Life is all about dreams–dreams realized and dreams shattered. The former brings great happiness; the latter, deep disappointment.
Certainly all of us have had dreams. Virtually all of us have experienced the happiness of having our grandest dreams realized and the disappointment of shattered dreams.
Christmas is all about dreams and longing for their fulfillment. During Advent we have recalled the “hopes and fears of all the years.” We contemplated the longing of the prophets, we recalled the witness of the apostles, and joined the entire company of believers for time and eternity to see these hopes and fears “met in Thee tonight.”
For the people of God who could only look ahead to the fulfillment of their dreams in Jesus Christ, they must have often wondered, “Is God going to deny His promise?” “Is He really going to fulfill the dream of salvation which He planted in our hearts for generations?”
The coming of Jesus Christ indicated that God’s promises are not the stuff of shattered dreams. Though the wait may be painful, when the dream is made real joy arrives.
The people of Scripture learned this lesson. They learned God’s pattern for salvation and deliverance. That pattern almost always has at least two components: first, one must wait for God’s intervention. Second, one must rejoice in God’s intervention.
This pattern, demonstrated in the Christmas message, is the pattern in which Christians live every single day. We must first wait for God’s intervention. Then, having waited, we must rejoice in God’s remarkable, miraculous workings by which He fulfills the dreams He has graciously intended for us.
This pattern is also the pattern of ministry. Waiting…then rejoicing.
Perhaps the most painful waiting occurs in times of personal, professional and congregational transition. Wanting God to change these circumstances, we often succumb to impatience. Like Oscar Wilde, we are wont to believe that perhaps God is dealing harshly with us to deny our dreams and those which God has given for our ministry calling.
The apparent harshness may come in many forms in life and ministry.
- Maybe we’re not able to put the past hurts behind;
- Perhaps we find it inexplicably hard to forgive or at least tolerate those who have deeply hurt us;
- Perhaps we’ve had a “turnaround church experience” in which, after the conflict, the church didn’t turn around as expected;
- Perhaps we had hoped for a greater and more vigorous experience of ministry but were somehow disappointed; Or
- Perhaps we’re feeling the deep disappointment of the chronic efforts of those who continue to obstruct or sabotage ministry by their activity or inactivity.
Perhaps this harshness might also be evident in one’s family life. Alan and Cheryl Klaas’ book, Quiet Conversations (Kansas City, Missouri: Mission Growth Press, 2000*), describes some of the many difficulties which occur in the Christian professional’s household.
Such struggles may include
- Raising adolescent preacher’s kids,
- Trying to keep the finances in order on a low, sub-standard ministry salary,
- Feeling as if one is “stuck” in a church without any recourse but to “stick it out,” and
- Hoping that somehow one’s spouse might somehow become a more positive force of support.
These and other experiences may lead us to think God is dealing harshly with us. But He’s not.
God is not dealing with us any more harshly than He did when He sent His own Son to “His own, and His own received Him not.” He’s not dealing with us any more harshly than He did with Jesus when “there was no room for them in the inn” or when the Infant Child had to flee to Egypt for safety from King Herod.
Amid the apparent harshness, the hymn “Away In A Manger” captured the Infant’s confidence in God’s power to make dreams come true:
“But little Lord Jesus, no crying He makes.”
Though born in the harshest of conditions–physically, politically, economically, socially…Mary, Joseph and all who came to the manger recognized that God was not being harsh with them. Instead, they saw beyond the apparent humble conditions. They looked beyond the apparent harshness and, through the confidence of faith, witnessed the indisputable evidence that their wait for a miracle was over. They held and beheld Jesus, the “Miracle-Made-Flesh,” God’s only-begotten Son for the salvation of all people.
Those at the manger knew that Oscar Wilde is wrong. As we gather at the manger, we share in their certainty. Wilde is not merely wrong. He’s dead wrong. Though God may deny our dreams, our aspirations and our hopes, God does not—and will not—deal harshly with us…ever! Instead, we can count on His promise that He will only deal with us in overwhelming and undeniable grace for all eternity.
In this grace, we find the true nature and power of God to grant dreams which we could never have imagined ourselves. Though painful, we know that as He sent His Son “to be born of a virgin, born under the Law” (Galatians 4:4) in the harshest circumstances on Christmas, He will never withhold the presence of His Son from us…even during the harshest moments of our lives and ministries.
This promise reflects the essence of grace. It also reflects the essence of Christmas. God is always with us…even when life and ministry sometimes become an “Wilde-ean” nightmare.
Are you waiting for a miracle? There is no need to wait any longer. The Miracle has arrived. Better yet, the Miracle has arrived for you. His name is “God with us.”
As Immanuel continues to work in our lives, remember that He comes gently, as a Child, to sustain, strengthen and lead you. With Him ever-present at our side, could our lives and ministries be anything but a miracle?
Ah, at least Oscar Wilde was partly right. God really does grant miracles!
“Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
has come to you, O Israel!”
Thomas F. Fischer
* Quiet Conversations is available from Mission Growth Publishing, PMB 165, 13 NW Barry Road, Kansas City, Missouri, USA 64155-2728 or directly from http://www.MissionGrowth.org . It is a must reading for every family in ministry who wishes to gain insight into the everyday experience of personal, professional and family life of church professionals.