Enough time has passed for me to go ahead and admit to being an advisor to my parents as a young person. Looking back, it happened far more often than I care to remember. My parents in the their collective wisdom of 80 to 100 years would assert some proposition on appropriate behavior, fashion, music or morality. Inevitably, I would reply in a way exhibiting how ridiculous I thought such counsel was. I should have just said, “OK, well I trust you.” But I am not sure in all my years I did that. Ever. And now there hangs somewhere in my parent’s home a picture of me in parachute pants. And a matching shirt.
For the sake of transparency I am willing to also admit how often I find myself counseling God. You know, because I have these ideas about things…and o.k. it just sounds foolish typing it up. But we all do it. We think God is doing something ridiculous and then deign to give God advice on how he should have acted.
The familiarity of the Christmas story makes it impossible to see how ridiculous it is. And I am convinced that I would have counseled God to do things differently.
I would been more ambiguous about the virgin birth plan so there would be a loophole when people talked. And we know they talked. And I would not have wanted to be so cruel to such a virtuous woman. Having a been a youth minister, I know what kind of teenage girl should have been chosen.
I would have chosen a more affluent family…you know, to make the transition from celestial to terrestrial a little smoother. I wouldn’t have wanted him to be acquainted with any unnecessary sorrows like cultural whiplash.
While I appreciate the Victorian drama of sending the mother away to have the baby, I am not sure I would have chosen to do it so late in the pregnancy with such risk to the health of the child.
Even if I went along with all of the above plans, the one I would have certainly thought ridiculous was the decision to have the King of Kings born in a manger. It sounds disgraceful. For what father would do such a thing? We chose to have our firstborn in a top notch hospital.
I would have first announced to someone besides the shepherds. Can you imagine a Kennedy having a child and then announcing it via the Birmingham News?
And one of the things I would call the most scandalous was giving a baby such pricey gifts. Obviously the “wise men” -so-called – are mired in a consumeristic and materialistic culture. Why not sell those gifts and give them to the poor? Why not build an inn for Jesus to be born in? Why not give it to Lottie Moon?
And on and on ad infinitum. I suppose we need to all reckon with the fact we would have at least looked at God sideways as this plan was unfolding. We sing about it now but we would have shaken our heads in complete disbelief at the time. And I know this because we do it now.
“What were You doing? I would have…”
My parents are great. The mercy they show me still after so many times of verbally putting a fist in their face…the grace they have bestowed on me in innumerable hugs, kisses and gifts after I refused to trust them is staggering. I thought they were foolish, old-fashioned and “not with it.” And I told them as much. But they knew this was coming (I have three older brothers). My guess is – and it has taken me being a parent to see this – that my parents loved showing me grace and mercy.
I’m convinced God did things the way he did to show us his gracious power to rescue was not in the created things but in the Creator. But I’m also certain he did it knowing we would always be failures – failures at trusting in his raw power to rescue. And we would need the very grace he sent his Son to usher into history. So all of our would-be protestations about the way God did things stretching from manger to cross are the reason for both. And it is impossible to read this seemingly ridiculous Christmas story and not see how much he enjoys showering us with loving grace and mercy.