Against All Odds

At this time of the year, it is quite common to reflect on the advent of Jesus Christ on the stage of human history. We all have cozy nativity scenes and a cute little glowing baby that are commonplace in most sunday schools, churches and homes (this is not even considering all the countless other extra-biblical traditions we all love). I think it is a wonderful thing to be afforded the freedom to celebrate the arrival of Jesus in our world and acknowledge that in our personal ways.

This Christmas, however, as I pondered the state of the world we live in, I began to see how the gospel of Christmas isn’t  readily recognized. I know broad statements will be made about hope, love and peace and how our world can receive it regardless of religious affiliation or personal belief. Others will be more militant about denouncing the fact that this season had anything to do with Christianity in the first place. While I might accept that fact, the reality of Christ’s birth is to be recognized and celebrated. There are several obvious reasons why we celebrate Jesus, but here are few we might not have fully considered.

As the pretext for what follows, think about the fact that the safety of the whole world depended on what you were about to do next. How would you set up this rescue mission? Now that your imagination is thinking through scenarios let’s see what God did.

1) Being God, He left the Superhero suit behind

Way to go, God!! He goes and starts the mission off with no fuel in the tank!!

Philippians 2:4-7...Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.

Way before a virgin called Mary was brought into this story, God-the Father had this chat with His Son. The plan to be set in motion involved God laying down His power deliberately. This is not to be confused as Jesus losing His status as God. It means He deliberately chose to live as man without taking up the power He had at His disposal. The salvation of man, now rides on this God-man who will have to walk through life like you and I and bear the brunt of all humanity’s sin in the days to come. Phew! Intense!

Let’s say the odds of success are still good. Jesus was a stand-up son to God-The Father, He’ll get the job done.

“Ok, I’ll go with your plan, God. What’s next??”

 

2) God picked total rookies to carry this mission out 

A) Born to newly-weds (what do they know about life….really!!!)

What??? A middle-eastern virgin teenager who will be pregnant, and her fiance will find out after the fact? Now, that’s asking for failure!

Matthew 1:18-19 –Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit.  And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unw illing to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly.

We just took the odds of success way down. In a middle-eastern setting, a virgin who is no longer a virgin….let’s just say, she won’t be marrying anyone anytime soon, that is, if she is allowed to live. God picked total rookies to carry the entire mission. Neither of them were influential, rich or scholarly. All this was given to simple folk who would now find themselves in a whole heap of trouble in society. Odds of success are bleak. However, Mary, though totally freaked out initially, chooses to carry the weight her obedience will imply. Joseph too hears from God and chooses to obey God. He covers for Mary through society’s watchful eye by marrying her. A whole lot of obedience and willingness was needed here to push this plan into countdown mode.

B) The Trailblazer was born to a Grandma!

Luke 1: 13-17 ...the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John….. And Zechariah said to the angel, “How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years.”

John, the Baptist (who was also Jesus’ cousin) was born to a grandma in another town. Elizabeth (just like Abraham and Sara) was way too old to have kids. God wanted people to be ready for His Son’s arrival and chose one of the least impregnable women to do it. God’s logic seems to work against every sane idea we could come up with for success. He just picked two sets of untrained mothers and fathers to carry the most important message and person.

C) All the main witnesses were not Jewish authorities, and the Jews who did witness it were not people society would recognize for veracity

You would think that if we wanted this good news to get out to the population, we would pick people with a sufficient platform to convince the masses. Nope! God just picked shepherds and travelling astronomers who had no vested interest in Jewish politics or culture. Shepherds did not have a very high standing in the culture of the time. They were rough characters who usually had a case of potty-mouth. Not people you would entrust with PR. Wise people from other lands doesn’t really do much to change the scene where Jesus would grow up, except maybe make things worse- by going to Herod with word of a another ‘King’.

 

3) Born is a king in a narcissistic-genocidal maniac’s stomping ground 

Herod the Great, was king of Judea at the time of the census which brought Joseph and Mary back to Bethlehem. Of all the rulers to be born under, this one would be low-down on your list. He was a paranoid ruler who killed half his family, put to death teachers who sneezed the wrong way, and proceeded to kill all male children under the age of two in his kingdom when he heard news of a ‘king’ born somewhere in his vicinity.  We have just sped past the most wonderful event surrounding Christmas, the nativity. I have a good reason.  Jesus was born roughly two years ago, but now is threatened with death. What!!! We just about got the mission underway only for this to blow up after takeoff.

Matthew 2: 16– Then Herod, when he saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, became furious, and he sent and killed all the male children in Bethlehem and in all that region who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had ascertained from the wise men.

This toddler would have finally gone to bed for his mom, and she just about crawls into bed after much rocking.  Moments later Joseph wakes up with a start when an angel says to him in a dream “get out quick, the death squads are coming”. So, immediately he obeys. In the middle of the night, they pack a carry-on and bail out. The little boy, Jesus much crying he makes, as mom puts a palm over his mouth to muffle the sound as they take the back way out of Bethlehem towards Nazareth.

That was close!! Mission proceeds!

 

4) Growing up with no grooming for public office

The family makes it to Nazareth — a good blue-collar town, where you go to get day laborers and craftsmen, not national leaders. Jesus grows up like an average blue-collar neighborhood kid, learning dad’s trade with furniture and tires (for carts). Again, it seems like the choice of family to be born into was a bad one. He is not going to get the necessary grooming in national politics and policy that would be needed to get traction on a national campaign. Still, Jesus chooses to obey His father on earth and in heaven and not touch the superhero suit even once.

Can we just quit with this plan of salvation? This story keeps bouncing from one absurd event to another. No! It gets better

 

5) Choosing a band of illiterates and social odd-balls  

After growing to manhood, Jesus proceeds to pick an unlikely team for the purpose of message delivery and action. Jesus quite specifically was led by God to pick each one. Let’s just say most of them had to really pay attention when Jesus spoke, because writing things down would have done most of them little good. Apart from a few who were educated, most of them were fishermen or laborers. Again, not the kind you would entrust a global mission to.

 

 

I think five reasons should do for now.  You know the story (if not, read the gospels of Matthew and Luke).

So, Why do I think these are reasons to celebrate Jesus?

Against all odds, God wove the entire story of salvation so close to frailty and fickle nature of man that there is no way you could say Jesus and his message are some kind of propaganda of the religious class. The salvation he came to bring did not come about because of  a secret space pod which God sent with super powers. He wasn’t born with a giant hammer to pound out enemies along the way. He did not even have superhuman strength to match some biblical heroes. Lastly, and this is one of the main reasons I write, it wasn’t because of a nativity scene solely either. Well before it and way after it, the story of Christ’s birth is filled with confounding improbabilities that we must take time to celebrate Jesus and His successful mission. It’s about God confounding our best scenarios of salvation, to leave us saying “salvation belongs to the Lord”. The work of salvation so heavily relied on obedience and God’s grace, that none of us can attribute any part of it to magical moments, but rather to the commitment of a heavenly Father to be God with us. Immanuel- continues to be with us.

Enjoy this Christmas knowing that salvation belongs to God and He is with us. The mission is still in play and it’s a – go! When Jesus said he was the light of the world,  He was forseeing the time when He would say “You now are the light of the world, a city set on hill”. Having done all that in necessary to secure the mission, He has handed the baton to the Holy Spirit who fills His church. The mission to dispel darkness in every place was placed in the hands of obedience, not superhero-ism. So, as we celebrate Jesus the baby, remember the mission that baby was born for, is still in play today. Carry the light of Jesus in dark places, till He returns again or takes us home. Have a Jesus filled Christmas!