There are a whole bunch of people around me who are acting like the prophet Jonah, as recorded in Jonah 4 (Jonah is despairing to the point of death over the withering of a weed as he witnesses the repentance of the people of Nineveh). Like the Old Testament prophet, they are disappointed that things did not go their way, pouting due to a perceived personal slight and an actual adversary’s blessing. These community members are distraught over the Patriots’ early exit from the NFL playoffs – not that they had a losing season (they won three times the games they lost this season) or failed to make the playoffs (unlike 20 other teams), but that they simply did not advance to the Super Bowl.
Instead of rejoicing in the blessing that the home team has appeared in nine or the last eighteen Super Bowls, they are mourning their demise; they might find partners in commiseration in fans of the Cleveland Browns, Detroit Lions, Jacksonville Jaguars or Houston Texans, who have never been to the championship game. Instead of reflecting on the good times experienced in six NFL titles (and six more by the professional sports teams in the Boston area), they disparage the players and coaches; I suggest these sentiments not be shared with the fans of the Vikings, Bills, Bengals, Falcons, Panthers, Cardinals, Titans or Chargers, who have never won a single Super Bowl.
As human beings, we are susceptible to the temptation of maximizing our self-importance and minimizing the value of others. We expect our lives to be a series of progressive blessings and we resent when others are blessed besides us, or – the horror – instead of us. Jesus share a parable about it when he shared the story of a vineyard manager who paid the first workers in the field (who worked a full day) and the last workers (who worked less than an hour) the same amount. Can you imagine? Those first workers (who we naturally identify with) got what was fair; the last workers (slackers if you ask me) received way more than they deserved. Jesus concludes his object lesson with the response of the vineyard foreman:
“Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?’ Matthew 20:15 (NIV)
As a fan of the New England Patriots, I have been compensated handsomely over the past nineteen seasons. And the greater truth remains that God can (and does) bless others with compensation just as handsome as mine. There will be a new champion in a new town – maybe Minnesota, Nashville or Houston for the first time – and I am good with that. I am glad that God is so generous. And know this: His generosity is not limited to football games but extends to every area of life. We are wise to rejoice with those who rejoice instead of mourning that it is not our day in the sun. And who knows, maybe Duck Boats will still carry a champion (the Bruins, Celtics or Red Sox) this year!
Last week, I was intrigued by the following tweet:
My wife and I regularly, when their birthdays come around, share with our children the events of the day they came into the world. The details of each birth had certain peculiarities – the smell of chocolate chip cookies, the speed (or the slowness) of the labor, the lateness of the hour, the travelling to the hospital as snow was falling at rush hour. I remember quite a bit about those four days, but a mother’s recollection is even greater. I can only imagine that Mary’s memory was no different and she must have recounted the birth of her first-born child on occasion.
“Dad and I had to go to Bethlehem just before you were born. We were there with a bunch of distant relatives, mom and dad’s cousins and their children, sort of like a big family reunion. There were so many people there! When we got there, there were no rooms left in the inn for us, but your dad found us a small cave where some animals were kept, and we sat in there so that I could rest for a bit. When the time came, you arrived, right in front of some goats and a cow. You were so small, so beautiful. We counted your little toes and your little fingers, and we were so happy that you had ten of each.
“You and I fell asleep for a bit, you in a feeding trough on some hay and me lying next to you. Your dad handed me a scarf, the one I had been wearing on my head, and we wrapped you up in it to keep you warm. One thing that was special about that night was that a little after you were born we had some visitors – shepherds from the fields nearby. Daddy woke me up and the first thing I saw was the nose of one of their sheep. They told your dad and I a wonderful thing about you: they said that angels came to them, in a blinding light, and told them that you had been born and that they could find you in that manger. They were so happy to see you. I think they told everyone in the entire town that you were born.
“Speaking of visitors, a little while later, while you were still itty-bitty, we were at a friend’s house when men from the east came to see you. They brought you special gifts – frankincense, myrrh and GOLD! You kept looking at the sparkles on the wall that the gold was making. They also knew you were a special baby, my little king. They told us that saw a star in the sky and spent months following it…right to you! Just like your dad and I, they knew you were God’s greatest blessing.”
But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. Luke 2:19
Mind you, this narrative is mostly speculation. The place (a manger in Bethlehem) and the people (shepherds and stargazers) were recorded in Scriptures. It might have happened this way. We cannot imagine all the things that Mary pondered, but I can imagine she shared some of it with Jesus – even though He probably knew more of the story than she did. As you catch view of the nativity scenes that populate mantels and town greens, let your imagination soar as you, too, ponder the birth of Christ the Lord.
I have been wearing the same eyeglasses for the past five years; they were never broken, never sat upon, and never scratched. Occasionally during this time I thought about getting a second pair, just in case the pair I wear every day were damaged or lost. I thought about it four years ago when the original prescription expired and again a year later when I had a routine eye exam. It was not until my headaches returned after reading and road signs began getting fuzzy that I determined to make an appointment. Last Thursday I received a new, stronger optical prescription and ordered new glasses. And last Saturday, two days later, as I was adjusting my glasses the left temple broke off into my hand.
Luckily, a drop or two of Superglue® ‘fixed’ my glasses, albeit temporarily. In hindsight, I am now rejoicing in the providence (foresight) of God; had my steps not been ordered by God in this arguably trivial matter, I would have had to wait for two weeks for an appointment with the optometrist and another two weeks for glasses. Perhaps it was simply a coincidence, but then again, “Coincidence is God’s way of remaining anonymous,” the often misattributed quotation states. I am going to claim the events of last week as a blessing from God, whether He wants to remain anonymous or not.
It has made me wonder, yet again, how often God intervenes in the events of humanity and His hand goes unnoticed. Is it possible that the chance meeting with an old classmate in a strange city you are both visiting is more than happenstance? Might the delay at the bank which placed you three minutes behind the accident you witness on your drive home be more than good fortune? Could it be that the innocuous request from a commercial or direct mail campaign that moves you to the point of action may be more than coincidence? How often does God break into our lives?
“In their hearts humans plan their course, but the Lord establishes their steps.” Proverbs 16:9 (NIV)
Three thousand years ago Solomon taught the people of God that while humanity is making plans God is directing our course. It is comforting to know that I can make plans – real and concrete decisions, not simply what I perceive to be choices – and God intervenes in the midst of those plans for my prosperity. It is comforting in the small, trivial matters like eyeglasses. It is comforting in the big, earth-shattering matters like selecting a college, a spouse, an occupation or a hometown. Whatever we are experiencing, God is in it. He is making sure the necessary trials which purify our souls are as short as possible and the magnanimous blessings which make our lives glorious are as great as possible.
Whatever you are experiencing, God is in it. He is the knot at the end of the rope that keeps us from perishing. He holds the string that keeps our kite aloft. He loves you and promises to never abandon you, ever and always. I pray that today something will remind you of God’s loving hand of guidance, just like my broken glasses have done for me.