Tuesday, December 14, 2004

believing the strange (a short reflection)

More than a month ago, to prepare for the holiday season, I read the early part of Matthew and the first chapters of Luke. Since then, I’ve been thinking two things:

First, I’ve been thinking: “This is one weird story, man!” Recently, I discovered a website called “Chuck Shepherd’s News of the Weird.” The News of the Weird website has true stories on it like “Patrol Car Hit by Flying Outhouse.” On the home page of the website it says, “Proof that true stories are weirder than made up stories.” It occurred to me, that, if the events recorded in the Bible about the birth of Jesus were to happen today, they would most likely appear on the Israeli Shepherd’s News of the Weird website. Think about it: the story would be titled: “Unwed Pregnant Teenage Girl Claims Virginity.” The subtitle under the main heading would say, ‘I’m carrying God’s only Son,’ says Maria. If Jesus had been born in Spain in 2004, the story might have testimonial evidence in it from a group of garbage collectors who claimed a bunch of angels appeared to them at the junk yard on the night of his birth announcing that the next king of Spain and the world could be found in a small town about 5 miles outside of Madrid, lying in a feed trough for pigs. Upon hearing this report, someone like Saddam Hussein would order the child sought out and killed. This is one weird story, man! That’s the first thing I’ve been thinking.

The second thing I’ve been thinking is, “And you expect me to believe this, God? Come on! Get real!” But as I thought that, I sensed God telling me: “Yes, I expect you to believe this. I have come. I am real. Jesus’ birth shows that. Would you expect anything different than weirdness? God coming to earth ain’t exactly an everyday occurrence. I made it weird so that I could make it obvious to you. So, yes, I do expect you to believe this. After all, Mary did.”

So, because it hits close to home, I’ve been thinking about the miracle of Christ’s birth and Mary’s belief. Put simply: If Jesus’ birth demonstrates God’s activity; if Jesus’ birth shows the great lengths God will go to in order to be in a relationship with us; then Mary’s belief is a model of the human response God is looking for.

In the Bible, we see Mary’s belief being held up as a model for all of us to follow not only in the excerpt we just read at the end of her pregnancy, but also in another section where the angel Gabriel appears to Mary at the beginning of her pregnancy. What I find funny is this: Right before the angel Gabriel appears to Mary to give her the news that she is going to give birth to God’s Son, we find that same angel appearing to a priest named Zechariah, telling him that his elderly wife is going to give birth to John the Baptist. Here’s the funny part: Zechariah, the experienced priest, doubts. Mary, the naïve teenager, believes. There’s a reason those two stories are right next to each other in the Bible: it’s because belief is the kind of response God is looking for when we contemplate the message of Christ’s miraculous birth. The whole reason God moved heaven and earth to become a baby born in a stable and laid in a manger; the whole reason God’s angels showed up to a rag tag band of shepherds in the middle of the night with a singing telegram announcing the birth of the Messiah was to see if we would respond with belief.

So, belief may be the greatest miracle of all. It may be even greater than singing angels and virgin births. Belief is the miracle God is hoping will happen when He performs a miracle like Christmas. For that reason, belief this Christmas season really may be the greatest miracle of all. I know it is for me. Belief means I need to be less like a doubting, experienced priest and more like a certain believing, inexperienced female child. And you know what? When thinking about Christmas that makes perfect sense. Remember the wonder and mystery surrounding the Christmas season when you were a child who believed? The real meaning of Christmas is not found by adults bound by doubt; it’s found by children set free by belief. So, why not say with me: “This Christmas, I want to be a child again. I want to believe the unbelievable.”

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