While driving to the Beaver Creek Chapel, when I pastored in the Colorado mountains, to lead worship one morning, a flashing ten-inch long, white smudge, stark against the dark, wet pavement darted across the road in front of my truck. I braked, looking hard for another glimpse of whatever it was. Suddenly on the other side of the road—briefly, only for the length of a gasp of breath—a small, pure white ermine perched on the curb above a storm drain. It held its head high in pride, its slender tail extended; then it disappeared. For a moment I doubted what I had seen. Ermines, or weasels, are wild and secretive. They aren’t known for bolting across roads like lesser creatures such as rabbits or deer. Ermines, if seen at all, might be glimpsed scurrying over snowbound logs deep in a trackless wood. Still there it had been, shimmering, electrifying, remarkable, unexpected.
Jesus’ birth struck me that way too, especially unexpected.
Eugene C. Scott joins Mike in writing A Daily Bible Conversation twice a week.
TODAY’S READING (click here to view today’s reading online)
INSIGHTS AND EXPLANATIONS
Revelation 7:1-17: The 144,000. What fun people have had trying to figure out who they are. But taking symbols like these literally usually get us farther from the truth. Could it be that this section is about God’s faithfulness rather than who gets to be in the club? God birthed Israel out of Abraham and he will not abandon them, symbolic in the twelve tribes, even at the end of time.
That faithfulness is available for us too.
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THE WORD MADE FRESH
Micah and a slew of Old Testament prophets gave obscure predictions about Jesus’ birth. Micah writes, “But you, Bethlehem, . . . out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel. . . .” Still no one expected Jesus to be born in the time and place he was. Based on their expectations–and ours–it’s amazing anyone noticed Jesus’ birth. Then as he grew up, he rarely did or said anything anyone expected. What a shimmering, electrifying, remarkable, unexpected man Jesus was!
We could well call Jesus “The Unexpected One.” That title for Jesus could often be applied to our encounters with Jesus today as well, because somehow whenever Jesus breaks into my life, I happen to be looking the other way. But it’s not that Jesus is unpredictable, though he may be. I believe the issue lies largely stretched between Jesus’ unpredictability and our expectations. Not that Jesus is ever controlled by our earth-bound expectations, but our ability to experience the Unexpected One certainly is.
In an essay titled “The Seminary as a Place of Spiritual Formation,” Eugene H. Peterson confesses that he least expected to experience the spirituality of Jesus in seminary. “By and large,” he writes, “a seminary is not a congenial place in which to nurture spirituality.” Rather “seminary is a place of learning.” Peterson struggled to encounter Christ in seminary.
Many of us will play out that same struggle with Christmas. How do we see Christ in Christmas, especially when so often his presence is shrouded in other beautiful and good things?
Look in new places. What if we didn’t look only in the places and Christmas experiences of the past. Personally, I have too often traipsed back—expectantly—to that proverbial mountaintop where I last “saw God” only to stumble back down the trail in the dark, unenlightened. Jesus does not live in past traditions and experiences but in the now.
Look for him in the mundane and ordinary. The Incarnation, God encased in ordinary human flesh, was unexpected by those in Jesus’ time because God embodied the mundane, a hungry, helpless baby. Likewise, Jesus can incarnate, embody, (though in a lesser way than the Incarnation) our daily Christmas routines. Don’t belittle shopping, Christmas lights, ribbons and bows as profane. Instead see Jesus in them and let him recreate them as sacred.
Everywhere Jesus shows up something astounding happens. On the first Christmas morning Jesus, truly unexpected, looked and sounded very ordinary. Yet a star stood still, angels sang, and God touched earth. Yet most people never noticed. Even Mary and Joseph did not for a long time fully recognize him. Neither do we.
Sometimes people who stand face to face with Jesus miss the miracle. I often wonder what of God I have missed or how many times God has had to drive back around the block to get my attention. It’s ironic, as a pastor, I get so caught up preparing for worship and leading worship I walk right past the object of my greatest desire. Like the shepherds, I ask, “Where is he? The Messiah is that wrinkled baby?”
Yes, the Unexpected One is hidden here—in plain sight. And sure enough there shimmering, electrifying, remarkable he is—unexpected.
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Eugene co-pastors The Neighborhood Church in Littleton, CO and writes a blog eugenesgodsightings.blogspot.com