Plans of Man, Plans of God

Christmas is upon us.  And there is no better time to remember how wonderfully unexpected it all was.

To be sure, the Israelites were desperately waiting and expecting the coming of the Messiah.  But God has a funny way of playing with our expectations and giving us something we never thought we wanted.  He gives us something better than what we want.

This is important for all of us to remember.  God tells us, “My thoughts are not your thoughts.  My ways are not your ways.” (Is 55:8)  And thank goodness for that!

One of the major problems of man and his plans is that we tend to think of ourselves as wiser than we are.  We see this especially in children.  They think that eating their entire stock of Halloween candy in one sitting or putting Dora the Explorer trading cards into the Blu-Ray player are excellent ideas.  We wag our fingers and try to tell them how foolish they are.

I wonder if that’s how God feels about us.

I mean, we feel older and wiser as we progress through the years.  And certainly we hope that we have more wisdom than we did when we were young.  But our problem occurs when we think that we are wiser than God.

Of course most of us would not come right out and say this.  But how often do we give God advice? 

“God, why don’t you do…” and we fill in the blank with whatever our taste demands.  I am not here referring to petitionary prayer, which is a necessary part of the faith.  But rather I am talking about that sincere belief we have that if everything just happened the way we wanted it to, life would be great.

And when this thing doesn’t happen, often we are disappointed and ask God why?  Why didn’t He take my advice?  Why didn’t He listen to me?

But all of this comes down to a very simple question: Does God know what He is doing?

I just saw the movie Exodus: Gods and Kings, and the impression that movie left was that of God who haphazardly tries different things to get His own petty way.  But that is not the way God actually behaves.  If God is God, then God has a plan.

One of my favorite parts in a story is where the hero declares that he or she has a plan to defeat the villain, but then doesn’t tell the audience.  I love it because I get to take the journey and wait for the wonderful surprise.  How shall they outwit the bad guy?  How can they overcome the great evil?  Knowing it in advance would take away so much of the joy and thrill.

The same is true of the Christmas story.  God had a plan.  He had it from the beginning.  After the Fall he said to Satan “I will put enmity between you and the woman, between your offspring and hers.  You will strike at his heal, but he will crush your head.”  (Gen 3:15) This passage, known as the Protoevanelium, is the first foreshadowing of the Gospel.  The entire Old Testament was about shaping a people from which could come the Savior of the World.

And the people waited for their Savior.  They lived under horrible oppression by the Romans.  Their life, their liberty, their very spirit was being repressed.  And they cried out for the Christ.  And so He came.  But He was not what they expected.

First, the people were waiting for the “virgin” to conceive the Messiah.  When that prophet Isaiah first wrote those words he was primarily speaking about the birth of King Hezekiah.  The common understanding of “virgin” in that time was “young lady.”  If that sounds strange, think about this: today we use the word “Gentleman” to mean a well-mannered man.  But it literally means “Man who owns land.”  But when we see the word, we usually do not think of the literal definition, but the common understanding.  And that is the way it was for the Jews.  They were waiting for some young married woman to give birth to the Christ.  

But God did the unexpected and He took the word virgin literally.  What a surprise that was for Mary!

And how many of us would want to be close to friends and family at the birth of our child?  Yet the Holy Family had to take the long journey to Bethlehem.  

And who would want to give birth in a stable?  It is filthy.  It would be like giving birth on a floor of a men’s room.

Yet this is where the Christ had His first Christmas.  And it could not have been better because it was so unexpected.

Nothing in the Christmas story would have been chosen by Man.  But it was the best way it could have happened.  

The unexpected nature of Christmas reminds us of the unexpected plans of our God.  And this story reminds us of that one virtue that will open us to the unexpected: Faith.

Mary had to believe that being an unmarried pregnant woman would be socially bearable.  Joseph had to trust that in God to take Mary into his home.  Both had to have faith that God would take care of them on the road to Bethlehem.  The Magi had no way of knowing that the king would be under the star, but they put it all on the line for the chance to honor Him. 

And it was all part of God’s plan.  C.S. Lewis points out how the story of Christ is the greatest story ever told and is undoubtedly true because no man would ever come up with it.  Because the ways of God are truly and delightfully unexpected.

And in that, the Messiah’s story is made truly great.  It wasn’t that He was born into poverty.

He was born into faith.

Copyright 2014, W.L. Grayson

W.L. Grayson

W.L. Grayson

I am a devoutly Catholic theology teacher who loves a popular culture that often, quite frankly, hates me. I grew up absorbing every movie, TV show, comic book, science fiction novel, etc. I could find. As of today I’ve watched over 2100 movies and tv shows. They take up a huge part of my life. I don’t know that this is a good thing, but it has given me a common vocabulary to draw from in order to illustrate whatever theological point I make in class. I’ve used American Pie the song to explain the Book of Revelation (I’ll post on this some time later) and American Pie the movie to help explain Eucharist (don’t ask). The point is that the popular culture is popular for a reason. It is woven into the fabric of our lives and imaginations, for good or ill. In this blog I will attempt to bring together the things of heaven with the things of earth. Of course this goal may be too lofty for someone like me.

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