I’m often baffled by my nagging, lifelong quest to earn God’s favor. As I celebrate Christmas year after year, you’d think the real truth of Christ’s birth would sink deep, deep, down into the corners of my heart. Jesus loved me so much that he gave up the glory of heaven for the filth of a stable and the dishonor of needing “diaper changes” and his mother Mary’s milk to survive. The Uncreated God, born in a stable, laid in a manger, wrapped in crude swaddling clothes–the first son of peasant parents.
And I continue to question whether God favors me?
The sweet refugees in my wife’s ESL classes well understood the mysteriousness of it all when she shared the Christmas story with them recently. She told me the shocking circumstances of Jesus’ birth was palpable in her classroom. ”What?, they muttered and shook their heads in disbelief.” ”A king born in a stable? That’s nonsense!” No “king” should be born that way! They deserve better.
Yet this is the depth of Christ’s love for me. He submitted to the will of His Father by obediently coming to earth to become the Perfect Man. This is the wonder of Christmas. How dare I question Christ’s affection for me? His favor extends to me 2000 years later, ever forgiving, ever transforming me into His likeness.
Mary understood Christ’s favor. I’m often moved by her response to the angel Gabriel’s message. ”My soul glorifies the LORD, for he has been mindful of His humble servant” That God even thought of Mary enough to send his own angelic emissary to prepare her for her pregnancy speaks loudly of His great compassion for humanity.
But we’re jaded in North America, aren’t we? Jesus is just a tool in an SNL sketch with Tim Tebow. We mock the Truth that sets us free. We crucify Christians for their hypocritical, “holier-than-thou” behavior and mock Christ as a caricature of Himself: a bearded, white-robed Anglo with a fog machine for effect as he interacts with people. We probably put more effort into helping our kids to believe in Santa than we do to lead them to discover the wonder of embracing the depth and breadth of Christ’s gracious saving love gifted to us that Bethlehem night.
I had a special experience this past week where I was reminded of what it feels like to receive God’s favor. As I anticipated my third MRI to check on the status of my brain surgery a year and a half ago, I could feel the anxiety crawling up the roots of my soul. To find solace, I sat down with my Bible to hear from God, reading in the quiet of the morning before all the kids were up. While some might simply label it as psychological self-delusion, Christ’s peace and favor settled over me as I ate that Living Bread. In just a few minutes, a beautiful stillness and quietness settled upon me that cannot be explained rationally.
In the final few days leading up to our Christmas celebrations in the Church around the world, I encourage you to take some time to gauge your own sense of God’s favor resting upon you. How can you testify to His favor and delight in you? If you’re a parent like me, how can we help our children to embrace God’s favor upon them: perhaps blessing them with words and actions that reflect our own favor toward them as “Mom” or “Dad”?
For his anger lasts only a moment,
but his favor lasts a lifetime;
weeping may stay for the night,
but rejoicing comes in the morning. Psalm 30:5 (NIV)