A study done a few years ago showed that a sign of a person’s incompetence is his or her inability to perceive incompetence. Nowhere does this inability to have an objective, accurate, reality-based view of our performance show itself more than in the spiritual realm. When it comes to moral character, purity of heart or duplicity in actions, how many of us have given serious thought to how our lives would be graded in the eyes of a holy, just, righteous, truth-telling God?
Luke 1 and 2 are often described as “the Lukan infancy and childhood narratives”—the stories of Jesus’ birth and early childhood. That description is fine, but as Eugene Peterson has suggested, there is another way of framing the opening of Luke: these two chapters are a primer in prayer. Prayers saturate the first two chapters of Luke.
All of the Spirit’s labor—the pruning of our imagination, the background work on our expectations—comes to fruition on Christmas Day, when we are brought into the Presence. The virgin who for nine months has been weaving the veil of the temple out of the material of her own body sits in stupefied and exhausted silence.
Once a year, having waited to the very end of December, my wife and I dress up. Some people wait a lifetime to start living, but fortunately for us, New Year’s Eve intervenes every year. With mortality staring us right in the face, we get around to that date we should have had months ago. Rexene looks absolutely stunning in a cocktail dress. (How many times does a pastor’s wife get to wear a cocktail dress?)
In a culture that has made efficiency a moral requirement and credit-card purchasing a way of life, delays are frustrating. Instant messaging, fast food meals and express deliveries reinforce a sense that waiting for almost anything is a waste of our time and a poor use of our gifts and resources.
On Christmas day we join choirs of angels and raise the strains of “Joy to the World!” Our children sing sweetly of the little Lord Jesus so peacefully asleep on the hay that he doesn’t cry out when animals wake him with off-key parts to the lullaby. But then the music changes drastically. We hear wailing and loud lamentation. Ancient mother Rachel weeps inconsolably over the loss of her children. Must we listen to this? Have we no season to block out the sounds of grief?
In the pattern of Jesus’ growing is the pattern to which each of us is called. Even the irony that he first became lost before he experienced this first growing—even this has meaning for every Christian. We live at a time when it is easy to feel lost. Our time and world are daunting and even defeating. But that very lostness can be the prelude to our personal growing.