This being the first Sunday in Advent, I felt God leading me to keep the pause button on the “Beyond Belief” series on apologetics (defending and explaining our faith in a reasonable and logical way to those earnestly seeking Truth). Instead, I’m feeling called to spend the next few weeks reflecting on various aspects of this season as we pick up speed heading toward Christmas and the end of the year.
Having said that, though, I also feel called to suggest that we keep our apologetics thinking caps on. The Christmas season tends to be a sentimental and emotional time for many people, especially those of us who recognize Christmas Day as commemorating the birth of the Saviour of the world. There is, of course, nothing at all wrong with sentimental and nostalgic feelings, but as we have seen in the “Beyond Belief” series, God also encourages us to think about our faith and its foundations so we don’t get knocked off them when life doesn’t go our way. So let’s keep that in mind as we wander through this detour back to where and when it all began.
So here we are. Advent begins. Rewinding 2000+ years, we see that the world was steeped in darkness. To all appearances, the forces of evil seemed to have defeated God. Even Israel, his chosen people, hadn’t heard from him in 400 years. Where was he? Had he given up on humanity, walked away to leave us to wallow in the wickedness we generally seem to gravitate toward?
No, of course not. That’s not the kind of God he is.
He was waiting for just the right moment in time to launch his invasion.
He was not troubled by the darkness of the world, for it is not unusual for an invasion to begin under the cloak of darkness.
But, as with so many things God does, the invasion looked nothing like what I or anyone in the world would have expected. Not even Satan.
I guess I shouldn’t say it looked nothing like what I would have expected. I mean, God got the legions of angels part right. In spite of their cute and cuddly appearance in Christmas plays, they must actually be quite menacing–every time someone in the Bible encounters them, the first thing the angel does is tell them not to be afraid, not to mention the passage in 2 Kings 19:35 where an angel kills 185,000 Assyrian soldiers in one night! So yeah, if I were planning an invasion, I’d start with legions of angels.
Except–get this–they’re singing?!? (Luke 2:13-14)
And why are they singing? Because a baby was born.
Yay. OK, who cares? Babies are born all the time.
Oh, but this isn’t just any baby. This is the baby that starts the invasion.
Wait, what? Angels are singing while a baby is left to gain a foothold against the forces of darkness on Fortress Earth? This makes no sense!
It makes no sense to us, but it’s perfectly logical to God. Why? Because God chooses to work in and through us–yes, through broken people–to achieve his objectives. Throughout Scripture, it is far more common to see God working through people than through angels or miracles. And even then, oftentimes when miracles are recorded, there is at least one ordinary person who has to participate with God in order for the miracle to be worth recording. Who would care about the Red Sea parting unless Moses and the Israelites were there to run through it as they fled for their lives from Pharaoh and the Egyptians? And would water have come gushing out of the rock in the desert if Moses hadn’t struck it with his staff?
So instead of angels, God used a virgin teenage girl. She carried his baby. God used a humble carpenter (not a soldier) to protect and raise that baby. When that baby grew into a man and that man was ready to start his ministry, God used uneducated fishermen, a thieving tax collector, a political activist, and other misfits (not scholars) to study under him and carry his message into the darkness of the world. Instead of perfect, well-qualified people–those are in short supply–God uses you and me. Or maybe it would be better to say that in addition to the one perfect person, God uses you and me.
Nothing really seems to make sense from our perspective.
I certainly don’t claim to have it all figured out, nor do I feel appointed as a spokesperson for God, so let me say it this way: my observation is that God does this because he is working in us even while he is working through us. In other words, while we are serving him to change the world in great and small ways, we also find that he is changing us in great and small ways as well. For example, if you write a blog to try to encourage people you don’t know who may be very different from you, over time you may come to realize that God loves them just as much as he loves you, and if he doesn’t allow his love to be clouded by their political leanings or sexual preferences or country of origin or any other differentiator, then neither should you.
Here’s the thing: God has intended that each of us should be a light in the darkness of this world. This thought has pervaded my prayer life in recent years. For a few years, I traveled to New York City for my job. Each day that I was there, as I walked to the office in Manhattan’s Financial District, I would pray that I would be a light in the darkness there. Every time we have a baptism service at church, when dozens of people commit their lives to Christ, I thank God for each redeemed soul that they are another light in the darkness.
Since this is the Christmas season, let’s try this metaphor: every person on the planet is like a bulb connected to one really long string of lights. One of the newer strings that stays lit even when bulbs are out. God the power source runs through every bulb, even the ones that don’t light up. For some that don’t light up, if they get adjusted a bit, they are able to tap into the power source and become radiant. Others, however, are unable to tap into the power source for a variety of reasons. They may seek power from other sources because they don’t realize there is only one true power source. They may try to illuminate themselves, but no matter how hard they work at it, they can never quite make it happen–they don’t understand that they were made only to tap into a power source outside of and greater than themselves.
The power source is available to all and would prefer that each bulb receive his power and light up. If that were the case, there would be and could be no darkness. But until that happens, those of us who are illuminated are called to be a light in the darkness for those bulbs around us that are not lit up.
Let me close with some Biblical texts about light and darkness, among other things. These have inspired me in my thoughts about us being called to illuminate the darkness of the world. The first set of verses were written by Isaiah, a prophet who predicted Jesus’s birth over 700 years before that first Christmas.
The people walking in darknessIsaiah 9:2,5-7 (NIV, emphasis added)
have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of deep darkness
a light has dawned.
Every warrior’s boot used in battle
and every garment rolled in blood
will be destined for burning,
will be fuel for the fire.
For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given,
and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the greatness of his government and peace
there will be no end.
He will reign on David’s throne
and over his kingdom,
establishing and upholding it
with justice and righteousness
from that time on and forever.
The zeal of the LordAlmighty
will accomplish this.
These passages were written by Jesus’s beloved apostle and friend, John.
In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.John 1:4-9 (NIV)
There was a man sent from God whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all might believe. He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light.
The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world.
Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates a brother or sister is still in the darkness. Anyone who loves their brother and sister lives in the light, and there is nothing in them to make them stumble.1 John 2:9-10 (NIV)
Unil next Sunday, may God bless your week. Come, Lord Jesus.