Friday, December 30, 2011

Pwned by God

So it's the night before my wedding. I've ordered six pairs of glossy purple shoes for my groomsmen, and six pairs of purple socks. Three pairs of socks have gone missing, but that's no big deal, really. Three of my groomsmen--Aaron, Mickey, and Ollie--have the shoes already. Cameron had a pair previously, but could no longer find them. I go into my room and see three pairs of shoes in the box: "No problem," I think, "Cameron's shoes must have found their way back in here." So I give one pair to Cameron and put the other two into my car to give to my other two groomsmen, Peter and Steven. An hour later I get a text from Ollie: "dude, did you put my shoes somewhere? I can't find them." And so it began.

Were Cameron's shoes lost, and had I mistakenly given Ollie's shoes to him? Or were those indeed Cameron's shoes, and had I misplaced someone else's shoes? Where the crap was that last pair of shoes?

That question would haunt Ollie and I for the next hour. We completely tore up our bedroom, then we completely tore up the living room. We tore up every room that had any chance of containing the shoes. Then we did it again. 

No shoes. No shoes at all. And the wedding is at 12 the next day. Although, on the plus side, we did find the three missing pairs of socks. But we're still missing a pair of shoes. And then my mom, who's been helping us a while, suggests we get together and pray that God will help us find the shoes. Now, I don't really think that'll help. I've been praying on and off for the last hour and it hasn't shown any results. But we do it anyway. We stop what we're doing, gather together, and pray.

Immediately after we're done, I start thinking out loud about what to do, assuming the shoes hasn't been found by tomorrow. Because I've already pretty much given up hope. I do not think we're going to find the shoes. And then, not two minutes after we're done praying, my mom spots a tiny spot of purple poking out of one of the tuxedo sack things. And there are the shoes. We'd walked past the tux bag dozens of times during the previous hour and never seen it.

Here's the crazy thing. We would have found the shoes in the morning, when everyone was getting dressed. But if we hadn't realized they were lost, we never would have found those last three pairs of purple socks. I am confident in saying this is a God thing. God decided to give us a bit of excitement before the wedding, a little reminder that without him everything falls apart... but that he is both able and willing to fix it again, once we trust in him and ask him to do it.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

God does not do meaningless things

“What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun. Is there a thing of which it is said, ‘See, this is new?’ It has been already in the ages before us... I have seen everything that is done under the sun, and behold, all is vanity and a striving after wind. What is crooked cannot be made straight, and what is lacking cannot be counted.” Ecclesiastes 1:9-10, 14-15

The world of the author of Ecclesiastes is old and stale. Nothing has any meaning or creates any lasting difference—the author questions, then, whether it is worth it to do anything at all. If the wise die in the same way as the foolish, if the rich suffer the same fate as the poor, if the good man fares the same as the evil man, why even make an effort? Even his last words carry the same sense of melancholy and hopelessness. “The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for that is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil.” Fear God and obey him, because it is your duty: it will not help you in life, it may not help you in death, you will still die the same as an evil man… but it is your duty nonetheless.

And that was the end of the matter. There was nothing more to said, nothing more to be heard, because even the words of the wise were vain and meaningless.

And then something happened that had never happened before. A new star appeared in the heavens and a company of angels sang to the shepherds of Bethlehem, because God had been wrapped in swaddling clothes and was lying in a manger. This was, without a doubt, the most important thing that had happened since creation. And what this meant was… everything.

God was a child. He had friends, he played games with them, he skinned his knees, he was hungry and thirsty and tired. And then God grew up and was a man. He was sarcastic and biting towards some people and utterly kind and gentle towards others. He was enraged at the misuse of the temple and driven to tears by the death of a friend. He had friends and ate and drank and slept under the stars when he could have had an angelic canopy.

And as we think about these things we must remember one simple truth: God does not do meaningless things.

And this does not just apply to his “kingdom work.” The ultimate proof of this is his very first miracle in John 2. This miracle was not planned: this is evident from his response to Mary: “What does this have to do with me? My hour has not yet come.” But he does it anyway: he has the jars filled with water and by the time the first cup reached the master of the feast, it is no longer water but the finest wine that had yet been served.

God does not do meaningless things. There were any number of ways to make his disciples believe in him, if that was his main goal. He could have made the water disappear: he could have turned it into grape juice (as some Christians fervently wish he had). But instead he chose to turn it not only into wine, but into the finest wine, wine so good that it made all the other wine pale in comparison. We are forced to realize this amazing truth: that God did something not just to further his mission, not just to make his disciples believe in him, but to help people celebrate a wedding with wine, the ultimate of extravagant beverages.

God does not do meaningless things. And that means that the world of Ecclesiastes is gone forever. 

Everything is no longer vanity and meaningless: instead, everything assumes a colossal importance. Even “neutral” things like eating or sleeping become full of meaning when we consider that God has done these things as well. When we eat, even a snack, we are reminded that God has done the same. When we sleep, we are reminded that God did too. When we attend a wedding, we remember that in doing so we walk in the footsteps of Christ. Life is full of meaning: I might even say full to bursting. Serving God is no longer a mere duty, but a privilege, an honor, a gift, as we walk this new world and think of Christ taking his first steps in Bethlehem.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

A man of light and flesh

I saw a broken world hanging in the broken cosmos, like a broken ornament on a broken tree. It had cracked, and all the meaning had leaked out of it, and it had grown old. There was nothing new under the sun, and the sun gave forth dead light. The world was full of dead bones, a skeleton people. All was vanity and chasing after the wind, and even if one caught the wind he would find that he had not caught it at all: it had escaped his grasp and mocked him as he tried in vain to breathe under the dead sun.

Then the Lord saw that the people were dead for lack of meaning. He saw that they stumbled around in the dark, clicking and clacking in their never-ending chase of the wind. And he said “Who will go for us, and who will make these dead bones live?”

And many spoke, and many were sent, but it was no good: None could be found who were not skeletons. There was no one living to be found among the whole world.

And then, when silence had fallen in heaven, the Lord answered out of the whirlwind and said, “Here I am: send me.”

And the veil, which had been over the earth for so long that it had been forgotten, was torn, and the Lord opened the floodgates of heaven, and the people dwelling in darkness saw a living light. And the angels sang and the heavens danced in honor of the God who did what no god had done before. The light came into the darkness and became flesh, and the darkness understood neither the light nor the flesh, for nothing like this had ever happened before.

The light was a child, wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger, and the manger and the whole world sagged under his weight. The baby breathed, and there was a freshness in the dead air. Then the babe laughed, and it seemed to those listening that no one had ever laughed before.

The child grew up, and a man of light and flesh walked the dead earth, leaving meaning in his wake. Some were afraid of him, and others followed him, and both did so because they realized that there had never been a man like this before. And those following him began to change: their bones ceased to rattle, and gradually they, too, had flesh. And they realized that they could breathe, and that their new lungs would hold the air. They ate and were filled, they drank and their thirst was quenched, the sun warmed their skin and the green grass tickled their feet. And they ceased to chase the wind and began to live, as no one had done since Adam walked the garden.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Something New

I was driving today, listening to my Christmas music, and I realized I hadn't listened to Barlow Girl's rendition of "Carol of the Bells" lately. I strongly urge you to listen to it here, because it's awesome. Are you listening to it now? Good. Let's begin.

The Christmas Spirit... Every year there are new movies and television specials that attempt to capture it. It is usually thought to have something to do with children or family or giving for the sake of giving--it's generally  shown to be something along the lines of "children are precious," or "family is more important than presents." All of these movies are wrong. These are not "Christmas" things: they're just things. It is true that children are precious, and it is true that family is more important than gifts--but these things have always been true and they always will be true. Christmas, however, is about new things.

Christmas renews old things, and makes them more than they were before. That children are precious is an old thing, and that family is more important than gifts was already known. That first Christmas was something new, something that had never been seen before: finally there was something new under the sun, and the newness radiated out from that cave in Bethlehem and changed the world. It was in the old world that the sun set on Mary and Joseph knocking on locked doors, hoping against hope that a place could be found for them. And it was in the new world that the sun rose to the sound of a crying baby boy lying in a manger--and I think that when Mary heard those cries, she must have thought that she had never heard anything like it.

Every time a baby had been born before that point, it was an occasion of great joy--but always, always, there was the knowledge that the child was born into a world of pain and death and sin, that the child would die, must die. There was the sense that even this celebration of life and birth was vanity and a chasing after the wind. Children were precious... but they would be lost, eventually.

And then a special child was born, a child who would save his people from their sins--and everything was different. It was a birth not only of a child, but of the new world--a new world in which life did not have to be a mere progression towards death. It was a world where life could be a progression towards an even greater life. It was a world where God Himself had become a child, and as a result all children were infinitely more precious and could never be called meaningless again.

Because of Christmas, children can be even more precious to us, and family even more dear to us... but to say that those things are the point of Christmas is to miss it entirely. The meaning of Christmas is not subjective. It in no way depends on the one celebrating it. It is a reminder and celebration of that fixed point in time and space when Something New appeared under the sun, when something was done which had never been done before--it is a reminder of when everything was changed forever.

Christmas, people: accept no substitutes.