Abraham Wright once wrote, “I am mended by my sickness, enriched by my poverty, and strengthened by my weakness."
It’s been circulating through my mind lately that perhaps when Paul wrote in Romans 8:28 that the Lord works all things for our good, perhaps the good isn’t an objective. Perhaps the good isn’t a place we will arrive at. Perhaps the good isn’t the absence of the affliction. Sometimes the good is the struggle, the shaping, the molding, and the journey. After all, we are being made fit for Heaven, not being perfected here on earth. This world, and this earthly body, are not our home and not our forever. This life is the journey, in its entirety. Even when we receive the outcomes we are hoping for, the outcomes we perceive as the victory, we still won’t be entirely satisfied until we reach heaven.
His goodness is apparent in that He works all things together for our good. He takes our brokenness and turns it into something beautiful. Sometimes a specific resolution to our problems we are asking for is not the victory. Sometimes the victory is God’s ability as the Master Potter to take something terrible in our lives and use it for our good. He intercepts the enemy’s attacks and uses them to shape us, not destroy us. What the enemy intended for our destruction, He used for our good. He wins the victory over the enemy, He stays near to us when we are broken-hearted (Psalm 34:18), and He continues to mold and shape us. Sometimes, more than the outcome we desire, or the miraculous healing, or the immediate resolution, we need the journey with Him. There have been times when I have struggled with my physical health, and while I walked through those valley seasons, He strengthened my spiritual and emotional health and I have learned so much during those times that I wouldn’t have learned otherwise, and when the healing did come, not in my timeline but His, I was whole, truly whole, and not just my earthly body.
It is in these moments that our confidence in His goodness as our Father is imperative, and our trust in Him is essential. Many times I’ve been convicted by the Holy Spirit for losing hope and faith in the Lord and His ability to work in my situation, and even becoming angry with Him, because He didn’t work in the way I wanted Him to. “‘For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,’ declares the Lord. ‘As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.’” (Isaiah 55:8-9, NIV).
Jesus said to Peter when Peter asked Him why He was washing his feet: “What I'm doing you don't understand now, but afterwards you will know.” I’ve read in multiple commentaries that this is something the Christian can take comfort in in any place where we see through the glass darkly (1 Corinthians 13:12). I believe that is why over and over again we are encouraged to look to the hills, to keep our eyes on Jesus. We focus so much on our earthly surroundings, the valleys and the peaks, but no matter where we are, we can still enter His presence. We can still enjoy this journey with our Friend who sticks closer than a brother. We can still count on Him to continue to work all things together for our good while we rest in our hope in Him. His past faithfulness demands our present trust.
In his book Miracles, C.S. Lewis writes, “In the Christian story God descends to reascend. He comes down; down from the heights of absolute being into time, and space, down into humanity; down further still, if embryologist are right, to recapitulate in the womb ancient and pre-human phases of life; down to the very roots and seabed of the Nature He has created. But He goes down to come up again and bring the whole ruined world up with Him.”
It may seem remiss to ask a weary world, a weary congregation, a weary family, to rejoice this season. You might be met with skepticism or surprise. This year has been a trial for most. To those struggling to rejoice, myself included, please be encouraged in this: no matter what happens, we are still on the ascent. He is bringing us up with Him.
The good news of great joy the angels brought to the shepherds that night in Bethlehem (Luke 2:8-13) wasn’t just for all people of that day, or all people during the time of Jesus’ earthly life. That good news of great joy is for us, currently, today. We can take heart in the hope we have in the Lord (Psalm 31:24).
It’s difficult to remember this in the earthly state we are in - the world seems so big, our problems seem like mountains, our storms seem to overtake us. In these moments, a still, small voice, the voice of our Savior, reminds me that even faith the size of a mustard seed (Matthew 17:20), even if that’s all I can summon, is more powerful than I realize. We can say “hush” in His name to the wind and the waves. We can say “move” in His name to the mountains. He has authority over all things and He has both created this world and overcome it (John 16:33). The Maker is larger than His creation. The Son of Man has overcome the world and all of the darkness in it.
Take heart in the Good News. Allow your soul to rejoice in hope. Romans 12:12 says “Rejoice in our confident hope” (NLT). I’ve heard people say negatively that hope is all they have. Dear reader, hope in Jesus Christ is all we need. When you feel that you’re descending into the depths of despair, when times seem difficult, remember that Jesus has already won the victory. We may be weary, but dear reader, we are on the ascent and as His second coming draws nearer by the day, we are almost home.
The Advent season began this past Tuesday and for me, it’s always been such a reflective time of year. There are many parallels between the Advent season and the time we are in now: anxiously awaiting Christ’s second coming. This month, we will examine different aspects of that each week in this devotion series as we prepare our hearts to observe such a holy and humbling holiday, honoring King Jesus who was born to die so we might live.
The Nativity story happened a little bit differently than the Christmas carols tell. We normally picture Mary and Joseph arriving to Bethlehem, finding an inn, and being told all of the rooms are full. In actuality, the original Greek word used in Luke 2:7 was “kataluma” which translates to “guest room”. The word for “inn”, which Luke actually used in recounting the parable of the Good Samaritan, is “pandokheion”. In early translations to Arabic and Syrian, it is also translated to their word for “guest room”.
Joseph, being a descendant of David, would have been honored and treated with respect when he returned to Bethlehem. He’d probably have stayed with relatives or even welcomed into the home of strangers as was the hospitality custom among Jews as they honored God’s commands to the Israelites found in Deuteronomy and Leviticus to honor the stranger.
The Bible tells us they were already staying in Bethlehem when Mary went into labor (Luke 2:6). If they had been staying in the guest room in the home they were at up until the time came for her to give birth, it was likely a matter of needing more room for the birth. In these days, women from the village would come to assist in the birth process while men would wait in a separate area. Homes in this day would have had a part of the house where they brought their prized animals like oxen and donkeys at night to keep them safe from predators or thieves. This was actually part of the house, and there was normally a room behind this where it was not uncommon for part of the family to sleep near the animals. This part of the house was a cave-like structure and not a barn like we see commonly in pictures of the Nativity scene in the Western world. In Bethlehem today there is still a cave-like structure where scholars believe Jesus could have been born.
In researching this, so much of what I understood about the Christmas story was shaken up. In the Western world a lot of our mental images when we read the Bible are influenced by what we are used to and what we see all around us, and some of our understanding is a result of things being lost in translation, but these were different times and customs. And it gives so many additional layers of meaning to the Christmas story.
The shepherds found Jesus, the Savior, the King of kings, in a house not much different from their own. They found Emmanuel, God with us, genuinely with us. He was completely stripped of his glory. A regular peasant birth in a regular house in the room where they brought the animals inside at night.
The shepherds, the very first ones to share the first chapter in the Gospel story, told everyone in the house Mary and Joseph were staying at. “And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child. And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart. And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.”
(Luke 2:17-20 ESV).
The shepherds received the birth announcement, not kings, not the wealthy. The angel said in Luke 2:10-12, “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” (NIV). The language here is very specific: good news for ALL people, born unto YOU, a sign to them was his lowly state in that room behind the animals laying in a manger - all things that made Jesus human and accessible to us.
The striking dichotomy here is the accessibility of the Lord. God was inaccessible to us before Jesus’ birth. Jesus is the bridge between God and man as sin separates us from God. Once Jesus died on the cross in our place and rose again, defeating sin and death and hell, crowned with glory and sitting at the right hand of the Father, He is just as accessible to us now in that glorious state as He was to the shepherds in that lowly house in Bethlehem.
Now, we can enter the throne room, His dwelling place, a home that looks just like ours will one day, to worship Him, pray to Him, and spend time with Him. He was born unto us, made the Son of Man, so we could be called sons of God. He traded places with us in every way. In the fashion of true love between a bride and groom, what’s His was made ours and what was ours was made His. He was separated from God on the cross so we would never have to endure that separation again. Emmanuel, God with us, now and forevermore.