Romancing the World
Sheep, Bucks Harbor, Washington County, Maine
Bucks Harbor, a small, fishing harbor in Washington County, Maine, lies in the distance beyond the sheep. Lobster boats are gently rocking on the tide but are invisible in the foggy, snowy distance. Jesus probably would have been at home here. It was the life he lived! Sheep and fishermen were elements in his earthly life’s experience and fodder for his practical teaching and parables. His closest friends were fishermen, but it was to Shepherds that his astonishing birth was announced.
Dr. Luke detailed that astounding, awe inspiring, but somewhat odd event. A heavenly blaze of God’s glory illuminated the sky; a small field of humble shepherds who were watching their flocks at night were startled with a shocking, bewildering, dramatic, angelic message that the long awaited Messiah had been born and was lying in a manger. Then a multitude of the heavenly host appeared praising God for peace among those with whom (God) was pleased! (Luke 2:1-21)
What a strange, baffling, and inconvenient way to deliver such a powerful message! Why would this universally needed, supremely important message from heaven itself be committed to poor, powerless people who had no technical way to broadly convey it? “Downhere,” a Canadian Rock Band, poses similar questions: ” A child in a manger? Lowly and small, the weakest of all/ Unlikeliest hero, wrapped in his mother’s shawl/ Just a child/ Is this who we’ve waited for?” “Cause how many kings stepped down from their thrones? How many lords have abandoned their homes? How many greats have become the least for me? And how many Gods have poured out their hearts/To romance a world that is torn all apart? How many Fathers gave up their Sons for me?
Surely, such long awaited, dramatic news deserved better press! However, anonymity and humble beginnings protected the Christ child from the corrupting influences of religion and politics, from opportunists, and from opponents who would have either annihilated him or would have manipulated him into goals and ideas that perverted the Gospel’s redemptive message and the transformation of souls.
Nobody was prepared for the Messiah to be born in suspect circumstances in a cattle stable to humble parents only to slowly grow into the person God meant him to be, to become an itinerant rabbi who championed the eternal Kingdom of God but would die a criminal’s death instead of becoming a warrior King who could improve Israel’s circumstance and advance its political goals. But “Emmanuel,” God embodied in flesh, had stepped into His creation in a unique way in order to bring peace to all humanity. (John1:1-5) (Colossians 1:15-16) (Hebrews 1: 1-3) Was there a catch? Was there an exclusionary clause in the message “and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased” ? Were they speaking only of Israel? Was this a contradiction? Wasn’t the message one of joy to all people?
God’s grace is immense; it covers the world. His inexpressible love and mercy are for the undeserving; His special peace and joy come through belief for “It is impossible to please God without faith. Anyone who wants to come” to him must believe that God exists and that he rewards those who sincerely seek him.” (Hebrews 11:6)
Religions have spent centuries devising suggestions and methods and dogma on how to please and implore God for peace and joy through works, sacrifices, self humiliations, deprivations, rituals, and traditions. However, Christ revealed God’s grace: his advent, his life, his teachings, his cruel crucifixon which showed the awful punishment that unholiness deserves, his bodily sacrifice and death which took God’s wrath for that unholiness and built the bridge of reconciliation between man and God, and his resurrection which gives us the great confidence of life eternal. Clearly, the message of redemption was for “whosever will,” for the whole world, for Jew and Gentile, for the civilized or uncivilized, for the “sinner” as well as the religious or socially “worthy.” (John 3:16; 8:12) (Acts 2:21)(Galatians 3:28) (Colossians 3:11) Christ is the “once for all” Savior. (Hebrews 7:26)
Charles Wesley wrote a hymn beautifully stating the truth of Christ: “Love divine, all loves excelling/joy of heaven, to earth come down/…Jesus, thou art all compassion/ pure, unbounded love thou art/Visit us with thy salvation/ enter every trembling heart.” “Come, Almighty, to deliver, let us all thy life receive…”
God wanted the world to experience heaven’s joy through Christ, who said, “These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full” (John 15:11; 17:13) Therein lies the true Christmas story, the story of God’s steadfast, ever enduring, ever pursuing, immeasurable love for us. That story demands a response. It impacted Isaac Watts, who wrote: ”Joy to the World the Lord has come, Let earth receive her king, Let every heart prepare him room, and Heaven and Nature sing”