We can never be sure of God again

14 Jan

This December the Confluence Volunteers developed and led the liturgy for St. John’s Wednesday night His Place Service. The liturgy was built around Luke Chapter 2. During the service Melanie Williams asked the congregation to write down on paper hearts the places they had experienced good news or were hopeful for good news. This post features reflections from the Confluence Volunteers, and moments of good news experienced or hoped for from the congregation.

PART 1 In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world.  (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) And everyone went to their own town to register.

So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David.  He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them. Luke 2:1-7

When I read this part of the Christmas story I am reminded that I often forget who God is. I think our society and even the church, tends to talk about a powerful god. A god who sits in the clouds and grants us wishes if only we pray hard enough, or long enough, or believe enough. I think those verses show that there is a lot wrong with that image of God. I think the Christmas story is beautiful because it turns things upside down it surprises us.

Our God is not a powerful God at least not powerful in the way we understand power to be. God is a baby. God is displaced – displaced from heaven to earth, Nazareth to Bethlehem, the inn to the manger. God is vulnerable – needing to be wrapped in bands of cloth by his mother. God is homeless.

This changes everything. God is no longer distant. God is no longer one with power to fear. God surprises us by showing up in a baby, by showing up in a stable, and now we can never know where God will appear. In coming in this humble way, God gives up God’s power and hands that power over to us. A theologian wrote that the Christmas story means that “God is never safe from us!” God comes and makes Godself able to be abandoned and even killed by human beings.

As I reflect on this part of the Christmas story I’m struck by the truth and beauty of what this all means. Because of this story, we can never be sure of God again.

As we continue to prepare for Christmas, I’d encourage all of us to let go of the image of a powerful God so that we can look to the manger – to the places we wouldn’t expect God to be – and be surprised by the power of love, humility and vulnerability.

PART 2 And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night.  An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.  But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people.  Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord.  This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,

 “Glory to God in the highest heaven,
    and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.” Luke 2:7-14

One of the things I love about reading the Bible are the little notes at the bottom of each page that tell you things you might not have known about the story you’re reading. That’s my favorite part of the Bible, because I’m familiar with pretty much all the good stories in there. And some of the weird ones, too.

And so when I was going through my Bible I began to understand that this part, with the angels, really shows who the message is for. You see, God sends angels to deliver the greatest message, and who do they talk to? Shepherds. Those little notes at the bottom of my Bible page tell me that a shepherd at this time was considered the worst job. People thought they were unclean and they weren’t even allowed to testify in court. But they were the first people to hear the good news of Christ’s birth. This announcement shows that at whatever place you might feel like in life, whether or not you feel good or smart or strong, our status never gets in the way of God’s good news to us. – Nora Anderson

PART 3 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”

So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them.  But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.  The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told. Luke 2:15-20

What I notice in this story is that the shepherds and all who hear them are amazed and glorify God for what they have seen and heard, but Mary responds differently. She treasures these events and ponders them in her heart. I don’t know what Mary was thinking at this time, but I can imagine she may have returned to a question she asked earlier in the Christmas story when the angel Gabriel came to her to tell her she would give birth to the Son of God. She asked, “How can this be?”

How can it be that God has come to us in this way – by becoming a baby, fully dependent on his mother. Could this really be God? Has God really come? Why does it seem that nothing has changed? There is still no room in the inn. We are still homeless. We are still suffering. We are still persecuted. What kind of savior is this? He is just a baby!

Jesus was not the savior that people expected. God did not swoop in and wipe out the wicked or make everything fair and just. Instead, God came and suffered with us, endured injustice with us, took on all our same pains, all our same experiences, all our same doubts, but also our same hopes. Even when we are unsure, like Mary pondering in her heart – how can this be? – the beauty of this Christmas story is that God has come and shares fully in our lives.

We do not often stop to look for God, especially not in the unexpected places, and we miss the good news that God has come. We’re going to do an activity now where we reflect on our lives and remember where we have seen God with us or among us. You have paper hearts and colored pencils, and as we sing the next couple songs, please take the time to reflect on where you have seen God among you, or what good news you have heard, or even what good news you wish to hear. You can then write on the heart a sentence or a word or even draw a picture as you ponder this in your heart. Afterwards, we will collect them and tape them to the walls downstairs so they can continue to remind us of the hope of God is with us. – Melanie Williams

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