Photo by Jamie Alexander
Do you wonder if your family can make it through Christmas this year without a big fight? Do you wonder if your kids will call? Or if the person you’ve liked for a long time will finally tell you they love you? Do you wonder when you’ll find a job? Or if the scan will come back clear? Do you wonder if 2021 will be easier than 2020? Or if we’ll all tear each other apart before we get there? Do you wonder what to do about your parent’s failing health? Or what you should major in at school? Do you wonder if your prime years are in the rearview mirror? Or if there’s really meaning to life? Do you wonder if your spouse still loves you? Or if you’ll ever be happy again? Do you wonder why God sometimes seems so distant?
When Jesus had grown from the baby in a manger to an adult, he said this: “What shall we say the kingdom of God is like, or what parable shall we use to describe it? It is like a mustard seed, which is the smallest of all seeds on earth. Yet when planted, it grows and becomes the largest of all garden plants, with such big branches that the birds can perch in its shade” (Mark 4:30-32, NIV ’11).
A mustard seed is about a millimeter in diameter. A person can hold literally hundreds of them in one hand. But once a mustard seed is planted it can grow into a plant 30 feet tall. That’s why Jesus says the smallest of seeds becomes the largest of garden plants. This tells us that with God, small things make a big difference.
A baby born in a Middle Eastern town some 2,000 years ago seems like a small thing. Babies are important, certainly. They mean the world to their parents. Yet according to the UN, over 360,000 babies are born each day. Most of them you’ll never meet, never see, never even hear a story about.
Do you ever wonder how the birth of one baby that first Christmas could make such a big difference? Well, by coming to earth, Jesus showed us what God is like. He taught us about God’s will and way. He rebuked people who practiced self-centered, ego-driven religion that was more about them than about God. He invited outcasts to the table. He healed. He inspired. He sought reconciliation and restoration between groups. Ultimately, he lived the life we could never live and suffered the fate we should have suffered. Even now, the Bible describes Jesus as active in the world and within us. His followers have led the way in education, benevolence, and care for hundreds of years. The baby in the manger was only the beginning. That seemingly small event was part of larger plan. If Christmas proves anything it’s that God takes the long road.
This is good to remember when we consider all the things we wonder about. What does my future hold? When should I retire? How do I have the conversation I know needs to happen? Will my health improve? Can I ever heal emotionally? What happened in 2020 and where was God in all of it? God says to us, “In the midst of your wondering, I’m doing something that, to you, may seem small and insignificant, maybe you can’t even see the results yet, but stick with me because, I promise, this is exactly what you need.”
I’ll be the first to tell you, it can be hard to wait on God’s promises. Often, we approach God as if looking for a quick transaction. “God, I want this; please give it to me. I’ve been wondering about that; answer my question.” That’s a transactional relationship. Not much different from what you might have with the teller at the bank or the barista at Starbucks. Transactional relationships are all about efficiency—I give you my card, you give me the coffee. I hand you the deposit slip, you put the money in my bank account. I check out the groceries, you bag them up. They can be cordial and warm, but they’re largely superficial. Transactional relationships are so common that we’re sincerely shocked when we meet someone who offers us more.
If you shop at Meijer, you’ve likely met Debbie. She’s a greeter there. She is so invested in her work that the Owensboro Times ran a story about her. She has more than once gone over and above to serve my family. When my son dropped strawberries out of our cart and they spilled across the floor, Debbie ran over from the other side of the store (appeared from nowhere almost) and told my wife, “Honey, you keep shopping, I’ll clean those up.” When we carried in more plastic bags than I care to admit for the recycler, Debbie said, “Let me take care of those for you and here’s a penny so your little one can ride the horse.” Even as COVID-19 has cast gloom over much of the world, Debbie has brought a joyful smile.
Christmas reminds us God wants your relationship with Him to be more than transactional. He wants it to be incarnational. God entered our story. He’s the type who will pick up your strawberries. He’ll help you with your bags. He’s in it with you for the long haul. It’s not about efficiency with God; it’s about relationship. He wants to know you, warts and all because He loves you. That’s what Christmas tells us.