As I drape socks and tops over my laundry rack, the later bits of Handel’s Messiah play in the background, the words straight from Scripture: “I know that my Redeemer liveth, and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth. . . . Behold I tell you a mystery: We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be raised, in a moment, in a twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. . . . Blessing, and honour, glory, and power, be unto him that sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb for ever and ever. Amen.”
A story is only as good as its ending, and the story of Jesus—this story in which we now live—has a wonderful end.
Some years during Advent I’ve soaked more in the story of Jesus’ first coming, lingering long in the story of Zechariah’s silence and Mary’s yes and the coming of the shepherds to worship. But this year, maybe because I was so hungry for Jesus’ presence and Bette’s book was so good, I started Advent early, and spent the month before Advent with Mary and Elizabeth and the shepherds. And now I’m moving backwards and forwards, back to the beautiful prophecies in Isaiah, forward to Thessalonians and Revelation and the promise that this Jesus who came as a baby will come again as a king. As The King.
In our world of war and hunger, of hospitals full and families selling their daughters because they can’t feed them, I need to remember not just the beginning and the middle, but also the end of the story.
Beginning, Middle, AND End
The one who was born among animals because no one had space for his pregnant mother, who had no place to lay his head as an adult, is the same one who desires to be our heart’s home in these turbulent times, and is lovingly shaping a forever home for all of his people (Jn 14).
As a baby, his family fled their country to save his life. As an adult, he faced repeated death threats and was eventually killed after a mock trial with “witnesses” who couldn’t get their story straight. He walks now with the oppressed, the fearful, the ones with no way out. And he’s also the Prince of Peace, the Truth, and the Life, who “will not falter or be discouraged till he establishes justice on earth” (Is 42:4).
He came to ordinary people living ordinary and sometimes messy lives—a teenage girl, a group of shepherds on the night shift, a young man who feared his fiancé had cheated on him. He still comes to us ordinary people in our ordinary days carrying us along with him in this middle of the story as we head with him towards an extraordinary ending.
Gift, Gift, and More Gift
As I savor the whole story—Jesus’ first coming and his second, and all the ways he keeps coming and giving himself to us in the in between—I notice, and love, this:
God’s coming is always gift. It is not something we have to, or can, make happen. It is not dependent on our perfection (thank God!) or even on our prayers (though they can certainly help prepare us to see him when he comes). God comes when he knows the time is right to ordinary people in their ordinary days—washing dishes, driving children, sitting at a keyboard, standing at an operating table or a blackboard, answering a phone.
And the God who comes to us is the same God at his first physical coming and at his second and at all the subtler but equally real and needed comings in between. How he comes will change—from small and hidden to visible and in power—but who he is will never change. This is the King whom power cannot corrupt, who holds justice and mercy together in perfect harmony. He remains forever good in every sense of the word—kind, and loving, and holy. He is humble and gentle and patient—”a bruised reed he will not break, and a smouldering wick he will not snuff out”—and committed to setting right what has been wrong.
God comes, and comes, and comes again because he wants to be with us wherever we are—in the mundane, the messy, and the beautiful. He comes because he wants to bring us closer, deeper into knowing we are loved. He wants us to feel safe enough in his love to rest there.
What magnificent love this is—love worthy of angels singing in the night sky over Bethlehem and around heaven’s throne. Worthy, too, of our joining in with the angels’ singing in this season that celebrates Jesus’ first Advent and his second, and reminds us to watch for all the ways he comes to us in between.
“Don’t Be Afraid”
So much gift, yet though we need God’s presence, and long for it, we often fear it, too. The places of God’s coming are often the exact places we most need to be reminded not to be afraid. There are many reasons for this, I think. One is that we carry, along with Adam and Eve and every person since, a distorted perception of who God is. But isn’t it wonderful that our gracious God knows that, and that his first words when he calls us closer, deeper, or into his work in a new way are so often a tender, “Do not be afraid?” To Zechariah at the unexpected promise of a child, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah” (Luke 1:13). To Mary, at the even more startling promise that she would carry the Son of God, “Do not be afraid, Mary” (Luke 1:30). To the shepherds called to go and see, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all people” (Luke 2:10).
In what area of your life, I wonder, do you most need to feel God’s loving presence with you this Advent? Where do you need to hear the prophet’s words, “Be strong, do not fear, your God will come. . . he will come to save you” (Is 35:4)?
Here let me whisper a secret—a place in my own life where I’m rejoicing in God’s coming and calling me closer to him and deeper into his work in the world, and am also grateful for his gentle reminder, “Do not be afraid,” as we move forward together. Some of you know that I’ve been working for years on a book for you. The door has finally opened for me to sign a publishing contract and, all going well, I hope to have it in your hands in a little over a year!
In the book, I’ll share more than I’ve shared anywhere else about my journey through Afghanistan and illness, not because I think my story is more special than anyone else’s, but because it’s the story I’ve been given, and the backdrop on which God has been writing his love in my life. We’ll talk about the question that has shaped my life, though I haven’t been able to articulate it until recently: “Is it safe to trust God’s love?” Is it safe to trust God’s love—safe enough to follow him to Afghanistan? Safe enough to trust again when I’ve already done that and life has fallen apart? Safe enough even to rest? We’ll soak in the beautiful birth imagery that God has given us in Scripture that can help us see and feel his gentle love and passionate commitment more deeply. I pray that as we journey together through the story, God will draw all of us deeper into feeling safe enough to rest in his love.
A Question for You
I’d love this book to be as helpful as it can be to you, so let me ask, “What thoughts or questions or feelings surface as you hear that question, ‘Is it safe to trust God’s love?’” You can comment on this post, reply directly to me here, or reply to the email if you received a copy of this post in your inbox. Your response will help to shape the final version of the book. Thank you in advance for helping me make this book the best it can be.
May we each be given eyes to see God coming to us again and again in this Advent season, and to hear his tender reassurance, “Do not be afraid, my child. I’m right here.”