God of the Unexpected.

It was supposed to be a fairly simple day. Sure it’s two days till Christmas Eve and, being a pastor, I had plenty to do. There was definitely much to get done on a rainy Monday:  edit three or four bulletins, work on a newsletter for January, practice a duet for one of the Christmas Eve services, have lunch with my wife, son, one sister and brother-in-law, go to the gym to work off that lunch, and find time to work on a sermon for the second Christmas Eve service. It’s a lot to do on a rainy Monday, but I had my calendar all color-coded and portioned out. It could work….as long as there were no interruptions, no distractions, no unexpected events.

I wonder sometimes if I listen long enough and hard enough, if I could actually hear God laughing when God sees my color coded calendar with all time effectively allocated all the way down to time to walk from my office to the car.

My wife dropped me off at the office after lunch. She called me about two minutes later. I was not expecting the call. It wasn’t on the calendar, but I decided to take it. I could always drive a little faster to the gym or, better yet, skip a few minutes on the treadmill.

I did not make it to the gym. The rest of my day was reorganized around that call.

A metal cabinet with a saw attached to the top of it had fallen on my son. He had some scratches and bruising, but we were most concerned about one hand that had been pinned beneath the cabinet. It did not seem to be broken, but we decided to go to an Urgent Care center, in case it needed to be x-rayed or he needed stronger pain medicine than Advil.

Going into an Urgent Care center at the height of flu season was definitely not on my To Do list for the day, or ever really. However, I will have to say we were treated well by a caring nurse and a very attentive doctor.

It was not at all the second half of the day I had planned. My sermon Christmas Eve may not be as sharp as I would have liked it to be. And my workout schedule for the week has been thrown way out of whack. But taking that phone call reminded me of what things really need to be coded red on my daily calendar and what can move way down on my priority list.

I am thankful that Matthew is doing well and seems to be mending quickly. I am thankful for kind and caring medical professionals. I am also thankful for a sense of God’s grace guiding me even in the scary and uncertain moments, giving me the strength to go on.

I am reminded of Psalm 43:3

O send out Your light and Your truth, let them lead me; Let them bring me to Your holy hill And to Your dwelling places (.NASB)

At this time of year, we are reminded through the birth of Jesus that God often shows up in unexpected ways, in unexpected places and unexpected people. God is there in what we often call the interruptions of our life, if only to give us the grace to get through such moments. But sometimes those moments can be the moments that reveal to us new insights into who God is, or even remind us that we are not God and cannot make all the minutes of the day tick according to our plans.

Thankfully God did not feel confined to the ways I had charted out on my calendar but was  willing to join in on an unexpected trip to the Urgent Care center, with an unplanned afternoon sitting at home watching my son to be sure the pain was really subsiding. God was there for all of it, especially the parts I was not expecting. Thanks be to God.

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John the Example

It was Karl Barth who first taught me to appreciate John the Baptist. I knew I was supposed to like John. I mean he is right there at the beginning of all the gospels, preparing the way for Jesus. But John seemed a little coarse and rough to me with his diet of locusts and honey and his camel’s hair shirt. Give me John’s younger cousin with his miracles of turning water into wine, going to parties and eating at feasts, but not this austere desert prophet (I mean who goes to the desert to baptize anyway?) What made it worse was John always left me with the impression that he thought the world would be better off, if we all started to dress like him, eat like him and move out to the desert like him.

I don’t really like the desert. I don’t like camel-hair clothing. (I once tried on a camel-hair sports coat and did not like it. And I was pretty sure that was a lot nicer than what John was wearing.) I would rather eat liver than locusts, and I don’t eat liver. But Karl Barth taught me to look at John a little differently. He did it through Grunewald’s depiction of John in his painting of the crucifixion on the Isenheim Altarpiece. If you know Barth well, you know that for years he had this image displayed over his desk where he labored away on the volumes of his Church Dogmatics, lectures and other writing.

What Barth taught me to see is that the most important thing about John is not his clothing, not his diet, not even his baptizing. The most important thing about John is that he is a witness to Jesus Christ, that he points to Jesus, and that is all any of us have to do to be a witness.

Barth saw this in Grunewald’s painting where the finger of John is depicted disproportionate to the rest of his body. The dimensions of John’s finger draw your focus to it, and thus to the one to whom John points. It’s as if John uses all of his being to direct your attention away from himself to Jesus.

Barth says it better than I can, “recall John the Baptist in Grunewald’s Crucifixion, especially his prodigious index finger. Could anyone point away from himself more impressively and completely?” (Church Dogmatics I, 1 p. 112)

Perhaps the reason the Christian calendar calls us to journey to Christ through the message of John each Advent, is to remind us that we too are called to point away from ourselves to Christ.

“There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light.” (John 1:6-8 NRSV)

John reminds us that it is not our eloquence, it is not our asceticism, it is not our clothing or diet that matter. What matters is whether we are pointing to Jesus.

To see Grunewald’s image, click here  http://www.artbible.info/art/large/193.html