Christmas, the River, and the Project that
Should Have Been Scrapped
Have you ever sat beside a river and just watched? Picture this scene: You are sitting riverside, in an evergreen forest, birds singing happily, the smell of fragrant wild flowers permeating the air, and a gentle breeze blowing over the mighty water in front of you. Don’t forget this; we’ll come back to it, I promise!
Christmas means many different things to many different people. But what is the true essence of the holiday we have celebrated for over 2000 years? By the time you finished the last sentence, you may stop, and in our busy world, discontinue reading. After all, what else can be said or discovered now about Christmas?
“Yeah, yeah….,” we might impatiently exclaim, “peace on earth…., be nice to people…., Jesus was a good example of a man…., let’s go on with life. Who are we kidding? There is no peace. But, I will have a day off, eat a big meal, receive a few gifts, deal with my sometimes difficult family and go back to work the next day. Nothing changes.”
Well, this year I learned to look at Christmas in a new light. The depths of God are limitless, and if we truly seek, we can always learn something new.
I have been reading a Jewish scholar’s book, The Disappearance of God. The author pointed out that when we examine the Hebrew scriptures (the Old Testament as Christians call it), we peer into a linear, yet in many ways, cyclical story. The deity creates the earth and “free” beings purposed to live and take care of it. God gives commands which they continually fail to live up to. An entire nation (Israel) is portrayed of having direct and consistent contact with the deity where He speaks, appears in different fashions (fire, wind, cloud, miracles, etc), and leads them over the course of many generations. Yet, it is astonishing how they continually reject this God and repeatedly doubt and go their own way. As this occurs, God gradually changes His interactions with man and actually seems to disappear all together. After Moses, no other man or woman sees the form of God like he did, and no other generation of people hear the voice of God like the Israelites did in that age. Moreover, God is recorded as actually stating to Moses that “I will hide my face from them” (Deut. 32:20). In fact, that phrase is repeated in the Hebrew scriptures thirty times. Kings and prophets have some interaction with God, but mostly through dreams and visions. After Solomon, God is not said to have “appeared” to anyone with five more centuries left to occur in the scriptures! The fire, the voice, the cloud, the miracles steadily vanish. Is this because the people keep rejecting this God? Is this just the modus operandi of God? Does God simply want to leave the control of the world to mankind? We do not know for sure. But, the Old Testament originates with God having almost daily interaction with an entire nation, and it ends with His apparent disappearance; God gradually and consistently becomes silent for many generations.
Christmas. Suddenly and very unexpectedly, the miracles burst back onto the scene. In the writings of the Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John), the birth of Jesus is surrounded by miracles. His life begins with miracles and His ministry is filled with them. The deity who created mankind is now physically walking with them. This is a direct reflection of the Genesis account where the man and woman hear the sound of God “walking in the garden in the cool of the day.” Whatever the reason for God’s apparent disappearance, He is now present in ways only imagined at Eden.
Christmas is a Revolution! It is the ultimate Noah’s rainbow! Despite man’s repeated rejections, God comes back, rolls up His sleeves, gets His own hands dirty (and bloody), bears the responsibility of sin Himself, and suffers the consequences. Essentially, He never gives up. To the Hebrews, He continually provided; they continually rejected and failed. He left them to their own ways. As Jesus, He came to earth in the form of a human, and we killed Him. Yet, He still does not give up and destroy us.
What does this all mean to us today? Let’s go back to the title of this essay and the beautiful and peaceful river scene. Christmas is the beginning of the revolution of Christ. The river is God’s continual workings in the world, and we definitely are the project that should have been scrapped. I believe this short biblical history lesson teaches us today that God wants us all to love Him out of our own free will. He will not force us. For love is not really love, if it is by force. Is it?
A river was present in the Garden of Eden, nourishing the plants and trees. If we just look at our small view of a river, we don’t always know which way it flows. The wind could be blowing the surface one way, yet underneath, the current is traveling the other direction. This is like the ways of the Lord. He is mysterious, may seem “hidden” or to have disappeared; yet, like the river, He is behind the scenes moving, working, loving. Christmas demonstrates to us that He will not remain “hidden,” and, if we look for Him, we will find Him.
The message is tremendously humbling, yet overwhelmingly affirming. After continuous rejection, God should have scrapped the “human project.” But in astounding mercy, He not only chose NOT to bring destruction, He forgave and engraved this project with the divine at Christmas! Jesus is the confirmation of Noah’s rainbow sealed with God’s very own blood!
God has not forgotten you!
When it feels like He has disappeared, remember that Christmas and Easter changed everything.
When life’s struggles choke out our joy and with each day new burdens arise, remember the river!
When disappointment after disappointment hover over us like a cloud of dust, remember the river!
When we pray and plead with the Lord and nothing seems to happen, remember the river!
And on this Christmas Day, remember we serve a mysterious, yet faithful God who has never, and will never leave us! You see, there is peace on earth. He is our peace! The river is the well that will never run dry.
Even if we cannot always feel Him, He is there!
“I remember my affliction and my wandering,
the bitterness and the gall.
I well remember them,
and my soul is downcast within me.
Yet this I call to mind
and therefore I have hope:
Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed,
for his compassions never fail.
They are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.
I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion;
therefore I will wait for him.”
The Lord is good to those whose hope is in him,
to the one who seeks him;
it is good to wait quietly
for the salvation of the Lord.”