Where Is God? Depends on Your Perspective

Post a Comment » Written on December 25th, 2008     
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CHICAGO, IL (December 25, 2008) – Following is a special Christmas meditation from Gary Walter, president of the Evangelical Covenant Church.

By Gary Walter

What do these letters spell?


Some will say, “God is nowhere.” But the exact same data interpreted differently reveals this: “God is now here.” Perspective really does matter. A lot.

At the time of Mary’s conception, the sense of the presence of God is so manifest and so evident that it is easy for her to say, “God is now here.” The Magnificat of Luke 1:46-55 is in no small part Mary marveling at the work of God in her life. She enjoys an abundant sense of God’s reassuring presence early in her pregnancy.

As the birth of Jesus approaches God seems so hidden, so obscure, so silent.

But then the days go by. And the weeks go by. And the months go by. There is no record of any further angelic confirmation. No record of any manifest experiences with God. In fact, the next words Mary and Joseph hear don’t come from a loving God at all, but instead come from a harsh emperor uttering a decree for a census. They are forced to leave home when Mary is very far along in her pregnancy.

Think about the turn of events. As the birth of Jesus approaches God seems so hidden, so obscure, so silent. Remember the difficulties:
•    They endure months of innuendo about her pregnancy.
•    The decree to go to Bethlehem puts them on a 70-mile, three-day journey over a rocky road, presumably on a donkey. God, what is going on?
•    The actual moment of any birth is unpredictable, so at least when they left Nazareth, they left with the outside hope they could waddle down to Bethlehem, take care of business, and waddle back to Nazareth and family before the baby would actually be born. But with the onset of labor, the hope they had of maybe getting back in time to be with family and in familiar surroundings is taken away. God, are you here?
•    Of course, when they get to Bethlehem there is not even a place for them to stay. The best they can do is share space with some animals in a stable, near a feeding trough that would double for a crib once the child is born. God, did we hear you right?

From the height of sensing the presence of God at conception, to the sense of being all alone at the time of the birth itself. No royal trappings. No remarkable miracles of God. Just tough times, hardship, and the sound of deafening silence from heaven.

“Yes, in God’s upside down system of values, broken things are the most valuable.”

Sometimes we think that if we are following God, it should be all angels and visions and spiritual highs. But the reality is that when we follow God, there will be plenty of seasons when simply persevering is the norm, especially through the obstacles.

There is a spiritual principle that a colleague of mine, John Wenrich, likes to talk about. It’s the principle of brokenness.

There actually is a distinction in the types of brokenness – not all brokenness is the same. Yes, there is brokenness that leads to disuse – the car breaks and can’t be used, or the plumbing, the computer, the toaster. When they are broken, they are of no use.

But there are other things that have no usefulness until they are broken.
•    A horse is no good until . . . it is broken
•    A baseball mitt is no good until . . . it is broken in
•    In case of emergency, break glass
•    And what does it say on your medicine? Break this seal.

The spiritual reality is that God uses broken things. In fact, our entire faith is built on this statement of Jesus about his sacrifice on the cross: this is my body, broken for you. And what does King David say is an acceptable offering to God? A broken spirit and a contrite heart.

Yes, in God’s upside down system of values, broken things are the most valuable.  Brokenness does not inevitably lead to uselessness. Brokenness in God’s design is precisely the way to even greater usefulness.

Brokenness . . . “it’s not about us, but about what God accomplishes in us and through us.”

And here Mary and Joseph are broken. They have no reserves. But even in that brokenness, they will persevere in fulfilling their mission from God.

Think about this for a moment. What if when Mary conceived the angel said: “And now we’re going to move you into a palace, you’ll have servants, people will wait on you hand and foot your entire pregnancy, we’ll set you up with a spa membership . . .”

Well, in Mary’s mind it could have easily shifted from being about the baby to being about her. You see, when we think it’s always supposed to be blessing and smooth sailing, even faith can become self-centered. But when we are broken, we realize it’s not about us, but about what God accomplishes in us and through us.

When the silence and the hardship could easily have caused Mary and Joseph to conclude that God is nowhere, in their brokenness they persevere, believing that even in the darkness, even in the cold, even in the stable, even in the smells, even in the hay, God is now here.

I pray that today your sense of God’s presence is manifest and evident like it was for Mary at the time of conception. But if you feel more like Mary at the time of birth, take heart. The one born to Mary remains Immanuel, God with us. Yes indeed, God is now here.

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