Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Nativity: glory through suffering

Last night I continued a Christmas tradition by seeing Andrew Peterson's Behold the Lamb of God for the fourth time. Every time I see this program, I am overwhelmed with the wonder of the fact that all of history is the story of God pursuing the rescue his children. But every year, there is a different theme from the redemption story that stands out. This year it was the way that God uses our pain to reveal his glory.

What are some of your favorite Christmas hymns? I have so many. Silent Night. O Little Town of Bethlehem. Away in a Manger.

There are wonderful themes in these songs, which I will probably write about in the future. But when I hear them, when I look at manger scenes on lawns, when I go to a traditional nativity play, it is always such a tranquil scene. Quiet. A few animals mailing soft sounds ("the cattle are lowing, the baby awakes"). A baby sleeping.

Nice. But here's something you may not think about much: Before there was a baby in a manger with Joseph and Mary watching him sleep, there was something called…..labor.

Ughhh. As a man I don't like to think about it. And I'm sure if you're a mom, you want to think about it even less. There is pain which I am told is much worse than anything I will ever experience. I can't even imagine it.

Well, as I was listening to the song Labor of Love from the program, I suddenly thought about it, really thought about it. There is no birth without labor. And there is no labor without pain. And 2,000 years ago…no, there were no epidural pain killers. So as I listened to the lyrics of the song, I began to think about what Mary went through so that Jesus could come rescue me. Here are the words that grabbed me:

It was not a silent night
There was blood on the ground
You could hear a woman cry

In the alleyways that night
On the streets of David's town

And the stable was not clean
And the cobblestones were cold
And little Mary full of grace
With the tears upon her face
Had no mother's hand to hold

It was a labor of pain
It was a cold sky above
But for the girl on the ground in the dark
With every beat of her beautiful heart
It was a labor of love

Can you picture it? Can you picture what Mary went through that night so that the Messiah could be born to usher in God's kingdom and bring us back to him?

It's all through the Bible. There is a mystery in God's plan, and it seems that his glory is most prominent when it comes through suffering. Jesus' passion and death on the cross. His admonition to us that we would suffer on his behalf. One thing is clear: we do not follow Jesus because we want an easy pain-free life. That would be a mistake. Following Jesus is to realize that any suffering we experience is just a finger prick compared to the surpassing glory of knowing him.

Childbirth. An unpleasant thing, but one which brought us the world's greatest treasure, the glory of God wrapped in flesh. I pray that I, like Mary, will embrace whatever God sends my way so that he can be glorified.

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