Salvation Through Planned Chaos
Sermon by Josh Van Leeuwen
Introduction by Phyllis Yearick
What’s your favorite thing about the season of Advent? Is it looking at the beautiful light and decoration displays? Or maybe traveling to visit friends and family? Perhaps you most like searching for that perfect gift for someone special. Or maybe enjoying the foods and treats that you allow yourself only during the holidays. Perhaps it’s that annual reading of the nativity story in the Gospel of Luke. Or have we all heard it so many times that we don’t even pay attention to it anymore? Think of little children at Christmas, how enraptured they are by all the beauty and wonder the season offers. What if we could hear the story of the birth of Jesus through the ears of a little child who was experiencing it for the first time. Might we discover something new, something we never considered before?
For instance, when you envision Mary and Joseph making their way to Bethlehem for the census (actually an ingenious scheme by King Herod to rake in more taxes), do you picture Joseph confidently leading their compliant donkey along an empty, level road, Mary perched serenely in the saddle? Remember that everyone in King David’s lineage had to make this trip, so the scene was probably more like bumper-to-bumper foot traffic. The shortest route from Nazareth up to Bethlehem (which is south of Galilee but in the Judean hill country) through Samaria was about 70 miles, but given the hostilities between Jews and Samaritans, folks probably took the long way around, making it 80-plus miles. At an average walking pace, Mary and Joseph could have made the trip in four eight-hour days. And Mary actually walked. She was young and healthy, and even near the end of her pregnancy she could have done it easily. There’s nothing in scripture to indicate that the couple had a donkey. Surprised?
So all these people were on a four-day hike through the desert up into the hills to Bethlehem. It would have been noisy, crowded, and dusty. There were probably children running around, since all the potential babysitters were also traveling to their own ancestral homes. It would have been chaotic, everyone walking all day and collapsing at night to camp out, sleeping on the ground under the stars. Remember when the RAGBRAI route went through Waukee, and Westview offered its front lawn for bike riders to use as an overnight stop? There were lots of people eating, drinking, playing music, talking, dancing, you name it. That’s close to what the people (who might have appreciated bicycles) traveling to Bethlehem probably experienced. And you can imagine the fireside dinner conversations turning toward politics and the absurdity of this whole census idea. Why turn everyone’s life upside down just to extort more tax money? It might have been chaotic, but God actually had a plan, which was revealed by the prophet Micah: “But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times.”
Do you ever feel as if your life is chaotic? As if God couldn’t possibly have a plan for you? Sometimes it seems as if we are simply at the mercy of an out-of-control world. Unemployment. Cancer. Divorce. Bankruptcy. Family problems. Work problems. Health problems. Church problems. Sometimes we wonder if God cares about us at all. Perhaps, like Mary and Joseph, we’ll find that the chaos in our lives is God’s way of positioning us to be in the right place at the right time for his purposes, if we are patient and watchful. He works out his plan in his own kairos time, and he is always closer than we think.
You are welcome at Westview Church! Join us this Sunday morning for worship at 9:30 (nursery care and Children’s Worship available). Discovery Hour classes will be offered afterward for ages preschool through high school.