It has finally hit me that it really is Christmas time. Almost a week into December there is no longer any denying that Christmas is nearly upon us. I even decorated my little tree, lit a fire, and put on some Christmas music this afternoon in reluctant acquiescence to the reality of the season.
The wake up call started in church this morning. My pastor preached an amazing message on the “Magnificat” or “Mary’s Song” out of Luke 1:45-55. (He humorously brought it up to date a bit by calling it “Mary’s Playlist”.) While I listened, my heart was stirred to ponder yet again that truly magnificent event we call the Incarnation. God wrapped himself in human flesh and became the ultimate Gift to the world. Such a strange paradox – the Creator in a cradle (one made out of a feeding trough no less!).
As I shook my head in amazement taking in the wonder of it all, this thought struck me afresh: God did absolutely nothing the way we would have expected or planned, yet he perfectly fulfilled absolutely every prophecy concerning his (first) coming.
I’ve had that thought before. It hit deeper this time. Especially the thought that although God perfectly fulfilled his promises, the fulfillment looked so very different than anyone could have imagined. All the pieces were there. The prophecies were precise and accurate, but no one put it all together. No one had a complete picture before it took place. But some, including Mary, did have hearts that were ready—hearts that were hungry enough and humble enough—that when the “strange” reality of how he was entering the world was revealed, they didn’t miss him.
That’s so important. Many did miss him the first time around. That thought scares me. I don’t want to be so focused on how I think God is going to do something that I miss how he actually does it.
Most of us would like to think “Aw, come on, that would never happen to me – I love God!” Yeah, me too. But I don’t always know his ways. I don’t always track with him as closely or as quickly as I would like to think I do. And heaven knows he rarely does things the way I expect him to do them. That can lead to disappointment. Disappointment—left untended—leads to a hardening of the heart. And when our hearts are hardened, faith goes out the window. That’s why the Scripture says, “Keep your heart with all diligence, for out of it springs the issues of life” (Prov.4:23). Including the issue of faith.
Most of those who truly love Jesus do try to keep their hearts with diligence and don’t allow their hearts to be hardened in the whole, but like so many areas of life, we compartmentalize our faith: “Well, God I believe you for this, but not that. Been there done that too many times, not going there again.” Sound familiar? One little problem with that attitude … what if that is exactly where he wants to show up in a way you could have never hoped or imagined?
We all have hurts and disappointments. Most of us have unfulfilled hopes and dreams. Many of us have significant prophecies and promises over our lives that have yet to come to pass. Some of us have hung on to those promises—sometimes by a thread—for years or even decades. God is mindful of us. He is not mad at us. He is merciful to us. He has compassion on us. But he also expects us to place our hope in the higher reality of his Kingdom and to continue believing. “Hope against hope, in hope (we) believe.”
God likes faith a lot. It is far more important to him than most of us realize. Jesus told the parable of the persistent widow and the unjust judge to teach us that “Men ought always to pray and not lose heart” (Luke 18:1). Yet at the end of the parable he said, “When the Son of Man returns will he find faith on the earth?”
Will he? I believe that question is an invitation. I so desperately want him to find faith in me. I don’t want to miss him when he is moving—whenever and however he chooses. If that means the fulfillment of his promises look completely differently than what I hoped and envisioned – then so be it. I want to see him.
Many had the opportunity to see Jesus the first time he came, but few actually recognized him. He is coming again. The pieces are all there, even though none of us see or understand them all. He is inviting us into a deeper level of faith so our hearts will be ready. Whether it is in the outpouring of his Spirit to those with hungry and humble hearts, or the time of his ultimate triumphal return – he is coming again and he wants us to recognize him. I don’t think any of it is going to play out quite like anything any of us have imagined. For those who are still convinced he will only come the way they have been taught, or the way their church envisions, or the way they personally interpret Scripture – good luck with that! Let me know how it works out for you!
As for me, I’d rather he go right on offending my mind that he might reveal my heart. I want to know what’s in there now. I want to learn his ways, not cling to my own. I don’t want my love to grow cold and I don’t want to be offended because of him. I want to be faithful until the end. Literally I want to be faith full – I want him to find me full of faith. And I always want to recognize and welcome him when he comes, even when he shows up in the darkest and most unexpected places…
Like in a feeding trough. In a dark cave. In the middle of the night. In a city that was the least of all cities. With “companions” most would reject as outcasts. Or … maybe in a church I don’t care for. Or in a person I disagree with. Or in the midst of a situation that is way out of my comfort zone. Or in an area of my heart I’ve wanted to be done with because it’s too painful. Or … well, you get the idea.
“When the Son of Man returns, will he find faith on the earth?” –Luke 18:8