One of my favorite Christmas carols is “O Come O Come Emmanuel.” Its haunting melody, its deep rich notes, and the memory that it invokes. It is like a wailing cry from another world, born of incredible pain and longing. It is a plea for God to be present, a realization that He is coming. Every time I hear the song, I am always moved by the fact that Jesus came, that he chose to show up and be present with us. I am amazed that after four-hundred years of silence, God stepped into our ordinary world and changed it, though not in the way we expected.
When Jesus showed up and people began realizing he was the Messiah, everyone expected him to lead a great rebellion and overthrow Rome. Obviously, to the disillusionment of many, this did not happen. The Jews thought that the disheartening circumstances of their lives needed changing. But Jesus came, not to change circumstances, but to change hearts. It was a subject of contention and confusion throughout most of Jesus’ ministry. One can almost hear the crowd around Jesus asking: “Is he not here to make life better for us? Why is he not mustering an army to fight? Why does he keep talking about the Law in new ways? Why does he keep alluding to the fact that he is going to die and that we need to follow him in death?” But Jesus simply smiled and carried on in his strange way.
A couple years ago, I read Touching Wonder by John Blase. It is a retelling of the Christmas story using both Eugene Peterson’s The Message and Blase’s own creative storytelling. Blase writes each chapter from the perspective of a different character. All the typical people are there: Mary, Joseph, Elizabeth, even Gabriel. However, a perspective I did not expect in the book was that of God the Father. In this chapter, the audience gets a glimpse into the unearthly mind of God as he speaks to the bizarre arrival and ministry of his son:
Humans have been shouting their question for millennia: Why in God’s name won’t you show up? They say it when the moment seems to demand a force to do good: If you are God, then do something. But to show up in those moments would be to come in your name, not Mine. My ways are not your ways.1
We hear this phrase often: my ways are not your ways. Jesus clearly exemplifies this in his walk with us. The way he chose to do things is different than the way we would have done them. And though I often recite this to myself in hopes of bringing comfort in every situation, if I am being completely honest, I only find it comforting about half the time. The other times, I find it mostly annoying. When I call for help, much like the caroler of “O Come O Come Emmanuel,” I want Jesus to ride in on his white horse and slay the dragon. Rarely does he do this. And rarely do I sing with hope and belief that Jesus will actually show up (like the carol recognizes), despite the fact that he always does.
He always comes, even if I cannot see him. And as I shake with fear and rage against the disappointing circumstances of my life, screaming “Mighty One, do something!” I am not always met with the response I desire. Instead, I am often met with a quiet, simple, unmistakable reply, “I AM.”2
Blase, John. Touching Wonder : Recapturing the Awe of Christmas. Colorado Springs, CO: David C Cook, 2009.