December 9, 2013

Celebrating Humble Families

Gary Thomas — 
photo: lucy96734, Creative Commons

photo: lucy96734, Creative Commons

The storming of the Bastille was the seminal event that unleashed the tumultuous French revolution; Europe would never be the same.  And yet, astonishingly, King Louis XVI’s diary entry for that day was “14/7 1789: Nothing”.

It’s incredible, when you think about it. The road to King Louis’ execution was paved that very day, yet he sat in his palace and thought, “Nothing to write about.”

The greatest events are often missed by contemporary observers.

That was certainly the case with the birth of Jesus. A relatively poor husband, a soon-to-be mother, and an unborn child stood poised to change the course not just of history, but of eternity, yet there was nothing to mark the grand occasion–no parades, no banners, no reporters, not even the most basic comforts. People on that day would be astonished to learn that much of the world, over two thousand years later, now annually celebrates an event they didn’t even know about.

Martin Luther writes, “Behold how very ordinary and common things are to us that transpire on earth, and yet how high they are regarded in heaven. On earth it occurs in this wise: Here is a poor young woman, Mary of Nazareth, not highly esteemed, but of the humblest citizens of the village.  No one is conscious of the great wonder she bears, she is silent, keeps her own counsel, and regards herself as the lowliest in the town…. Imagine how she was despised at the inns and stopping places on the way, although worthy to ride in state in a chariot of gold.”

If you were writing People magazine during the first century or “reporting” for TMZ, there would be thousands of couples you’d include before you would mention this one.  Mary was from a segment of the population that would never be featured in The New York Times.

Luther goes on, “There were, no doubt, many wives and daughters of prominent men at that time, who lived in fine apartments and great splendor, while the mother of God takes a journey in mid-winter under most trying circumstances.”

How much we miss when our eyes follow glamor instead of substance, and romance instead of love.

“They were the most insignificant and despised, so that they had to make way for others until they were obliged to take refuge in a stable, to share with the cattle…while many a wicked man sat at the head in the hotels and was honored as lord.  No one noticed or was conscious of what God was doing in that stable… See how God shows that he utterly disregards what the world is, has or desires; and furthermore, that the world shows how little it knows or notices what God is, has and does.”

This Christmas season, let’s remind ourselves that the values of God’s Kingdom bear little resemblance to this world’s.

This ignored baby would one day teach His disciples, “the first shall be last, and the last shall be first.”  But even at His birth He demonstrated, as Luther writes, “the world’s greatest wisdom is foolishness, her best actions are wrong and her greatest treasures are misfortunes.”

As followers of this humble baby, we are called to notice and hold dear what a world lusting after glamor often ignores. We are to prize character over immodesty, generosity over affluence, and humility over power.  We are not to value people because they have fine clothes, expensive cars, or famous faces—God’s greatest heroes are often nondescript, anonymous, and less than pleasing to the eye. Humble parents of anonymous families—faithfully serving God and raising their kids while everything else is valued—are celebrated in heaven this Christmas season.

Luther reminds us, “Behold how very richly God honors those who are despised of men…  The angels [couldn’t] find princes or valiant men to whom to communicate the good news; but only unlearned laymen, the most humble people upon earth… See how utterly God overthrows that which is lofty!  And yet we rage and rant for nothing but this empty honor, as if we had no honor to seek in heaven.”

This advent, what do you find yourself seeking–approval from the world, success in society’s eyes, or obedience to the King of Kings?

The world may care little what’s going on in our homes, but God does. The world won’t clap when a little boy or girl avoids a life-time of regrets by bowing their heads and submitting to Jesus as Lord, but heaven rejoices, and so should we. TMZ won’t mention a husband loving his wife as Christ loves the church, or a wife wrestling in prayer for her husband’s soul. But this season of all seasons should remind us that heaven watches what the world ignores.

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