, just when you finally get down to get some sleep and rest after having your baby, Joseph shows up and tells you that you have, uh, some visitors. Not now, really? Who is it? Well, uh….I’ll just let them in and you can see for yourself. They say some angels showed up and told them about it.
And in come a bunch of smelly shepherds fresh from the pastures. Maybe a sheep or two that followed them into town.
Wow. Would any of us choose for it to happen that way? Yet Scripture said that Mary treasured all of these things and pondered them in her heart.
God is a mystery. His ways surely are not our ways. If you’re like me, you probably often think, “Isn’t there a better way to do this?” Yet somehow, when God acts, when God comes among his people, it’s rarely the way we expect it to happen.
And yet, it is beautiful. It is beautiful in it’s simplicity, and in it’s humility. God comes to us as a tiny, vulnerable baby, not as a conquering king. He saves us not by purging the world of his enemies and swinging a great sword, but by allowing himself to be tortured and executed by being nailed to a tree, a death that is cursed in the Jewish religious world and the most shameful death imaginable to the Romans, who let’s face it, could imagine quite a lot.
Even that is beautiful. It is sacrifice for the good of others. I don’t pretend to know how the atonement works, there are as many theories as there are days in the week at least, but somehow, somehow in those last agonizing minutes the very personage of God takes into himself all of the violence, hate, cruelty, selfishness, and greed of our world and turns it into something else entirely: grace and Love.
Is there anything more beautiful? Is there anything that’s needed more in our world right this very minute?
I think not.
And maybe that’s now how you’d choose to do it.
But that’s how it happened, with a baby being born to a teenage girl, far from home, in a dark cave fit only for beasts.
Beautiful, isn’t it?