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Come Thou Unexpected Jesus


Messiahs show up in the most unlikely places

by David Cassidy, Christ Community Church

Joshua Bell is a world- renowned virtuoso violinist and those attending his performances would regularly spend hundreds of dollars to hear him. In what Washington Post reporter Gene Weingarten referred to as ”an experiment in context, perception, and priorities – as well as unblinking assessment of public taste,” Bell took up his Stradivarius violin worth around 3.5 million dollars and began to play outside the L’ Enfant Metro Station in Washington DC. It was a Wednesday morning rush hour in 2007. Thousands of commuters passed by. With the violin case open before him, Bell managed to collect only about thirty bucks. Thousands passed by one of the greatest violinists in the world playing one of the greatest instruments ever crafted and didn’t even notice. In Weingarten’s words, Bell was ‘hidden in plain sight.’

Joshua Bell hiding in plain sight...

If you’d walked through the streets of Bethlehem 2000 years ago and heard a mother’s cries as she gave birth or an infant’s cries as he was born, would you have really thought anything of it, other than, maybe, pity for the people in such circumstances?

What would we have recognized in all of the portents so long ago? If we’d seen the star the Magi saw would we have given it a second thought? Would we have said to ourselves, “The world has just changed? The revolution has begun. The end of all things is at hand, and our redemption is here”? Probably not.

Historians note that at that time the ancient near eastern world was on expectant tiptoe, hoping for the appearance of a Champion, a Redeemer, someone – anyone! – Who would end the world’s long, night. Few saw the answer to the world’s longing for a baby born into poverty on the outskirts of a subjugated territory, a child born with a questionable birth in a marginal family. I honestly don’t think I would’ve done so. Like a commuter ignorantly hurrying past a virtuoso, I too would’ve skipped the occasion and left it to astonished shepherds and strange foreigners to mark the birth.

In his book The Beauties of Nature and the Wonders of the World We Live In, John Lubbock wrote,“What we do see depends mainly on what we look for. … In the same field the farmer will notice the crop, the geologists the fossils, botanists the flowers, artists the coloring, sportsmen the cover for the game. Though we may all look at the same things, it does not all follow that we should see them.” I suspect this reveals something of why I would have missed the Messiah: he wasn’t the sort of Savior I would be looking for. After all, Saviors need to be in positions of power with significant resources at their disposal. Great leaders typically come from high-powered educational backgrounds and have proven their strength in battle. The baby in Bethlehem had no such pedigree to command him to me, or anyone else. Thousands of times in history a baby became a King, but only once in history did a King become a baby. That’s not what we expected.

We are often blind to the incredible things God is doing. We seldom pause in astonished wonder to worship. God sends us subtle signs to seize our attention, seeking to draw us aside from the way Moses once stopped to see a bush burning but not consumed by the blaze; that moment changed his life forever and changed world history too.

How does God come to us? Unexpectedly.

Maybe God shows up through a friend’s companionship or a newborn’s smile. Sometimes it’s a song that stirs emotions we’d forgotten about, or a film that leaves us reeling from its message. It could be the pain we see in Aleppo or laughter we hear from the down the hall. God comes to us in the poor and the needy, in the addict and the grieving, in the prisoner and the refugee. Do we see? Our steely hearts and minds are frequently pried open by the diagnosis of a disease or the sudden death of someone cherished. We never saw it coming. We don’t know what to make of it. And again God shows up in the unexpected. Do we notice?

I once heard a pastor say that God disguised himself as one of us to walk with us and that’s who Jesus is. While that may sound sweet, it’s also dead wrong. Jesus is not God disguised. Jesus is God revealed. And that’s what’s so crazy beautiful unexpected about this whole Christmas story. Jesus isn’t God dressed up as one of us; he’s God become one of us. The birth of Jesus means many things but we must not miss that by his birth God the Son made our story his own, and by his Second Coming he will make his story ours. That’s God in the manger, ‘the infinite contracted to a span, divinity made a man.’ Mary and Joseph knew this, but few others could see it, or even imagine it.

You may not believe it either. I get it. Virgins don’t have babies. God doesn’t become human. And yet… that’s what we most assuredly believe that Scripture affirms. Anglican theologian NT Wright wrote, “How can you live with the terrifying thought that the hurricane has become human, that fire has become flesh, which life itself became life and walked in our midst? Christianity either means that, or it means nothing. It is either the most devastating disclosure of the deepest reality of the world, or it is a sham, nonsense, a bit of deceitful playacting. Most of us, unable to cope with saying either of those things, condemn ourselves to live in the shallow world in between.”

The unassailable, and to some unpalatable, the truth is that Jesus is revealed in Scripture as God. This God comes to us in weakness and poverty to overthrow our darkest and most ancient foes – sin and death – while overturning everything we thought we knew about the way the world is supposed to be. In his Mother’s words, he turns away the powerful and restores the humble and hungry and poor. He is a contradiction to our pretentiousness.

Here is a man who was born in an obscure village, the child of a peasant woman. He grew up in another village. He worked in a carpenter shop until He was thirty. Then for three years He was an itinerant preacher.

In the early part of the twentieth century, James Francis said of Jesus, “Here is a man who was born in an obscure village, the child of a peasant woman. He grew up in another village. He worked in a carpenter shop until He was thirty. Then for three years He was an itinerant preacher. He never owned a home. He never wrote a book. He never held an office. He never had a family. He never went to college. He never put His foot inside a big city. He never traveled two hundred miles from the place He was born. He never did one of the things that usually accompany greatness. He had no credentials but Himself…While still a young man, the tide of popular opinion turned against him. His friends ran away. One of them denied Him. He was turned over to His enemies. He went through the mockery of a trial. He was nailed to a cross between two thieves. While He was dying His executioners gambled for the only piece of property He had on earth – His coat. When He was dead, He was laid in a borrowed grave through the pity of a friend.”

That’s not the CV of a Messiah we’d expect. It looks like folly. History suggests, however, that the foolishness of God is a more powerful answer to human need than the wisdom of humankind. James Francis continued, Nineteen long centuries have come and gone, and today He is a centerpiece of the human race and leader of the column of progress.I am far within the mark when I say that all the armies that ever marched, all the navies that were ever built; all the parliaments that ever sat and all the kings that ever reigned, put together, have not affected the life of man upon this earth as powerfully as has that one solitary life.

What will you do with this unexpected Savior? Admire him? Emulate him? Those in the ancient world known as ‘wise men’ worshiped him. That’s the right response. CS Lewis observed, “Christianity, if false, is of no importance, and if true, of infinite importance. The only thing it cannot be is moderately important.”

We lost some great people in 2016, among them the amazing Leonard Cohen. He said, “I’m very fond of Jesus Christ. He may be the most beautiful guy who walked the face of this earth. Any guy who says ‘Blessed is the poor. Blessed are the meek’ has got to be a figure of unparalleled generosity and insight and madness…A man who declared himself to stand among the thieves, the prostitutes and the homeless. His position cannot be comprehended. It is an inhuman generosity. A generosity that would overthrow the world if it was embraced because nothing would weather that compassion…”

I will go further than Cohen and say that it isn’t only Jesus’ position that cannot be comprehended, but his very person. Christmas marks a mystery too great for us grasp, too deep for us to measure: God is with one with us and us. At Christmas, we realize afresh that God is not so much the object of our study as he is the cause of our wonder. And it reminds me that the only thing more unexpected than this kind of Savior is that he loves me. I didn’t expect that. I don’t deserve it. No wonder the angels said that their message was good news for all people. This unexpected child has brought us an unmatched love that has won for us eternal life. And that’s the greatest, most surprising gift any of us can ever open this Christmas.

Christmas, Inspiration, Jesus


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