Early in my campus ministry, I found myself in a relational, spiritual, and emotional crisis, which forced me to examine my past’s influence upon my life. Interspersed between painful memories, I questioned the nature of God and how he works in our lives: Is God in control of history and time? And more importantly, if he is, are his actions and heart good? To be honest, navigating these deep questions from the land mines of my anger and confusion seemed like an impossible journey; especially since I was targeting my rage at God. Even so, the mercy and patience of the Lord held me up while he slowly massaged my grieving heart and revealed his good and perfect will for my life. One of the means used to do both was many of the stories told in the gospel narratives especially Luke 2.
The Birth of a King
The story of Jesus’ birth is so familiar that it’s hard to appreciate its historical and spiritual nuances. I read over these familiar text like someone in a food coma after a huge Thanksgiving meal. However, as I read this text, the Holy Spirit provided fresh insight into the otherwise familiar story and shed light on its unexamined contours and applied it to my own heart.
In Luke 1 leading up to chapter 2 reveals how the sovereignty of God “drags humanity around” for his purposes. The major characters of this narrative, both those against and for his glory, are having their lives invaded in major ways. For example,
Zechariah and Elizabeth are forced to enter into the much wanted, but exhausting terrain of parenthood at an inconceivable old age; voices and bodies are compelled towards that end.
Mary and Joseph’s minds are entirely warped by God invading their life through Gabriel’s stark news, the overly intimate hovering of the Holy Spirit, and the awkward thought of parenting a child who has divinely conceived.
And to make matters worse, Joseph and Mary are inconveniently reminded by the edict of Rome’s Caesar Augustus to register in your hometown that in a very real world way they were not in control of their lives.
I can’t imagine how confusing and frustrating this all must have felt. Two worldview agendas at odds, the Kingdom of God and Rome, with two families caught in the middle of this metaphysical tussle. Both kings, one legitimate and the other illegitimate, are moving in time and space to establish their thrones in the hearts of humanity; both are calling these two families to be “counted” in their respective census. Can you imagine being pulled around like this in such a deep existential way? Commanded to submit one’s heart to one or the other?
Register Your Devotion
And then it hit me. We all are being pulled in this way to pick a side. We must register our devotion to either the things of this world or God’s King. We have been wrestling with this choice since our first family’s betrayal in the Garden of Eden. And considering our long history, we have landed on the wrong side more times than not. In fact, the chances of humanity being able to overcome the influence of the coup de taux of heaven are next to impossible.
Humanity’s hope? God crashes the “time and space” party of history. It starts with dabbling with various relationships and their reproductive capacities. He begins with a geriatric couple who have been barren their entire marriage; God pays them an angelic visit, and baboom, they are pregnant. Then, he proceeds to a nearby village and performs a procreation miracle, via the Holy Spirit, on behalf of an engaged virgin and her stunned fiancé. Through it all, the Lord of the universe creates life where life has never been before, the wombs of a barren senior citizen and a very young virgin. These crazy visitations point to the means by which God the Father will graciously save the world; in particular, that the life of God will come into the soul of man, to overthrow the oppressive tyrant of our souls and of the world.
The birth of Jesus manifests this plan, while pointing to the means by which he will secure his kingdom for the people. Notice, all of the power and glory of the Father residing in a fragile and innocent infant; not striking a pose of judgment and intimidation, but a spirit of gentle, beautiful, and healing communion with humanity. Unlike Caesar Augustus, or the likes of Herod in the Gospel of Matthew, the wise men, angels, and the shepherds are given a sliver of glory as the King of Kings is made manifest to them in the safest form one can imagine: An infant! This occurrence points to the very heart of the gospel—that God is making himself known in a gracious, merciful, and forgiving way to humanity. Amazingly, this revelation of God’s grace works a spirit of devotion, in which the humble of the world commit their hearts to the King gratefully and willing, unlike the brutality of the kings of the world who demand loyalty with the point of a sword. Over time, as the Holy Spirit tenderly worked in my mind and soul via the Word of God and the mentorship of many believers, I saw that my journey and the subsequent scar tissue was the work of a mighty and wise King, who was working through our lives to bring about his redemptive purposes. The pain finally had a rightful place in my story, which allowed me to once again bow the knee to his infinite goodness.