Friday, December 23, 2005

Just a Baby 

The Old Testament prophets spoke frequently of the coming of the Messiah. Here's one such promise, from Isaiah 61:
1 The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me; because the LORD hath anointed me to preach good tidings unto the meek; he hath sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound;
2 To proclaim the acceptable year of the LORD, and the day of vengeance of our God...

Like many of the passages that speak of the coming of the Messiah, this one associates God's vengeance with the coming of the Messiah. The one who is sent by God will bring vengeance on God's enemies.

God makes these kinds of promises very often in the Old Testament, promising that He will save His people from their enemies, and keep them safe when the Messiah comes. He promises that He will vindicate His good name and destroy God's enemies, who are also the enemies of the people of God. And it was for this reason that Christ came into the world, according to Mary's song of thankfulness to God recorded in Luke 1:46-55.

Now at the time that Jesus was born, the Roman Empire held sway over the Mediterranean world. The Roman Empire was probably the most powerful empire that had existed up to that point. And considering the technology that they had to work with, you might make a case that they were the most powerful empire that has ever existed. They were proud and cruel. They had destroyed many nations, and put many other nations under tribute. They were the uncontested masters of the Mediterranean world for over four centuries.

And besides the Romans, there were many other groups that hated God and His people. There were the Syrian kings who ruled Palestine in the name of the Romans, of whom Herod is the best known. There were also the Jewish religious rulers of the day, the Pharisees and the Saduccees, who would so often come into conflict with Jesus during His ministry.

The nations of the world were under the sway of Satan, and many of Israel's own people were under Satan's sway as well.

But God is God, and of course He will vindicate His good name. He has the power to flood the earth, send fire from heaven, strike men dead of disease or send His mighty angels to earth. One angel was sent against the Assyrian king Sennacherib, and in one night killed 185,000 of his men (2 Kings 19). He could send whole battalions of angels with shoulder-fired rocket launchers against His enemies if He so chose. But what did He do?

He sent a baby.

You are perhaps familiar with the expression, “I'll beat you with one hand tied behind my back.” Competitive people sometimes seek to prove their superiority by winning even while handicapped in some way. When God seeks to demonstrate His awesome power, He decided to destroy the nations of the world with only a baby.

There's nothing more helpless than a baby. The infants of the animal world are very often able to fend for themselves from the moment of birth. But a human baby will die in just a few hours without constant attention. It takes years before a baby is able to do the simplest things for itself.

And this particular baby was born to a poor couple away from home, in the territory of a king who so desperately wanted to hold onto his own power that he ordered all the babies from that region killed.

At Christmas time, we often focus on the nostalgia of childhood, the cute images of baby Jesus, the trappings of a sentimental religiosity. But God did not send Christ into the world to give us an appealing target for our nostalgia. He sent Christ into the world to save His people and destroy His enemies. And to demonstrate God's awesome power, He did all of this with the weakest of things, an infant.

Even when Christ grew, with all of His incredible power, He never used it for His own benefit. He never used it to strike down His enemies, as I very often want Him to do when I read the gospels. When conspired against by numerous powerful enemies, when betrayed and abandoned by His friends, He did nothing to defend Himself, but went as a lamb to the slaughter, looking to all the world as the weakest and most despised of men. And it was in this moment, of His greatest apparent weakness, that He struck the shattering death blow against the powers of all the world and Satan together.

People so often boast against God, if not in words then by our actions. We so often believe we can escape judgment, that we can defy God's laws and create our own kingdoms on earth free of His rule. When God moved to demonstrate the utter foolishness of trusting anyone or anything other than Him, He showed His immense power by laying in the dust all of the glories of earth. And He did it with the weakest of all things. No chariots, no horses, no armies. No lightning bolts, or fire and brimstone. No huge marketing campaigns, grand taxpayer-funded schemes, or well-funded lobbyists.

Just a baby.

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