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.
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.
The pitch sounds great, but then there’s the reality.
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 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)
2. In another place in the Bible, the writer talks about these events occurring in the “fullness of time” – at the right time.
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.
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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