Seeking the Blessiest Blessing
So, as you know, (because I’m sure you read all of my blog posts about Luke!)Luke was writing to his wealthy, Roman patron friend Theophilus so that Theophilus could know that all the things he heard about Jesus were true. When I read Luke 2, I like to imagine Luke talking to Theophilus about what he had written:
Luke:“Yo, Theo check out this story. You are going to be blown away by how God announced the birth of Jesus. Before I tell you, try to guess how he'd do it.”
Theo:“Well. Since you Israelites have tons of religious dudes whose job it is to tell everyone what to believe. I’d guess God would send some angels to them. Or maybe... some of the rich Israelites that everyone respects... maybe he’d send a messenger to them so they could tell everyone.”
Luke:“Nope. That’s not at all what my God did.
You know how I’m always telling you that Jesus is different and how God is not impressed by the things that man is impressed with? This next part of the story is going to blow you away. God announced the birth of his son to…
Theo: (sits down gasping, horribly shaken,)“Shepherds?! You’re kidding.”
Luke:“Yup. You heard me. Smelly, sleeping on rocks, risking their lives for animals that were going to be sacrificed, uncultured, poor shepherds. God sent angels to tell them that Jesus had been born and they went around telling everyone. They were so excited by the news, they would go talk to anyone. They forgot all about how much people look down on them.”
Theo: “That’s crazy!”
Luke: “I know, right?! And guess what else!!! Remember that really annoying census that ‘Exalted’* Caesar had taken? Remember how proud he was. He was the ruler of the world and he could make everyone obey him. Turns out, that census, led Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem where the prophecies from hundreds of years before said that the Messiah would be born.”
Theo: "So, you are saying that Exalted Caesar was a pawn in God’s plan? Woah..." (Theo, mind blown, falls back on his Roman fainting couch.)
Luke: “Pretty wild, huh. Only a lot of the world missed it and still does…"
I love thinking about how Theophilus as a Roman must have reacted to these stories. I love reading them and trying to get over my familiarity with the stories and the way we have romanticized them to fit our culture and comfortable beliefs. I often pray as I read the Bible. "Lord help me see what is really here and let it change me. Forgive me for all the ways I misrepresent it..."
I LOVE that God shared his message with shepherds. I'm kind of obsessed with this fact.
It rocks our religious world. We still struggle with understanding how God works in the lives of outcasts. That he is close to the broken and his blessings aren't usually material.
But wait! There's more...
In Luke 2:24 we read that Mary and Joseph took Jesus to the temple for “purification rites”. Mary and Joseph could not afford a lamb for the sacrifice so they offered two birds instead.
Think about that for a minute… This is the couple entrusted with raising the Son of God, I mean don’t they deserve a nice house and at least to be living like the upper class?
If you are like me, I don’t like to dwell on these kinds of things too long. God was with Mary and Joseph. They look super cute in all the nativity scenes, so it must not have been too hard on them. They probably didn’t struggle too much…
Keep reading the passage. It has to get nicer, right?
Look! Right there in the next section, we see that Simeon comes up and shares a beautiful prophecy about Jesus. What a nice story.
Simeon BLESSED them and said
“This child is destined to cause the rising and falling of many in Israel and to be a sign that will be spoken against. And
A SWORD WILL PIERCE YOUR OWN SOUL TOO.”
What the heck kind of “blessing” is that?
I did a little research to see if maybe we lost something in translation so that Simeon’s blessing seemed a little more blessy.
Well, we did lose something in translation only it doesn’t make the “blessing” seem more blessy (at least not in our current American understanding of “blessing” which means “easy life with only cute problems, nice family, and lots of stuff.”)
Turns out, in the original Greek, the word “too” was meant to indicate that both Mary and Jesus would have their soul pierced (and where was Joseph going to be?)
Simeon basically looked at Mary and said, “This little baby that I’m holding. He’s going to do something great and bring salvation to the Gentiles and Jews, but it is going to be horribly traumatic and when you go through it, it is going to hurt you both down to your soul.”
Have you ever held a six-week-old baby? As a new mom, the thought of your little baby falling and skinning his knee is enough to bring tears to your eyes. This prophecy must have shaken Mary more than I can imagine.
But wait!!! There’s still more! (and it rocks!)
Fast forward 12 years (and 6 verses)
Mary and Joseph go to Jerusalem are on their way home from celebrating the Festival of the Passover. After traveling for a day, they realized that Jesus was not with any of their family members in the group. Any parent would be worried. The ancient world was full of dangers for a 12-year-old boy. Mary and Joseph probably had some extra angst wondering “is this it? Is this the event that is going to lead to our souls being pierced?”
After THREE DAYS, Mary and Joseph finally find Jesus. He’s sitting in the temple listening to the teachers, asking questions and amazing them with his insights.
As I imagine the scene and remember that it was ancient Israel, this was the temple, and women were not respected in that day, I am sure Mary was overcome with emotion when she confronted Jesus in front of this crowd, “Son, why have you treated us like this? Your father and I have been anxiously searching for you.”
Jesus replies “Why were you searching for me? Didn’t you know that I’d be doing my Father God’s business?”
Well, no, they didn’t know. Luke tells us that Mary and Joseph did not understand what Jesus meant.
Truthfully, most of us don’t understand what Jesus was getting at.
Truthfully, I wrestle with this every day. I get a glimpse of this amazing, unbelievable truth and I’m mesmerized, for a moment, then I look back at the world. I’m transformed but only enough to remain comfortable…
The truth that Jesus was sharing with his parents was that “his Father’s business” is all that matters. The struggles, they are temporary, and not to be our focus.
Jesus knew the fear his parents felt for him. The prophecy at the temple was nothing compared to them having to flee to Egypt. Every child in Bethlehem had been killed in an attempt to destroy him. He knew they loved him and the struggles they endured because of him. Still he asked, “Why were you searching for me?”
His question was a reminder to them: I’m here to fulfill God’s plan for me. You already know it’s not going to be easy, but why aren’t you trusting God in it?
We worship a God who shares his message with shepherds and who lets his son sleep in a feeding trough; who blesses people with his presence in the middle of some of the hardest struggles imaginable; and who saved us by offering himself as a sacrifice for us.
Clearly life is not about what we think it’s about!
Clearly God’s values aren’t this world’s values.
Why do I get caught up in so many other things? Why am I panicking looking for Jesus in my mess when I know that he can be found where he always is: doing his Father’s business and inviting me to join him.
As I have frequently confessed and whined about, empty nesting hasn’t been easy for me. I’m searching for new significance in my life. I’m tempted to panic. Jesus where are you? Where are my blessings?
But there's more: when I spend time with him, he reminds me what this life is about. He reminds me what my purpose is. I see that what I’m doing matters even if the world isn’t impressed with my “not making any profit” business. When God is sharing his message through you in some way, it doesn’t matter if you are a smelly shepherd or a grandma blogger…
Getting to be involved in the Father’s business is the blessiest blessing of them all!
Blessings my friends!
*Augustus was a title that meant "exalted". Basically, Caesar Augustus was considered a god and exalted above everyone else.