Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Good, Good Father

Recently I've been listening to a song my brother, Evan, told me about called Good, Good Father. I've basically had it on repeat at work for about three weeks, actually. It's a simple declaration of who God is, and who we are in relation to him. He is our good father; we are loved by him. The song also has me thinking about James 1:17, which says, "Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the father of heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows." (NIV) No gift was ever, or could ever, be greater than Jesus, who descended into the wreckage of humanity at the appointed time to destroy the "Eat, drink and be merry" myth of the Roman empire, as well as the "Do more and God will love you more" myth of the Pharisees. Into this spiritual and cultural bedlam - which was complete hedonism on one end and complete legalism on the other - Jesus steps with his one/two punch of truth and grace that demolishes the cultural foundations of two societies. He, the light of the world, looked into the inky blackness and said, "I will take my light there." And he did take his light there and, in just three years of public ministry, upended the world forever.

But it isn't in the shock and awe campaign of the ministry years that we first meet Jesus. We first meet him as a baby born of a virgin in a cattle stall. And, I'm sorry, but for all the singings of Away in a Manger I hear, I can never quite get on board with the line, "The little Lord Jesus, no crying he makes." I doubt that very much. My guess is that his birth was every bit as agonizing, messy and harrowing as any other. My guess is that the little Lord Jesus made plenty of crying. My gut tells me that Mary was as terrified and exhausted as any other woman who goes through a birth experience. My assumption is that Joseph was an emotional basket case, just like any other would-be father standing by his wife's side: part frantic, part trying to act tough, part expecting the worst. I very much doubt that Jesus just slid into the world without a peep, in the easiest delivery in history, and here's why: that version cheapens the whole story. We are talking about the God of the universe, the author of the cosmos, coming to earth to save all people from all sin for all time. One sacrifice that would restore a relationship between God and man that had been broken for thousands of years. Jesus wasn't spared a single iota of suffering in his death, so why would he and Mary and Joseph be spared suffering in his birth? Paul tells us Jesus "gave up his privilege and was made in human likeness, taking the role of a slave and being born as a human being (Phil. 2:7)." To me, that means that he was, in every way, like us (which is reiterated in Hebrews 4:15). It's the ultimate act of humility for the author of life to subject himself to the limitations and frustrations and temptations of humanity so that he could say to us, in our anger or grief or pain, "I understand what you're going through, and, even though I might not deliver you from it, I'm walking it with you." After all, God didn't take the cup from Jesus; he didn't magically whisk John the Baptist out of prison; he didn't take Paul's thorn away; he didn't prevent the disciples from gruesome deaths; he didn't save and deliver everyone from everything every chance he got. What he DID do, though, is save us from our sin once and for all time, and to fully understand that is impossible, but to begin to understand what kind of love it is that we're talking about, we have to understand how immeasurably vast God is, and how far he came to save us. That's the Christmas story.

I'm sorry if I ruined Away in a Manger for you. That wasn't the point. But maybe instead of that song, you can listen to Good, Good Father today (link is below) and think about just how good God is, and how much he suffered in sending his son to die for us. And don't forget to dwell on one more thing today: that this same God - the Father of Heavenly Lights himself - knows everything you are going through, and he's walking it with you.

Merry Christmas!

Good, Good Father

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