The story of the birth of Jesus is a story of a vulnerable baby born into a scene that can be best described as a wild frontier. A dangerous, unpredictable world rife with animosity toward God. Our God sends His Infant Son into this world naked, vulnerable, exposed to great danger. It seems to be a risky and unwise move. Perhaps this birth of Jesus the Messiah is exactly what we should expect from our God, for He has always tended toward the risky, bold and adventurous. Walter Brueggemann stated this: “We live our lives before the wild, dangerous, unfettered and free character of the living God.”
Sadly, the institutional church has been working to make our God appear benign, predictable, safe. We like to think of our God as kindly, a God of peace, order, and comfort, which He is. But that is not all that He is. We probably like our God more in these terms because we like our life more in these terms. A dangerous and unpredictable God leaves us feeling exposed, at risk. He may ask us to do things that will disrupt our status quo and interfere with our plans. We do not like uncertainty.
This uncertainty of our God exposes another facet of His work: adventure. The word “adventure” conveys an unusual, unpredictable, and possibly dangerous experience. Our God’s work is best understood in the context of such unusual, unpredictable, dangerous risk-taking. Mark Batterson said this: “Celtic Christians had a name for the Holy Spirit–An Geadh-Glas, or ‘the Wild Goose.’ The name hints at mystery. Much like a wild goose, the Spirit of God cannot be tracked or tamed. An element of danger, an air of unpredictability surrounds Him. I cannot think of a better description of what it’s like to follow the Spirit through life, for the Holy Spirit is something that cannot be tracked or tamed.” The Celts referred to God as the “King of Mysteries.”
The work our God’s redemption has always been a risky adventure on the human plain. It is always a thin line, often only one person on which everything of the work of our God depended. Think of Adam. Everything depended on him, but he did not come through. You would think that Adam’s actions would change how our God worked among us, but it did not. With Noah, the fate of the human race came down to one man who spent 120 years building a boat where there was no water. And what of Abraham, the self-preserving, self-serving family leader who had a hard time stringing together consecutive acts of obedience. Yet there was another side to Abraham – the adventurer. The Lord told him in his old age to depart from his family to a place where he had never been. “So Abram went, as the Lord had told him; and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he departed from Haran. Abram took his wife Sarai and his brother’s son Lot, and all the possessions that they had gathered, and the persons whom they had acquired in Haran; and they set forth to go to the land of Canaan.” Abram (Abraham) took his extended family and set off across the desert to a live in a strange land about which they knew virtually nothing. That is an adventure.
With Jacob the line gets really thin. Jacob was conniving, dishonest, and self-serving, yet our God chose him. Renamed “Israel,” he was used by God to launch a race of people who are still at the center of the redemption plan. Then the fate of the new nation of Israel came down to one man, Joseph, sold into slavery to a foreign country by his brothers. The thin thread of redemption could have broken had he borne a grudge, but he did not. Moses, the fugitive court official and a murderer, hiding out in the desert tending flocks, reluctant and fearful. Joshua. Gideon. The judges. The prophets. The line of God’s salvation and redemption was almost always down to one or two key people at a time. The faithful were always there, always a tiny minority. Obedience for them was always be a risky adventure.
The righteous have always been few. The risks are always great. Jesus asked this question, “When the Son of Man returns, will He find faith on earth?” If that question does not haunt us today, it should. The challenge for us is to continually be seeking more of our God in our daily living, to be earnest in seeking our role in His Kingdom work. We are never called to be static, to coast along in the spiritual life. Instead, we are called, each one of us, to be a part of that thin thread of redemption in the world. Sadly, few respond to the call in wholehearted obedience.
The thin thread of redemption finally comes to Jesus. The birth of the Savior of the World sets a new standard for riskiness and opportunities for failure. The Christmas story has a strong theme of wildness to it. Set in a context of growing darkness and warfare, and it appears risky to the point of recklessness. The working of our God here is unprecedented, bold, over the edge. The Savior of the world – your Savior and mine – is born naked, impoverished, a refugee in a strange town. Before His second birthday He and His family will be fleeing for their lives in the night to a foreign country. Scandal, danger, threat of death, and risky adventure characterize the birth of the Messiah. Such is the love of our God for us, and the wonder of His great salvation for us. Such is Christmas on the wild frontier.
Image (massacre of innocents) 1824, Cogniet, Leon (1794-1880) Musee des Beaux-Arts, Rennes, France