Last week, I talked about seeking Jesus during Advent. This week, I want to talk about finding God in the middle of our circumstances. And I want to do it by looking at our upside down ideas and the real Christmas story.
Anything But a Silent Night
Every Christmas we sing “Silent Night” and “O Little Town of Bethlehem.” But do we really think Bethlehem was quiet? Israelites were pouring into Bethlehem. To make it worse, it wasn’t voluntary; it was by order of Caesar Augustus, their oppressive foreign emperor.
Add to this songs like, “Away in a Manger,” when we sing, “the baby awakes, but little Lord Jesus, no crying He makes.” Our image of Jesus as well as Mary, Joseph, and Bethlehem are all subdued because we assume the world perfectly understood God’s plan in the middle of it.
I promise, I’m not trying to ruin Christmas songs for you. Nor do I want to ruin a beautiful story by showing you the flaws. On the contrary, I want to expose the real Christmas story so that you can see God’s beauty through of the flaws.
His first, perfect plan
When bad things happen in our lives, we often say, “God must be testing me.” In saying that, we assume God has a better plan, but He’s holding out on us for the sake of our spiritual growth. “Well, God really has this great plan for my life, but instead He’s testing me to grow my faith.”
God wasn’t testing Mary and Joseph. His plan—His first, perfect plan—was to uproot them from their homes, leave them out in the cold, and have Mary give birth in a stable.
The quaint and magical Christmas story is much harder to swallow when you look at the real details, and harder still when you consider how it might apply to our lives.
Take Mary, for example. My respect for Mary skyrocketed after I took a closer look at the narrative in Luke 2.
It would have been really easy for Mary to get either mad or anxious. Did God really promise her a son and then leave her to give birth in a stable? Her family was far away, and Joseph (who also didn’t have it easy) had little to no idea how to help a woman give birth. To top it all off, after she gives birth and wraps her bloody son in a cloth, along come some unsanitary shepherds, shouting about some kind of heavenly vision they saw!
It would have been really easy for Mary to freak out or to shake her fist at God. But she wasn’t doing either of those things.
But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.
I don’t know how she did it, but Mary understood where God was in the middle of her struggle. She humbly accepted her role in God’s plan and left the plan up to God.
Did Mary know God? Yes. I’m not just talking about the child she held in her lap. In this moment, she understood God was up to something cosmic, and she understood her role to trust Him.
Similarly, God might put you in circumstances that don’t make sense—and they might be His first and perfect plan. But when that happens, you always have a choice. You can either worry and get angry, or you can acknowledge God as unshakeable in the midst of our shakable world.
See, I used to think of Advent as an escape—a chance to step out of my chaos into a a world of perfect peace. But Advent isn’t about escaping into a perfect world. Advent is about a perfect God stepping into our chaos, to show us “He Himself is our peace” (Ephesians 2:14).
Our job is to see God as unshakable in the middle of shakable circumstances, so that we can say with Mary and Joseph from the prophet Habakkuk,
Though the fig tree should not blossom,
nor fruit be on the vines,
the produce of the olive fail
and the fields yield no food,
the flock be cut off from the fold
and there be no herd in the stalls,
yet I will rejoice in the Lord;
I will take joy in the God of my salvation.
In what ways do you relate to Mary? Is there a time when you thought God was testing you that may have been His first and best plan? I’d love to hear about it in the comments below.