As we approach Christmas, it is the season that church has, historically, called Advent. I thought I would re-share some old thoughts about Christmas in this time. Hymn numbers are from the 2008 Baptist Hymnal (which the Apostle Paul would not have used, since he didn’t speak English), but it was the hymnal I had when I wrote this. Apart from Scripture quotes (next time, I’ll probably use CSB all through…just kidding) the copyright on this completely mine.
“Moses said to his father-in-law, “Because the people come to me to inquire of God. When they have a dispute, it comes to me, and I judge between a man and his neighbor and make known the statutes of God and His laws.” Exodus 18:15-16
If a train leaves New York at 0545 traveling 60mph on the same track to Philadelphia as a train leaving Philadelphia leaves for New York at 0600 headed to New York traveling 45mph leaves on, how much time does the dispatcher have to warn both trains to stop?
Sound like a major issue? Maybe not if you live in Atlanta, but if you are on one of those trains, it is a huge deal. Yet what you see above is a typical story problem from a math book. It is, however, lacking information. For example, how far is it from Philadelphia to New York? How big of a train? After all, it takes longer to stop a 100-car banana train than to stop a 10-car passenger train.
Without that information, can you actually solve the problem? I’m not asking if your math skills are up to the division, multiplication, and addition necessary. You can see, though, that you do not possess all the information to solve the problem at hand.
This is considered a simple problem, one that a fifth grader may find in a math book. What about the problems we face in adulthood? Should I take this job? What do I do about my children? What is wrong with people these days that they just do not seem to care about their neighbors?
There is a huge demand for problem solving in our world. We take medications for our mental problems, take therapy for our emotional problems, and ask the courts to solve our family problems. Political problems have no solution and international problems cause more sleepless nights than midnight espressos.
Usually, this is because we plainly lack the whole information. Parents lack the total insight into the mind of their child, employees cannot fathom what the boss is up to, and no one knows what Congress will do. We might feel sad but not know if we have true depression, a bad day, or a nutritional problem. Then we take this solution: we go to an expert.
Except for this little issue: the experts often do not know either. If you go to the doctor, the first question you will be asked is “Why are you here?” or “What is the trouble today?” I have always resisted the urge, but there are days I am tempted to say: “You’re doctor, doctor, you tell me!” Yet our experts, the doctors, auto mechanics, lawyers, and therapists of this world are all dealing with a shortage of clear insight to the problem.
Sometimes the experts help us. A counselor says the right thing, a doctor prescribes the right medication. Maybe a Congressman makes a reasonable law or a diplomat actually persuades warring groups to make peace. On rare occasions, mechanics and computer techs actually fix the problem the first time!
Yet when this happens, something else goes wrong. So, we retain problems. They grow and compound, take on a life all their own. All around us, the world gets a little crazier every day.
What can we do? It certainly does not seem that a small baby in a manger can fix it. Yet it is only people with problems that know what Advent is really about. If everything is perfect in your life, what are you waiting for? You have no needs, no concerns, and no expectation for improvement. In fact, your biggest fear is losing the perfection. For you, there is another book or sermon to speak to your issue.
For those of us who wait for things to get better, though, that is the spirit, the feeling, of the Advent season. It is a recognition that the solutions to our problems will not come from us. The answer is not only to look outside of us for help, but to look at a plan that we cannot fathom. The answer to the world’s issues is a baby? This is both undying truth and undeniably crazy from our perspective. How can this child help anyone?
He can, because His presence shows that God has not abandoned us. He is here to know what it is to suffer, to know hunger, sadness, tiredness. He is here to be tempted and overcome, to face trials and death.
And to overcome them all. There is nothing He cannot handle. Will the solution always make perfect logical sense to you and I? Of course not. I would not have sent a baby to a virgin who would have to give birth and lay Him in a manger, either.
God sees and understands the depths of our issues. And He presents Jesus, the High Priest as the solution to all of our problems. Let us see this for the truth and glory it is this year.
Scripture passage for the day: Matthew 10:26 (NLT)
“But don’t be afraid of those who threaten you.
For the time is coming when everything
that is covered will be revealed,
and all that is secret will be made known to all.”
Hymn for the Day: O Come, O Come, Emmanuel #175
Prayer: Lord God, You already know this, but I have problems. Some of my problems are big to me, and some are small to me. Compared to other people’s problems, mine seem big most days and small other days. However, the key to me is this: these are my problems. My issues. The things that keep me awake at night. I commit myself to do two things about these problems. The first is this: I ask that you show me problems I can solve and help me solve them. I will do this if I am solving my problems or someone else’s problems. The second is this: I ask for Your help, but I will wait for Your solution to my problems. I will stop trying to replace You with me. I trust that even if I cannot see how, through Jesus there is a solution. In His name I pray, Amen.
 If you would like to see this idea well-developed, read God is in the Manger, selections from the writings of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. I owe an unpayable debt to this and other writings of Bonhoeffer for the work you are reading and my own preaching, teaching, and growth.
 For those of you who like Country Music, I recommend Sugarland’s interpretation of this song. Available as an MP3 download from Amazon or their “Gold and Green” album. I do not know if the rest of the album is worth it, though. Or snag Josh Wilson’s version, more recently, which includes the Latin!