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This is the season of giving and receiving gifts. There are going to be some wonderful surprises and some tremendous disappointments.

Have you ever had something pitched to you that sounded amazing initially, but when you were face-to-face with the reality, it didn’t live up to the hype? A recommended restaurant, movie, or bingeable tv show? How about an online dating profile that seemed perfect until the first date, a new dream job turned nightmare, or a place you regretted moving to?

Have you ever heard of Fyre Festival? Talk about false promises.

Situations like these turn into buyer’s remorse, and sometimes we feel this way about God too. We step into faith or take a step of faith, and on that first day, the angels sing. But then we experience difficulties, struggles, setbacks, or the brokenness of our world.

It’s easy to develop buyer’s remorse. And we do this often because we don't understand or see how God works and the path looks. But when we do, it can transform our perspective and completely shift how we see the journey.

Luke 1
28 The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.” 29 Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. 30 But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. 31 You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. 32 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, 33 and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.”

Think of phishing emails. Inheriting millions of dollars from the estate of an African prince sounds great but also a little too good to be true.

Imagine the paradox of hearing what God was about to do but not seeing how it would work out.    

The pitch sounds great, but then there’s the reality.

Luke 2
1 In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire roman world. 2 (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) 3 And everyone went to their own town to register.  
4 So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. 5 He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. 6 While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, 7 and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.  

Have you ever gone on vacation, and all the arrangements you thought you made fell through? The hotel didn’t have your room available, your Uber was an hour late at pickup, or your luggage got lost.

This is how Mary and Joseph must’ve felt. “I thought I was God’s highly favored!” And we may feel this way too. There’s the big first step. The “God, I’m trusting you. I’m doing it your way” step. But then there’s this second leg of the journey where God seems as far out of the picture as he appeared present in the beginning.

Notice the language here. Joseph went up, and they went to a place that wasn’t home to some government bureaucracy. Mary gave birth in a stable. No angels are showing up. No announcements. No singing. No power of God on display.

We all have questions or nagging doubts. You may have taken the first big step in some area of your life, but you're not seeing how it's working out. In fact, it feels like you’re doing all the work. If something is going to happen, it’s because you’re making it happen. As a result, you have some buyer’s remorse.

We miss the stark reality of this in all the gloss and nostalgia of Christmas. You are clinging to a promise that felt like it was from God, but all you’re seeing in your life is something that looks like a smelly, dirty, unimpressive stable.

This is where it’s so critical for us to understand how God works in people's lives because it’s different than how we would do it.

The path to our greatest significance often leads FROM obscurity and THROUGH difficulty before it ever leads TO blessing.      

The pages of the Bible are filled with people whose lives looked like this. So often, in the places where God wants to do His best work in and through us, it looks like this too. And that leads up to the main point: God’s power at work in our lives isn’t determined by the unlikely setting and circumstances we often find ourselves in.

Because look at this familiar story from another perspective:

1. Joseph and Mary are in Nazareth. But the prophecies of Messiah foretold that He would come from Bethlehem (Micah 5:2)

  • How does this prophecy get fulfilled? Government paperwork, a census. Something that seems so non-spiritual and even infuriating God uses. Imagine if you were praying, “God, show up!” And what you got was some forms from the IRS in the mail.
  • Often, the things, people, and circumstances we never thought God could use are precisely the ones He wants to use.
  • So, God moves the hand of an emperor who did not even acknowledge God to create a census that impacts two obscure individuals in a way that fulfills God’s plan.
  • So, God is at work using the mighty and lowly at the times and in the places where it seems like the angels are singing. But also the things that seem like whatever the opposite of that is.

God NEVER stops working. 

2. In another place in the Bible, the writer talks about these events occurring in the “fullness of time” – at the right time.

Galatians 4
3 Even so, we, when we were children, were in bondage under the elements of the world. 4 But when the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, 5 to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption as sons.  
  • It’s like a glass or vessel being filled up – when everything aligned – the people, the places, the circumstances, the need, the mighty, the lowly, the places where it felt like God was present, and the moments where it felt like He was absent. This is kind of like when everything is in order – everything goes right.
  • It turns out it ALL had a purpose. God was ALWAYS at work.
  • But I guarantee you it didn’t look that way to Mary and Joseph with no angels, too many animals, a long hard journey, and a stable.
  • And it doesn’t look that way to us in the stables of our lives either.

One of the reasons Christians love Christmas is because we believe that Jesus came to set things right. Just like it says, there’s hope. On the one hand, we’re very familiar with how things are. On the other hand, we expect that there's more there that we have yet to see.

Hope really is the idea that things will change for the better. That the stables of our lives – the places where it doesn't seem like God could be at work – actually have purpose, and God is still working, even when we can't see him.

When you have hope, there's part of the picture you see, but there's the part you know you don't see yet.    

That’s why we love tradition. It allows us to have one foot in something we know but another in something we believe is there but haven’t seen yet. We sing the same songs, eat the same foods, and watch the same things because it connects us to something mysterious, magical, BIGGER.

This kind of hope anchors us in a world that can sometimes feel absent of an anchor. It brings meaning even in places where things seem meaningless.

So, in that place in your life that feels like a stable, remember who God is, how He works, and that we can trust Him. For He is good, and He is always faithful. And when we build our lives there, we can have hope. And not the kind that's a greeting card sentiment, but something substantial and solid.

The unlikeliness of the first Christmas setting is a gift from God and a reminder. It assures us that God cares for the lowly and the unknown. Even when the angels seem absent and we feel left alone, He’s still working. He brings about His plans even when we feel confused or even dismayed at our settings – in His own time.

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