Pilgrim Road Blog Photo

Pilgrim Road Blog Photo

Saturday, December 24, 2011

The Great Consolation

Dear friends,

The Consolation of Israel…that’s what Simeon was waiting for.

Reading the account in Luke of Simeon’s encounter with the infant Jesus is like witnessing someone opening the best Christmas present ever.  Simeon had been waiting his whole life to meet the Messiah.  The Holy Spirit communicated an astonishing truth to him at some point…maybe while he was playing stick ball on a dusty Jerusalem street…maybe when he was polishing up some brass candelabra for the temple…maybe when he was reading the scrolls in “Hebrew school”.  This prophet who bridges the chasm between the old covenant and the new got the revelation:  “He’s coming, Simeon.  And you won’t die until you see his face.”

I’m not sure, but somehow I don’t think Simeon was expecting the Christ to be unwrapped from the particular package he arrived in.  Most Jews of the time thought Messiah would appear as an earthly king.  Powerful.  Wealthy.  Stunning.  When an ordinary Jewish carpenter and his young wife entered the temple with their baby, it had to be God Himself once more communicating with Simeon.  Perhaps the old man heard this in his prophetic ears: “Here he is, son.  Look upon the face of your deliver…” 

However it all went down, this was the seminal moment of Simeon’s life.  I can just imagine it.  He takes Jesus in his arms, and blesses the one who was his consolation.  Consolation for all the darkness, sadness, loss and fear Simeon carried as a result of the Fall.  Consolation for the 400 years of silence between God and his fickle, wandering people.  Consolation, indeed, for the whole world, including the pagan Gentiles.  How I wish I could have been a fly on the wall in the temple.  Mary and Joseph (who have already had some wild prophetic visions of their own) are finding out for the first time that Jesus is not only going to be the salvation of the Jews, but of THE WHOLE WORLD.  Luke says that “Mary and Joseph marveled at the things which were spoken of Him.”

The recorded encounter of Simeon with Jesus Christ is concluded with Simeon hinting to Mary of her future suffering, and declaring that this simple child from the tribe of Judah will precipitate the fall and rising of many in Israel, and be a sign that will be spoken against, that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed.  If you really think about all of that, your brain will explode.  In this helpless, dependent, fully human being there will be such an intimacy with individual people, that the innermost thoughts and intents of their hearts will be known by this God-Man. 

Jesus did not come to save the masses.  He came to save you.  And me.  He came for all the individual hearts that make up the many.  He didn’t leave one soul out of the mix in His mind boggling plan of redemption and glory.  He entered this broken world to make “the crooked straight and the rough places plain.”  He was not only the consolation of Simeon, and the consolation of Israel, and the consolation of the Gentiles…but your consolation.  He did not come as a rich monarch from heaven (which He is, by the way), but as a humble Judean kid actually wrapped up in rags and sleeping in an animal’s feeding trough.  God understood it would be no consolation to us to have a Savior unacquainted with the hardships, struggles, irritations and disasters of this life.  No, a true consoler is one who knows…one who shares the burden...one who enters in to be a help.

In eternity yet to come, we will no longer need consolation.  There, far from the days of sin and darkness, Jesus will be revealed as the Mighty One of Israel, and all will be joy every minute of every timeless day.  But while we continue to walk the pilgrim road to home, what a Christmas present it is all the time to be loved by the Great Consolation Himself.  I pray God will cause each of us to “marvel at the things that were spoken of Him.”

Merry, Merry Christmas.

Your friend on the pilgrim road,


Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Shall We Accept God from God, and Not Trouble?

Dear friends,

Somewhere, in the bleakness of this early December morning, with my crab apple tree stripped and naked, with the cold drizzle leaking from a monotone gray sky, with a heart broken and yet unhealed by a calamity of November’s past, a question hangs in the a shadowy corner of my consciousness. 

“Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?”  Job 2:10

Here is that cosmic dilemma once again.  Here again, that question that has ripped from good men their fragile, emerging faith.  Here is that question that we who love God play tennis with all the time, hitting the ball back into the other court, hoping to avoid its insistent clamor, only to find it returning again to be considered by our limited perspective, by our shallow understanding.

In the pediatric icu, the question hangs heavy as a mom and dad wait for their brain injured son, hurt in a car accident, to die as his brain stem shuts down.  In the apartment of Burman refugees, wrapping toothpaste in aluminum foil for Christmas, the question hovers.  It is there too in the midst of an ugly divorce, and wears like a cloak on the parent waiting for the prodigal to return.  Everywhere there is suffering, the theological debate rages invisibly on… Where does the free will of man, often resulting in evil, and the sovereignty of God intersect?  Does He indeed bring trouble to those He most vehemently claims to love “with an everlasting love.”

As I wade through my own losses, digging ever deeper (despite my lack of spiritual skill) into the mine of God’s word I find some consolation.  I turn this thing around a thousand times in my head…the car accident, the fallout, the pain and suffering that continue down unfamiliar roads I didn’t see coming…and it is this word that remains: Emmanuel.  God with us.

Job writhed in anguish of body and soul.  He railed, he complained and he suffered profoundly.  He volleyed that ball back and forth with his God many times.  Read his account, so very human…one moment faithfully hanging on, the next wanting to die, the next madder than a wet hen.  All the while The Great One stays with Job.  Like the faithful friend at the bedside of the feverish, He will not let Job go on alone, even though Job can’t see him there in his misery. 

God replies to Job’s sufferings with Himself.  In that famous speech from the pulpit of heaven, the Ancient of Days points out to the poor man in a myriad of metaphors just how limited human perspective can be.  In the end, Job finds the “God with him”.  He finds Emanuel.  But it’s messy business.  Not a neat tidy story.  And lest you forget, Job never got those dead children back.  He would have to continue on accepting not only good from God, but trouble also.

There is so much more to say.  As I write these words I think of the value the word of God places on suffering to bring great good.  I think of the deliverance and joy that are also splashed across the painting of a life bearing the smudges of evil and grief.  And I see a Savior born in a smelly barn, asking a similar question in the Garden of Gethsemane: “Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?”  ‘If it is possible, could this cup possibly pass me by?”

Thankfully, He accepted trouble to bring us good.  Sins forgiven.  Sorrows consoled.  Death defeated.  Emanuel.  God with us.  Hold on in your suffering.  Before we know it, it will be Christmas and Easter every day.  We  will see all the spiritual cancer the Surgeon’s knife cut loose in our pain.  And like Job, we will simply stand awestruck, and the question will no longer matter.

Your friend on the pilgrim road,