12/30/2019 8:59:57 AM
Our Real-Life Redeemer
One thing I enjoy doing as we get close to the New Year is looking at the list of most googled things from the previous year. Google is the most used search website on the internet, and they keep track not only of all the different things people see, but also how many times people search for them. And this past year, the one thing the most people in the United States searched for most often was Disney Plus, the new streaming video service that, for a couple bucks a month, allows you to instantly watch any of your favorite Disney, Star Wars, Marvel, Pixar, and even National Geographic movies and documentaries. Google even breaks the searches down by state. For example, the most googled thing in the state of Wisconsin this year was “Old Town Road,” the country rap song that broke the record for weeks in a row at No. 1. Google breaks the searches down by category. For example, they can tell you that the most googled baby of 2019 was Baby Yoda, and that the second most googled baby of 2019 was Baby Shark. And do you know what both of those have in common? Neither one is real.
I noticed something else about all the top searches that I just mentioned. There is one thing Disney Plus, Old Town Road, Baby Yoda and Baby Shark have in common. They’re good things. They’re entertaining. They’re fun. And I don’t think that surprises us that we search for good things. Unfortunately, it also doesn’t surprise us that sometimes we find the opposite. 2019 wasn’t a good year for everyone. Just ask any farmer who had to grow and harvest crops in one of the wettest and most inconsistent weather years on record. Or ask anyone involved in the 131-vehicle pile-up on Interstate 41 last February. Or just recall the funeral of Mitch Lundgaard. These are just some of the many reminders that, while we search for good things in life, in real life, that’s not all we find.
I don’t know if I saw a better illustration of just how closely the bad accompanies the good than a piece of art that was sold about a month ago. A famous Italian artist named Maurizio Cattelan duct-taped a banana to a wall and put it up for sale. A banana duct-taped to a wall might not be your thing. But this “work of art” was worth enough to someone in Miami that he paid $120,000 for it. A few weeks ago, as art lovers were marveling at this masterpiece as it hung in the gallery, a person in the crowd walked up to it, removed the banana from the wall, and ate it. A $120,000 piece of art was now all mashed up inside someone’s stomach. And I think that’s a good illustration of real life. When we find something good, it doesn’t take long before something bad happens. We see that in our jobs, in our relationships, in our own personal lives, and even at the first Christmas.
If I were to ask you which part of the bible’s Christmas history you search for most eagerly, which part of the story you are most eager to hear or see, you might pick the angels, the shepherds, the manger, or the day the Wise Men came. You might pick any number of things. But I don’t think many would pick what happened immediately after the Wise Men left. Do you know what happens in the story immediately after the Wise Men left? You can summarize it in two words: Real life. We see that Jesus, from the very beginning, knew what our lives are really like and why we so desperately need help as we go through them.
13 When they had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. “Get up,” he said, “take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.”
14 So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt, 15 where he stayed until the death of Herod. And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet: “Out of Egypt I called my son.” 16 When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi. 17 Then what was said through the prophet Jeremiah was fulfilled: 18 “A voice is heard in Ramah, weeping and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more.” 19 After Herod died, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt 20 and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel, for those who were trying to take the child’s life are dead.” 21 So he got up, took the child and his mother and went to the land of Israel. 22 But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning in Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. Having been warned in a dream, he withdrew to the district of Galilee, 23 and he went and lived in a town called Nazareth. So was fulfilled what was said through the prophets, that he would be called a Nazarene.
For the second time in the Christmas story, we see Jesus and his family on the move. Not because “Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world,” but because King Herod wanted to make it more difficult for the world to find Jesus. That’s good they could escape, but it doesn’t mean their journey was especially easy. Bethlehem to Egypt was about 400 miles, which would be like traveling from here to Detroit. They left the same day the Wise Men came, which means they didn’t begin their journey in the morning after a good night of sleep, but at the end of an already-long day, traveling overnight under dark skies without any flashlights or headlights, up and down many hills over a very difficult desert terrain; while, of course, carrying and caring for a newborn baby without a nook, without a car seat, and without ever finding a diaper changing station. And just as there was no room for them in Bethlehem, they didn’t have any family in Egypt waiting for them. And, whatever plans they initially had for the expensive gifts given by the Wise Men – retirement savings, college tuition for their son – it was now all going to be spent surviving this difficult journey that was just beginning. Not exactly the ideal family vacation.
Yet it was a journey God wanted us to see, because it reminds us of an important truth we need to keep in mind as we go through life. And that truth is this: Our life on earth is the journey. And if it is a journey, then we should expect that, as it was for Jesus’ family, there will be ups and downs over sometimes very difficult terrain. We should expect that wonderful moments of joy will often by followed by pain. We should expect to travel under some very dark skies, and on paths that we were not expecting. And the reason we should expect those things is because, if life on earth is the journey, then it is not the destination. Or, to say it another way: Earth is not heaven. And it never will be. And because it isn’t, we should not expect that we will find a comfortable life on earth any more easily than Jesus himself did. Life on earth is a journey. It’s not the destination.
But if it’s the journey that takes place before you reach the destination, then, of course, once you reach the destination, there will be no more ups and downs over difficult terrain. No more wonderful holiday celebrations interrupted by sad news you weren’t expecting. No more journeying under the dark skies of cancer, sickness, accidents, and pain. Those are good things for which we’re all search. But as you know, they are good things we sometimes doubt we will experience because sometimes the journey is so painful that we might wonder if we have the strength to finish the journey and reach our destination.
We certainly see that type of pain in the mothers of the little children whom Herod had killed. There was “weeping and great mourning,” as these mothers cried over their children, in such pain that they “[refused] to be comforted.” Not that there wasn’t comfort available to them. There was. Just as there always is for us in the fact that the reality of our pain doesn’t take away the reality of heaven. The promise of God’s loving attention doesn’t go away just because we can’t see what he’s doing. God’s promise to use all things for our good doesn’t disappear just because there are evil people in the world who do hurtful things. But as many of us know, sometimes those pains and doubts can be so big that we have a hard time seeing past them and finding the comfort Jesus came to give. And if that’s the case for those who have heard God’s promises before, how much harder is it to find comfort if you are someone who hasn’t?
This highlights an important task we have for as long as we journey on earth. We must not do what King Herod sought to do. We must not make it harder for the world to find Jesus. But we can easily do that - if we don’t talk about him; if we share our thoughts on the weather or sports or on what irritates us more eagerly and frequently than we share a comforting bible passage or our favorite bible story. We make it harder for the world to find the heart of Jesus and the peace he came to give when the world sees us hold grudges against people we’re supposed to be patient with or when it sees us being controlled not by God and his Word, but instead by anger, jealousy, alcohol, or any number of other destructive things. Because Christians are the only people in the whole world who can shows Jesus to the world, it’s vital that we do since we live in a world that is already so easily overwhelmed on their journeys for so many reasons.
I’ll give you just one example. It’s of a mother who was waiting for a flight at the Los Angeles airport last year. I don’t know her name. I only know that her child was more than she could handle at the moment. This is how another woman described the situation on her Facebook page:
"Something extraordinary at LAX today... I was at the gate, waiting to get on my plane to Portland. Flights to two different cities were boarding on either side of the Portland flight. A toddler who looked to be eighteen or so months old was having a total meltdown, running between the seats, kicking and screaming, then lying on the ground, refusing to board the plane. His young mom, who was clearly pregnant and traveling alone with her son, became completely overwhelmed... she couldn't pick him up because he was so upset, he kept running away from her, then lying down on the ground, kicking and screaming again. The mother finally sat down on the floor and put her head in her hands, with her kid next to her still having a meltdown, and started crying.
Then, this gorgeous thing ... the women in the terminal, there must have been six or seven of us, not women who knew each other, approached and surrounded her and the little boy and we knelt down and formed a circle around them. I sang 'The Itsy Bitsy Spider' to the little boy... one woman had an orange that she peeled, one woman had a little toy in her bag that she let the toddler play with, another woman gave the mom a bottle of water. Someone else helped the mom get the kid's sippy cup out of her bag and give it to him. It was so gorgeous, there was no discussion and no one knew anyone else, but we were able to calm them both down, and she got her child on the plane. After they went through the door we all went back to our separate seats and didn't talk about it... we were strangers, gathering to solve something. I will never forget that moment."
Now, I want you to think about this: How did that woman know that singing ‘The Itsy Bitsy Spider’ would calm down the kid? How did the other women know that an orange or a bottle of water would help the situation? Why in the world did one woman apparently traveling without kids have a toy in her bag? Because chances are, they had been through the same thing. They knew how this woman felt. And because they did, they knew how to be there for her when life was overwhelming – which is exactly what we see when we look at Jesus escaping from Bethlehem.
We see someone journeying through real life, just as we are. We see someone who knows how you feel, because he’s been through all the same things. We someone who knows what it’s like to hurt; not just on the day he was saved in Bethlehem, but especially on the day 30 years later when he wasn’t outside Jerusalem; when Jesus also knew how it felt to be overwhelmed, not by a screaming kid, but by the weight of our sins. Not because he couldn’t handle it, but because he knows that the weight of your trouble and sin is a really heavy burden. And he wanted you to be free from it. He wanted you to be forgiven. He wanted you to know that one day you will see what it’s like to not remember your pain as God wipes every tear away. One day things will be good, and that’s how they’ll stay. One day you will reach your destination. Not because we always have the strength to keep going. But because Jesus wasn’t afraid of the difficult journey in front of him. And you don’t need to be either, because this Jesus who knows how you feel and knows what you need has promised to stay by your side every step of the way.
Just as it was back then, this world doesn’t always make it easy to find him. But in his Word and in this building, you always will, and you always can. If you resolve to search for just one good thing this year, search for him, search for his promises. Help the people you love and the people you meet do the same thing, so that more and more souls will find the very good destination for which every heart is already searching.