Highlights from my message from Week 22 of The Story: The Birth of Jesus
I wonder if you have ever had an unexpected visitor? have ever had someone turn up at your door completely unexpected and unannounced. If you could speak to my wife’s parents they would tell you of a strange day a few years ago. A day when someone arrived at their farmhouse – a house in the middle of their farm, a farm which is 45 minutes walk from the nearest bus stop. A bus stop that is about an hour from Lockerbie, which is about three hours from Edinburgh. Well as they stood there doing the dishes after lunch a strange man appeared walking towards them with a smile on his face – coming to see them with a message just for them.
Have you guessed it? Yes, that man was me and the question was – “can I marry your daughter?“! I had booked the day off work and travelled all the way to their farm in rural Dumfriesshire to surprise them and ask for permission to marry their daughter. Do you know what they did? They laughed!
Well in this passage we encounter a similar unexpected guest. This time not with a question, but with an answer. The guest is not a dreamy eyed, idealistic, naïve, love struck young man, but a radiant angel. Not this time with thoughts of hopeful marriage, but of a centuries -long promised birth, not to ask permission but to announce God’s certain purposes.
21 weeks we have been walking through the Old Testament – ups and downs, mainly downs?! Now 400 years of silence and then…BOOM God breaks through. How would we get on waiting 400 years for something? We can’t even wait 4 months! How does a people wait longer than their own lifetime for a promise? Through tradition – stories passed down, poetry recited, songs sung – woven into the fabric of the culture. The weaving keeps them alive, but also “represents” the promises, rather than actually being the same thing. Things are emphasised, other things are pushed to the background, until finally it all becomes folklore and myth. Just a sweet story to tell your children when they can’t sleep, or tell yourself when you are broken by life.
A folklore had developed around the “Messiah”. A warrior king, in the pattern of David to restore the nation of Israel. This is what the people wanted, it what they expected, but it is not what God had in store, at least not how they expected to be rescued.
It would seem that we have a built in desire to believe that somebody one day will rise above the limitations of our human state. We tell stories to each other about a single individual, born at a special moment in time who will change the course of history. One with special abilities, in harmony with nature, able to rise above the mundane, able to overcome our limitations, one that represents humankind, but is not destined to live as just another human.
So we read it in Lord of the Rings – prophecy of the coming king Aragon
The prophecy in Star Wars – the one who will restore balance to the universe, Anakin Skywalker
The prophecy in The Matrix – the chosen one Neo
But all these are fictional, they are Just a fairy tales. Is this only The stuff of films and literature? Where does this desire for a hero come from? I would say that These are all echoes of the original – the One who will come and change our reality. In the same way that our obsession with romantic films echoes the desire in our hearts for a soul mate, so this recurring theme echoes a divine longing that God has put in each of us.
So, the unexpected visitor arrives at our front door and says, get ready, He (capital H) is coming…
he is coming in your lifetime you will see him Mary,
He is coming with your eyes you will see him Mary
He is coming your arms will hold him Mary
He is coming your body will nurse him Mary
He is coming your womb will protect him Mary
He is coming to your town, to your family, to your body…you are so blessed, so fortunate, so privileged
The promise Adam heard in the garden you will see fulfilled
What was whispered to Abraham in the night sky you will embrace
The vision that overwhelmed Daniel will hold your little finger
The wisdom that formed the earth you will teach to read
What a moment in her life! What a moment in history, this is the defining moment of history, when everything changed, when all our hopelessness was banished forever. Do we wonder at this event? I pray that God would break our familiarity with this great event, that he would free us from years of Christmases.
I want God to break through our hardness and numbness to the incarnation. To really, really contemplate it for just a few minutes. To hold it up before you as something beautiful, like a jewel in the light, that you might marvel at its radiance. Oh that God would help me do just that – who is sufficient for such things? To do justice to the moment when the Son of God – who has no beginning and knows no limitations, squeezed himself into a human body, to forever identify the creator with his creation, to overcome our corruption with his perfection, to breath our air and feel our pain…as a real live human being!