Sunday, December 10, 2017

Advent 2: Centuries ahead of his opponents ...

Reading Matthew's account of Jesus' conception and birth, the second chapter recalls prophecy after prophecy of God's plans for the age of the Messiah. Centuries before, the prophets wrote: "born of a maiden ... called Immanuel (God-With-Us)", in "Bethlehem of Judea". But if Jesus was to be King of the Jews, then the man who held that title wouldn't keep it forever, or pass it to his own descendants. So he set out to kill an infant.

At that point in the narrative, it is easy -- and right -- to look with disgust on someone who would kill a child. We see a lot of evil in this world, and if we didn't already know how that story ended, it would be easy to worry if enough evil could overcome God's purposes for the world's redemption. How could God make so much depend on a baby who couldn't keep himself safe? Joseph and Mary were not incredible super-heroes. They were no match for the soldiers dispatched by a murderous king.

We know what happened: in a dream, an angel warned Joseph to take the family to Egypt. But the soldiers didn't know the exact identity of the child, and still killed the remaining boys of similar age in that town. And ... centuries before, the prophets wrote: "out of Egypt I will call my son", and "a voice is heard ... Rachel weeping for her children, and will not be consoled." God knew. He knew the evil of his enemies. He knew their plans. He knew how low they would go. While his enemies were trying to undermine God's plans, in reality they were fulfilling prophecies as God foresaw how they would try -- and fail -- to undermine his plans. So even their attempts to stop him were confirmations of God's predictions.

One reason we can worry about evil is because we have a suspicion that it could get out of hand. We worry that it is out of hand already. We recognize that the level of evil in our world is sometimes beyond our ability to overcome it (as it was beyond Joseph and Mary). We worry -- in some quiet, unrecognized part of our minds -- that it is beyond God, that things have gotten away from him. (That thought is behind some streams of atheism, as the common answer for why they do not believe in God: it's the evil in the world.) Almost all Christians agree on this: evil is contrary to God's will, by definition. If God does not desire evil -- and here it comes anyway -- does that mean that things are beyond his control?

I think that is one reason why God tells us some events in advance. He knew what his enemies would do then. He knows what evil is doing now. He knows what evil will do tomorrow. He told us in advance, centuries in advance. Evil has not outsmarted God, has not taken him by surprise, has not thwarted his plans. At this point in the world's story, it is easy -- and right -- to look with disgust on the evil in the world. But if we have listened to what Mary and Joseph's -- and God's -- son said, we may be a little less self-righteous, a little slower to blame God for not having eradicated us yet. We may begin to suspect that God is not a slacker, but patient. We may find ourselves trusting him.


Martin LaBar said...

He is patient, and to be trusted.

Weekend Fisher said...

Agreed. Still, it is natural to be shocked by some kinds of evil, to be appalled at how low the world can go. We're not called to resignation, but something far harder: to speak the truth with love.

Take care & God bless
Anne / WF