I’m picking up my daughter, Annalise, from the airport tonight. She’s been in Nicaragua–where our whole family used to live–since August. She’ll be home for Christmas…except she’s coming to a home she’s never seen before. When we moved back last June, she came too, but only for a month. She decided to spend another year, volunteering at the school from which she graduated, working with kids who need extra help to do school. She works one-on-one with a kindergarten student who has special needs. Annalise is kind and full of compassion and gets kicked in the shins sometimes; because of Annalise, this little girl can be in school.
If you’ve never heard about Annalise, it’s a story worth reading. I’ll wait. Annalise is a miracle girl. She was born weighing a pound and ten ounces after two different doctors told us to “cut our losses” with her. We received a dire prognosis that if she survived birth, she would likely never be able to feed herself, recognize us, or roll over on her own. She does all three. I have no question that her life is a miracle, and the number of times I’ve heard her doctors say “I can’t explain how she’s doing so well” would fill a the jar we keep seashells in now.
You choose to believe in miracles. Very few miracles are irrefutable, perhaps none. In my experience, people can believe anything; people can also refuse to believe anything. We’re very difficult creatures.
Believing in a miracle requires something of you. It requires that you acknowledge something greater than yourself “out there” performing miracles. It requires that you let go of your belief (I’m going to say illusion) that the world works according to a rational order that you can control, if only you do everything just right.
After the religious leaders have turned on Jesus in the Gospel of John, we read this:
When the great crowd of the Jews learned that he was there, they came not only because of Jesus but also to see Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. So the chief priests planned to put Lazarus to death as well, since it was on account of him that many of the Jews were deserting and were believing in Jesus.
Did Lazarus rise from the dead? They didn’t care. Lazarus caused people to believe in Jesus, and therefore Lazarus must die (again?). I think this captures the spirit and mindset of rejecting a miracle: it does not fit my worldview, so I will do whatever necessary to destroy it
Advent is a funny time. We walk around hearing songs playing everywhere: “O, Holy night, the stars are brightly shining, it is the night of our dear Savior’s birth.” “God rest ye merry, Gentlemen, let nothing you dismay; remember Christ our Saviour was born on Christmas day.” “Joy to the World! The Lord has come! Let earth receive her King.” I listen to these songs and wonder not only whether those hearing them believe, but whether those singing so beautifully believe what they are singing.
A house not far from ours has a very over-the-top Christmas lights display, in which they have a Nativity scene–and also Frosty and Rudolph and Mickey and Minnie Mouse playing on a teeter-totter. Merry Christmas! Jesus is born! There’s also a talking snowman, a flying reindeer with a glowing nose, and two animated mice who have made more money than God.* It’s a miracle!
Here’s the thing: It is a miracle. It’s a miracle that we set aside a whole season, both a season of nature and a season of the church calendar to remember. We who believe this miracle need to have our belief renewed. We forget that we believe, or forget what believing means. We start to mash up Jesus with the other important figures in our lives, just like those hyper-decorating neighbors did.
To be honest, believing this miracle requires much of us. I get why people would prefer to ridicule and destroy it. This miracle comes with demands, not merely an opportunity to feel warm and cozy. That’s because the subject of this miracle grew up to give commands–and expected people to obey them. “You have heard it said… But I say to you…” “Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and not do what I say?'”
History has a funny effect on us. If you had told Peter that Jesus’ birth was a myth, or a silly story, or that he got equal billing with cartoon characters and nursery tales, Peter likely would be flabbergasted. If you told me that Annalise’s story is just a fairy tale, a nice thought about how maybe little girls are more durable and determined than we think, I probably would get pissed off. I held baby Annalise, this little stick figure of a newborn, and watched her breathe room air in Denver in her first minute of life outside her mother’s womb. I saw it, I felt it, I was there.
Peter believed. He was present. But the story of Jesus’ birth, that must have come from Mary and Joseph, from Elizabeth and Zechariah. They lived in an oral culture where everyone heard the stories and those stories got passed down, generation to generation. Bu Mary and Joseph, they saw it and felt it (especially Mary); they were there.
The miracle I saw and heard and felt, the one I can testify to with certainty, is now sleeping on a couch twenty feet away. I can testify to that miracle.
I testify to the miracle of Advent, too. I testify that Jesus is God incarnate. I tell people (and probably offend some in doing so) that I don’t believe in God because of the Bible, I believe in God because I’ve experienced God and God is real in my life; I’ve come to understand who God is through the Bible…and even that isn’t always easy, if I’m honest. But I know Jesus. I know Jesus and I know what Jesus says.
At the end of the parable of the nameless rich man and Lazarus, the rich man, suffering and separated from God, begs Father Abraham to send Lazarus to warn the rich man’s brothers.
[The man] said, ‘No, father Abraham; but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ [Abraham] said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’”