Dig Deeper into Sunday’s Gospel: Read Luke 2:16-21
What had started out as a smooth ride had now slowed down to an inexplicable crawl of traffic. For the first five minutes, I didn’t think much about it, but as time ticked on, I got increasingly frustrated, wanting to know what was going on up ahead. What was to blame for the fact that I was now going to be late? Finally, up ahead, I could see the car accident on the side of the road. It wasn’t blocking traffic anymore; now the problem was that everyone slowed down to take a closer look. I found I couldn’t resist, either. You would think that as soon as possible, I’d speed up to get going, but anyone who has encountered this set of circumstances recognizes the irresistible lure of staring at the mess. When there’s a moral failing of a public figure, I tend to do the same thing. I lean in and want to know the details. My motive? There’s some genuine concern, to be sure, but if I am honest, there’s more curiosity than I care to admit.
Our gospel reading this weekend reveals how God responds quite differently to the mess of the human condition. The nativity scene reminds us that He chose to come right in the middle of all that is sullied, chaotic, heart breaking, and hard. Jesus could have been born in a palace, with world leaders coming to honor Him. But He chose a humble stable that was full of muck, animals, noise, smells, and discomfort. His first visitors weren’t the religious leaders, they were humble shepherds who “went in haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the infant lying in the manger,” (Luke 2:16). It was a private gathering, and one in which Jesus was quietly glorified and worshipped. Many people had no idea the mystery that was in their midst, but those who could look past the outward appearances were able to see the miracle.
I wonder what set of circumstances you find yourself in today. Perhaps the holidays have been delightful for you. Or perhaps you are in a situation where all the festivities have served to shine a light on all the things that are hard and wrong in your life. If the latter is the case, I want to assure you that Jesus is not repulsed by the private mess in your life. That is exactly where He shows up, tenderly and powerfully. And it is in that place, that you have the opportunity to glorify and worship Him in the most meaningful way.
Any kind of suffering is, by definition, difficult. But I believe that private and hidden suffering has an acuteness to it that makes it feel worse. We become cut off from the comfort that others might bring, because we are afraid that if we talk about what is really going on, things will get worse. Maybe we are protecting someone’s reputation. It could be that it’s simply not appropriate information for many people to have. Perhaps we just can’t find words to express what is happening. Regardless of the reason, private suffering is lonely and can make some of the enemy’s favorite lies feel true. Which lies do I mean? Lies like “I am all alone,” “I am powerless,” “No good can come from this.”
The scene in Bethlehem should serve to remind us that we are never alone—that God always shows up in the mess. And although the baby in the manger appears to be powerless, He is actually the King of Kings. In our own circumstances, what appears to be nothing but destruction, wounds, hurt, and loss can be the very building blocks God uses to construct lives that bring Him tremendous glory. How can this happen? How can beauty come from ashes, triumph from destruction, hope from disappointment?
Things begin to turn when we recognize that we are far from powerless. We have a choice to make, in the midst of the mess. We can choose to worship by saying yes to God, even if it includes suffering. It’s offering our fiat, our surrender, our yes, right when our enemy expects us to give up. It’s bringing our whole selves as a gift to the baby in the manger and offering Him our wounds. In that moment, what we are giving to the Lord is our weakness and our dependence. He receives these things from our hands as the greatest gift. When we surrender in this way, we can trust that He always responds and brings healing.
Do not be deceived by appearances. St. Augustine said, “I saw his glory in my wounds, and it dazzled me.” He had eyes to see past the circumstances to what was going on below the surface. It is in the midst of the mess and the wounds that God can do His finest work, because it’s a time when we are so aware of our failings. This humble state helps us to get out of God’s way. God can be most glorified by the very things in our lives that we would wish away. What we have prayed for and deeply longed for might be the very thing God is bringing to pass, not despite these hard circumstances, but because of them and through them. How He does this is a profound mystery, but it is often how God works.
Come to the baby in the manger with all your wounds, all your fears, your disappointments, your grief, your failings. Ask Him to display His glory, right amid the mess. He did it in Bethlehem, and He can do it for you.
With you on the journey,
Food for thought or journaling…
Is there a set of circumstances in your life that you are wanting to escape? Can you instead face them, give your fiat to God, right here, right now, and ask Him to show you the glory in your wounds?
I offer You my wounds and my messy circumstances. I say yes to You—not just when things run smoothly but even now, in the heartache. Please come into the midst of it all and be glorified in me. Amen.