Thursday, December 24, 2009

Born in Our Hearts

Tonight we celebrate the birth of a baby in a land far from our own, at a time and place distant from our own experience.

Earlier this year, I visited that land, and went to Bethlehem, to the grotto that was the place of our Savior's Nativity. That evening, I sat in the Shepherd's Field outside the town, and looked up at the stars from my spot on the cold, stony ground. I imagined what it must have been like for the shepherds, who were sleeping in the fields with the sheep, because it was lambing season, who heard the choirs of angels announce that the Lamb of God had been born.

Bethlehem is a very different place today than it was when Christ was born. It lies behind a separation wall, dozens of feet tall and topped with barbed wire, guarded by soldiers with guns. It is not a town that Mary and Joseph would recognize.

Two millennia ago, a child was born in that tiny town. His mother gave birth in a dirty, smelly, stable, far away from her home. She wrapped her infant son in rags, and placed Him in a feeding trough to sleep. He was welcomed by shepherds, the homeless men of His day. They were poorly groomed and fit in with the rest of the decor--after all, they had been sleeping in a field night after night. It was some welcoming committee for a young virgin bride.

But her child, miraculously, was the living Son of the living God. He partook of our humanity and thus gave us His Divinity. And in coming in such humility, being born in such low circumstances, the peasant child of a captive people, Christ showed us that no depth is too great for Him to reach us. We are not exempt from His offer of salvation, no matter how low our circumstance, no matter how awful our sin, no matter how great our pain. Christ has shown that He does not mind dirty stables. This year, may we let Him be born again in our hearts. And in doing so, may we also be born again, and become new creatures in Him.

Merry Christmas!

Sunday, December 6, 2009

That The Works of God Should Be Made Manifest

The Gospel of John records an interesting series of events. One morning in the temple, the scribes and Pharisees brought Jesus a woman taken in adultery, "in the very act," and asked for His judgment against her. Jesus caused the mob to withdraw, ashamed, with something He wrote in the dirt, and with the words, "He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her" (John 8:7).

Jesus then proceeded to give a discourse on light and darkness, sin and judgment, His impending death, and His Messiah-ship. When the crowd questioned Him, Christ declared His divinity, which enraged them, and they sought to kill Him for blasphemy, "Then took they up stones to cast at him: but Jesus hid himself, and went out of the temple, going through the midst of them, and so passed by" (John 8:59). It is in this setting that His next great miracle takes place.

"And as Jesus passed by, he saw a man which was blind from his birth. And his disciples asked him, saying, Master, who did sin, this man, or his parents, that he was born blind? Jesus answered, Neither hath this man sinned, nor his parents: but that the works of God should be made manifest in him" (John 9:1-3).

The disciples assumed that the man's ailment was caused by some sin--either his own or his parents'. But Jesus set them straight--no sin had been committed here--the man had been born blind so that in him, God's works could be shown.

We tend to think of the disciples' worldview as primitive, but is ours really that different? Modern psychology and psychotherapy, especially among the various Freudian schools, are convinced that all ailments are caused by one's parents--your mother was too overbearing, your father too distant or cruel, you didn't develop proper attachment to or detachment from your parents, etc.--or oneself--you're neurotic, you're avoiding reality, you have a complex of some sort. So parents of children with problems feel that their poor parenting must be to blame, while their children blame their own actions.

Sometimes they're both wrong.

Sometimes the pains, the secret heartaches, the afflictions visible and invisible, the "thorns in the flesh" that we experience, are not the result of our own sin or our parent's sin. Sometimes the works and glory of God are being manifest in us.

"When he had thus spoken, he spat on the ground, and made clay of the spittle, and he anointed the eyes of the blind man with the clay, And said unto him, Go, wash in the pool of Siloam...He went his way therefore, and washed, and came seeing" (v. 6-7).

The Pharisees questioned him about the source of his miraculous healing, unwilling to give the credit to Jesus, who, they said, had broken the Sabbath day. They questioned the man's parents, who were hesitant to take a stand, but the man born blind knew the source of his healing. When the Pharisees instructed him, "Give God the praise: we know that this man is a sinner. He answered and said, Whether he be a sinner or no, I know not: one thing I know, that, whereas I was blind, now I see" (v. 24-25).

What a beautiful summation! "One thing I know, that, whereas I was blind, now I see."

There are so many things I don't know. I don't understand the Lord's designs, His purposes, or His timetable. I don't understand the pain, the afflictions, and the blindness, that He causes or allows to remain in the lives of those who love Him. But one thing I do know with certainty--that whereas in the world I was blind, now, through the grace of God, I see.

I see the Lord, creator of worlds without end, born to a peasant couple, members of a captive nation, laid in a manger, raised as the carpenter's son. I see His miracles, His life, His love, His example. I see his Atonement, His great sacrifice, and His glorious resurrection. I see His light, shining upon and filling a world overcome with sorrow and darkness. I see His all-consuming love, His transformative power, His redemptive glory.

And I rejoice to see the works of God being manifest in me.

Picture from