Don’t get stuck this season

I am reading through Matthew this Christmas season, and although I don’t mean to skip over the genealogies, I am just not finished with what I want to write about them yet. I know a part of me needs to find the mystery again. Today is of the story of the wise men visiting Jesus when he was a toddler, and Herod’s attempt to destroy this young boy – yet God, always ahead of the power curve – tells Joseph to go to Egypt.

I have to think about that a bit. It reveals a few key things:

1. There are definite power structures that oppose the things that God is doing in the world

2. God is not ignorant of these things, nor is he ignorant of the people through which they come

3. God is going to protect that which is important for his plan and purpose, so that things happen on his timeline

4. Nothing can stop the really important things, which is in this case, protecting Jesus

Now, what we never do in the Christmas story is focus on all the collateral that comes with Herod’s decision. The camera’s lens, the author’s focus, is on the hero of the story, this little child who wise men from the east travel to see. Already, under the age of two, just the mere knowledge of his presence is causing panic in the heart of kings. Already, they are threatened and reverting to what their ancestors have done all through history: kill off the challenge to the throne. Don’t seek the Lord to see what he is doing, just protect your own interests.

In our 21st century mindset when anything that takes innocent lives or brings destruction to those who just happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, it becomes the subject of our outrage and cry for justice. Yet here, we barely make mention of the many young boys that were killed nearly two years after Jesus was born, in Herod’s thirst to protect his throne:

Matt 2:16 “When Herod realized he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity, who were two years old and under…”

In our 21st century mindset, we would look at this and ask “how could a god save one baby and let all these other die? How could that god be good?”

And we would get stuck here, just like we get stuck look at all the injustice in the world today with child abuse and slavery and the mistreatment of refugees. Please do not hear me wrong on this: those are things that we should fight to make right. We should cry out for leaders to do things differently, for what is important to take precedence. We should expect them to not ignore the vulnerable for the sake of their own gain. That is not my point today though.

I guess I wonder why we never ask this question of the Christmas story? Oh sure, we paint King Herod as the bad guy, but today I have a different thought. Today I question why we never get frustrated at the chief priests and teachers of the law who told Herod that the Messiah was to born in Bethlehem. Why did they not counsel him to let things be? Why did they not paint a picture of how good this was to be, God being faithful to his promise for Israel? Were they afraid, fearful too? I’m pretty sure by that time they were “in bed” so to speak with not only Herod but also the Romans. Blind and deaf to the things God was really doing.

And because of that, many families lost their little boys that year, and I am sure the heart of God wept right there with them, because that wasn’t supposed to happen either.

It all happened at the hands of a powerful king who could only think about his own skin, his own rule and power, and the rule of his son in the days to come. We need to remember that what we see happening today, around the world in our nation and others as well, has been going on since the beginning of time. We are foolish to think it can ever really stop fully, at least in this age.

What God is doing might seem to have “left the country” – but just like Joseph and Mary returning to the land with Jesus years later, in all reality it was just waiting for the right time. The plans of God will keep growing, keep developing, right along side the power structures and people that think its harmless because they cannot see it.

There will probably still be collateral damage, my friends.

My challenge to you is to not get stuck focusing there, asking “why did God allow that??”. Now, I’m not going to give you some platitude that “everything happens for a reason” — because those of us who have lived through hell and back know that in the midst of it, whatever bigger reason seems paltry and fake and downright cruel. That collateral damage is way often due to corrupt power structures, greedy people, or our own human selfishness and ignorance. Bad decisions, made out of our own hurt. There’s no excuse but its the way it is. It sucks.

The reality is that whatever it is – it won’t stop the mystery of what and how God moves to reveal himself to the world. It didn’t, nearly 2000 years ago, and it won’t now.

Take courage, my friends – the purposes of God to redeem a world from its own pain and corrupt ways WILL NOT STOP. I know this probably doesn’t answer the “why” for the pain in your own life, the hardships you have gone through, but I hope that in midst of it you can take a step back to see the mystery and hold onto the hope that He is still working.

May the mystery of it all be your delight this Christmas.



The Three Trees

I have a bit of a funny story to share. Earlier in December as we were decorating for Christmas, I was talking with Maddie about Christmas traditions and how we should start some new ones now that we are here. Out of curiosity, I asked which of the traditions we had that she remembered the most (or something like that).

“What do you mean? We dont’ HAVE any Christmas traditions.”

You could have hit me over the head with a 2×4. We have a ton! Small traditions, sure, but still there are things we do every year. Like “Ornament Day”, coined by Maia, the day after Thanksgiving when the tree goes up and at least the lights go on, if not decorations too. Christmas baking. Advent calendars to count down in December. Dances with Jon to our favorite Amy Grant Christmas songs. Tacky light tours (although out here in Colorado the lights and decorations really are not that tacky so… that one might have to die). Then there are my cousin’s famous caramel rolls Christmas morning, and the new tradition we started last year: Chinese food on Christmas day, in honor of Jon’s traditions growing up Jewish (since those were the two ethnic groups that didn’t celebrate Christmas in his town).

And we can’t forget the reading of the book “The Three Trees”, a traditional folktale retold by Angela Ellwell Hunt.

Although I always misplace it, and have probably purchased a few copies over the years as a result, at some point we all gather around the Christmas tree and get comfy and one of us reads the story. The story is about three trees that sit together on a hilltop. They talk and dream about one day what they will do when they are grown up. One of them dreams about being a treasure chest to hold great treasure, the other, a mighty sailing vessel for a king. The third tree says he never wants to leave the hill, but instead stay there so that he can poing people to God.

One day, the three trees are chopped down. The first two are made into a feeding trough and a plain sailing boat. The third is left in the woodpile. Yet each in turn are used to do the very thing they dreamed about doing, just in ways they never expected: a feeding trough ends up holding the treasure of God come to earth. A plain sailing boat holds Jesus and his disciples as they are on rough waters, yet realizes he holds a King when Jesus calms the storm. The third… well, he becomes part of the cross.

The reason I love this story so much is because it’s the story of our lives in many ways, isn’t it? We may have great dreams when we are young, ones that may never turn out the way we expected. We may feel ordinary, plain, or left over in the woodpile. Yet that isn’t how God sees us.

You life, my life – we are like those trees.

Everyday ordinary people, yet carrying a great treasure in our lives. We all have hope to give, light to shine into the darkness of other peoples lives. We all can sit in the woodpile and speak to those who are not doing well, reminding them this is not all they were made for.

The hard part of the story that we adults get, and kids don’t, is that after the trees were cut down, they were chipped away at, bent, cut more, nailed together, and smoothed over…. which in some ways is what life does to us, doesn’t it? Yet this story is a reminder that not only in spite of but because of those things, the treasure of God we have found sometimes is more visible, more touchable.

More real.

Whether this Christmas season is a difficult one for you, or if it’s filled with joy and laughter – remember you are NEVER without purpose. You, my friend, are crafted and a beautiful piece of woodwork being carved. Your faith is not in vain, you carry the light of the world in you, even though you may not be aware.

“For we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this power is not from us”.. 2 Cor 4:7

Let that truth be born in YOU this Christmas!