Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you (Matthew 5:3).
Humans exercise the unique power of observing things and imagining them better. That power blesses us with technological progress and dreams of a better world. It energizes purposeful living.
But that power curses us too. For we will never possess the resources to achieve on our own the perfection we imagine. We imagine a world without war, oppression, calamity, and affliction; yet, those realities persist despite our best efforts and noblest motives.
We wrack our brains. We blame God or declare God dead. In our exasperation and our insistence on looking past what is to what could be, we fail to see God right here suffering with us and planting mustard seeds.
We descend from the geniuses of all mortal creatures to the most pitiful. Meanwhile, God too descends. For on Christmas, God came in Christ Jesus
who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness (Philippians 2:6-7).
God came in a person subject to the same threats of despots, plagues, and bigotry we face today. What a dubious start for the divine on earth! The pregnant teenaged mother rides a donkey on a forced journey to register for the census of an occupying government. It gets late, and the hotels have no vacancies. She gives birth in a stable.
We ask how God could allow us to be subject to such cruel suffering. Meanwhile,
And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death— even death on a cross (vv. 7b-8).
But why could God not save us some other way? Why not just wipe away all violence, affliction, and death?
When we imagine such ideal scenarios, we do so by deleting the bad stuff — the stuff that hurts, offends, decays, stinks, and so forth — in pursuit of something purely good. But by the time we divide life up in hopes of isolating and claiming perfect goodness, we end up with only an abstract idea but nothing solid.
An analogy: Draw a line on a piece of paper. It is a series of points, right? Try to isolate one of those points so you can look at it, show it to your friends and say, “See, there’s a perfect, irreducible point. Lovely.” You can’t because you can always divide a point into more points. You end up with only the word, “point,” but nothing to show your friends.
We do that with our existence. We break it down in search of something perfect until we come up with a splendid nothing. Then we complain that life is not perfect.
Christmas is about God meeting us where we are, not where we imagine. God meets us in our fragile, mortal existence and in our suffering. God offers in our real lives a Son in whom to invest our hopes:
Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father (vv.9-11).
Jesus on Perfection
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