Archive for December, 2012

Emmanuel: Into a Weeping World

“A voice is heard in Ramah,
weeping and great mourning,
Rachel weeping for her children
And refusing to be comforted,
Because they are no more.”

These words from the Gospel (Matthew 2:18) have haunted me ever since the first unthinkable reports began coming out of Newtown, CT, last Friday.  Weeping.  Great mourning.  Howling grief.  What other response could we possibly have to such unimaginable horror and evil?

The world weeps with Rachel.  Our hearts are broken.  Our prayers are continual.  Our arms are extended.  Mothers all over the country—and the world—feel it at a deep, visceral level.  I know people who left work on Friday, sick with the news.  A friend left our neighborhood Christmas party, bought low by the day’s events.  Every mother—and grandmother—I know wanted to rush to school instantly and flee with her child.  We see the faces and hear the names—and they are our own children.

Weeping with Rachel.  And for all our children who grow up in a world in which such things can happen.  In Newtown, Connecticut.  Or Syria.  Or Congo.  As Nicholas Wolterstorff observes in his memorable book Lament for a Son, it’s the only appropriate response to such raw grief and loss: “Come and sit with me on my mourning bench.”

“Weep with those who weep,” the Scriptures tell us (Romans 12:15 NKJV).  And that’s just what our Lord did.  He wept with friends at the death of their brother (See John 11).  He wept over the city of Jerusalem and the devastation that was to come (Luke 19:41-44).

But here’s the really amazing thing: He chose to come into a weeping world.  A world in which violence under Roman rule was the norm.  A world in which a wicked king could order the death of all babies two years old and under in a quiet, unsuspecting village.  A world in which God Himself could be nailed to a cross.

Emmanuel.  God with us.  “The virgin shall be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call Him Immanuel, which means ‘God with us.’” (Matthew 1:23)  He came into a wicked, broken, weeping world—and He wept with us.  He chose to do that.  He still does.

But He did much more.  He gave His very life that sin and death might be defeated.  That’s what we celebrate at Christmas.   That He came.  That He lived.  That He died.  That He rose again, defeating sin and death and opening the gates to eternal life.  That He Who became God with us, who brought God to us, will one day bring us to God.  To eternity in a place where there will be “no more death or mourning or crying or pain.”  (Revelation 21:4)

Now that’s something to celebrate—even in a weeping Christmas.

Advent in I-Don’t-Know-Ville

It occurred to me recently that the answer to almost every question in my life right now is: “I don’t know.”   With Woody’s recent retirement, we have made plans to move “back home” to New England.  We are in the process of purchasing a condo under construction in the Boston area.

But from there on it’s all questions.  When will we move? I don’t know.  It depends on selling our current home.  When will the house sell?  I don’t know.  What will it be like to move “back home”?  Is it even possible to do that?  Or was novelist Thomas Wolfe right when he famously proclaimed “You Can’t Go Home Again”?  I don’t know.  What about that biopsy you’ve been putting off?  When will you get that done?  I don’t know.  It depends on getting a major insurance mess straightened out.  How long will that take?   I don’t know.  And what about the results…?  Well, you’re getting the picture.

I’ve noticed that I’m not the only one living in I-don’t-know-ville.   Tons of people I know and love are living there, too.  Will the never-ending international adoption saga never end?  When will we meet these children?  WILL we ever meet these children?  When will my prodigal come home?  WILL he/she come home?  Will this court case ever get resolved and justice—and mercy—prevail?  Will the doctors ever figure out what’s wrong?  Will the money last till the end of the month?  To name just a few questions in my prayers for those I love.

It seems to be an Advent season of I-don’t–know.  Which brings to mind the fact that there were a lot of I-don’t-know people at that first Christmas.   Joseph and Mary must have had plenty of unanswered questions on that road to Bethlehem.   And when they had to flee to Egypt.  And a thousand other times in the parenting of Jesus.  What was God up to in allowing life for His son to look like this?  And the shepherds and the wisemen: What does this amazing birth mean?  And Simeon and Anna in the years they waited to meet Him: “How long, O Lord, how long?”

But they did know one thing, and it’s the central truth of Christmas: God is now with us!  “And they will call Him Immanuel—which means, “God with us.”  (Matthew 1:23)

I don’t know about you, but I don’t like living in I-don’t-know-ville.  It makes me nervous.  I am, after all, half-German, firstborn, and off the charts on the Myers Briggs J-scale.   I like answers better than questions.  But maybe there’s something to be learned here from those first Christmas people.  And more importantly, from the God who invaded their world.

Amidst all the unanswered questions of our lives, there is one Big Answer.  What we don’t know, He does.  What we can’t control, He can.  Wherever our future takes us, He is there already.   It’s something BIG to celebrate in Advent.  A cause for great joy—yes, Joy!  Even in this Advent season of I-don’t-know.

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