The counterintuitive God

clockCounterintuitive: different from what you would expect (Merriam-Webster’s Online Dictionary). Like a clock that runs backwards, there’s little doubt: God is counterintuitive.

Take the incarnation, the eternal Christ clothing himself in human flesh. If the choice had been up to us, we might have chosen huge and flashy. Instead, to bear Emmanuel – “God with us” – the LORD chose someone humble and unknown.

Luke 1:28 (NIV) tells the story:

Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.

Who was this “highly favored” person? Mary was a young Jewish girl. There was nothing noteworthy about her. She had no powerful connections, no high birth to commend her. Yet God – who has a habit of doing the unexpected – chose her to bear the Christ child.

Besides using the unknown Mary as Christotokos – the mother of Christ –  another counterintuitive element of Christmas is tactics. Christ’s coming to earth was hardly the Powell Doctrine. The former American Joint Chiefs of Staff believed that – as a last resort – if the military must be used, then go big. Amass huge quantities of soldiers and equipment, then overwhelm the enemy. But on Christmas, God didn’t get the memo. He didn’t dispatch an army of angels (though an angel choir did sing for a handful of shepherds). Instead, God parachuted an infant Jesus quietly behind enemy lines, like a single SEAL in camouflage. In a world under the destructive thumb of the devil and his sinister band of brothers (1 John 5:19, Ephesians 6:12 ), this underwhelming response seemed counterintuitive.

Besides choice of people and tactics, a final counterintuitive aspect of the incarnation is love. For a creation that had hatefully snubbed its Creator, one might expect in return well-derserved wrath, God paying back hate with greater hate. Yet to our utter amazement, this “SEAL” sent by God came armed with only one “weapon.” Hate could never overcome hate; only love could do that:

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only son…

Paul in the cross discerned heaven’s jujitsu, writing to the Romans: “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:21, NIV). The cross is a counterintuitive demonstration of God’s love for us sinners who despised him (Romans 5:8). While God’s self-denying modus operandi makes little sense to human calculus, love is the powerful magnet that for twenty centuries has drawn people to their knees at manger, cross, and empty tomb.

Humble Mary, baby Jesus, love – These are three indications that we worship a counterintuitive God. The LORD acts differently than what you would expect. For the sake of our world, may we as Christ’s followers recommit ourselves to doing likewise.

What difference does Christmas make?

cross-and-manger“What difference does Christmas make?”

Galatians 4:1-7

Preached at African Nazarene University Church

Nairobi, Kenya

Sunday, December 16, 2012

– Read passage in the NLT, followed by opening prayer –

I.          INTRODUCTION

What difference does Christmas make?

Is it just about eating chicken, going up-country to visit with relatives? Or, in my native country, drawing on German customs, is it just about making cookies and putting up a fir trees with lights and decorations?

What difference does Christmas make?

To answer the question, first we must change the question.

The word “Christmas” never appears in the Bible. It comes from Middle English prior to the 12th century, and refers to the mass devoted to Christ celebrating Christ’s birth.

So really, we instead should ask:

What difference does the incarnation make?

Now, I’m not suggesting that we change our greeting from “Merry Christmas” to “Merry incarnation.” That would take some getting used to! But it would be a more accurate description of what we’re actually celebrating. It is the feast of Christ’s coming to earth to save us.

John 1:14 (KJV) tells us: And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth.”

In the same way, the Apostle Paul thought long and hard about what difference Christ’s coming to earth made. As a Jewish man, his first concern was to relate the old thing that God had done through His covenant people with the new thing God had done through Christ. That’s really what Galatians is all about.

So in Galatians 4:1-7, we find at least three answers to the question, “What difference does the incarnation make?” The answers to that question can be summarized in three words:

1) freedom

2) adoption

3) inheritance

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