The Fingerprints of God
Very often, Christmas stories get lost in sentimentality. In reality, however, they have great potential for sharing redeeming, comforting truths that help in any season of the year. The following is the third article in our series which features stories connected to the Christmas narrative that have been or may be used to connect to the everyday questions, struggles, and faith of teenagers.
“I just don’t understand. I am obeying God. I am reading my Bible. I go to church. Why is all of this stuff happening to me?” Over the years I have heard this in many different forms and variations. My instinct is often to hone in on the actions being described by a student versus the heart underlying the statement; but at the bottom of it all is a very valid question – “Why is all of this stuff happening to me?” This is not just a question posed by those who don’t truly know God. Many people ask this question. Many teens, particularly, ask this question.
How do we respond? Do we start them off with the “Count it all joy” speech (James 1:2)? Do we pull out the age-old comparison to the life of Job? Have you ever had one of those two things done to you when you faced a difficult time? I have… and it didn’t help. The way we need to respond, within the multitude of examples from Scripture, is by helping our students keep “looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God (Hebrews 12:2).”
Scripture speaks into hardships in many places and many ways, but none so pointedly and poignantly as the gospel itself. So, during this Christmas season, let’s take our response from the story of Jesus’ birth. Within this brief narrative we see the favor of God, followed by the flight from Herod, resulting in the fulfillment of prophecy. All of this points to how God is busy behind the scenes at all times, leaving His fingerprints on our lives.
The Favor of God
Luke tells us that an angel came to Mary saying, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus.” (Luke 1:30-31) What wonderful news! She had found favor with God and would give birth to His Son; this was incredible! But God never provided the caveat that it would come with difficulty.
Next, we find Joseph – a good and gentle man – preparing to divorce Mary for the child she had conceived (Matthew 1:19). We can assume there was a conversation or two in the middle here. My guess is that, while Joseph was good and gentle, he was still a human who said some relatively discourteous things about Mary’s state of being. There is no doubt Mary suffered not only doubt and anger from her husband, but also great shame in her town. After all, no one just miraculously becomes pregnant… right?
The Flight from Herod
If ever there were a true to life Prince John in the world, it was Herod. Herod was sitting on a throne that in no way belonged to him, and he knew it. That knowledge created incredible paranoia and produced horrendous actions. Herod’s paranoia led to his attempts to murder God’s own child.
He first tries to trick the wise men into leading him to Jesus so he can slay Him (2:8). When this fails, he puts out a search for the newborn Messiah to have Him killed. This results in Joseph and Mary having to flee their home country (2:13-14). While in Egypt, Herod issues a decree to kill all of the male children two years old and younger since he cannot find the promised Prince. He wants to insure the long awaited Messiah is killed before having a chance to claim the throne (2:16). And to top it off, when Herod finally dies and the Royal Family is safe to come home to Israel, they are warned yet again not to go to their hometown of Galilee, but to start a new life in the town of Nazareth (2:23) – one of the most despised towns of Israel (see John 1:46).
The Fulfillment of Prophecy
We started with the question of how to respond to our teens who ask, “Why is all of this stuff happening to me?” We often head straight to the cross for our answer. And this isn’t wrong, but in doing so, we may be missing some of the richness of Jesus’ story leading up to that point. Right here, before Jesus even begins His ministry, before Jesus even speaks His first word, we see God’s hand at work in the difficulty He allowed in His own Son’s life.
Why the miraculous-yet-scandalous birth resulting in so much scorn on the parents? “To fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: ‘Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel’ (which means, God with us) (1:23).”
Why the life on the run rather than a lap of luxury? “This was to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet, “Out of Egypt I called my son (2:15).”
Why the murdering of so many babies? “[This] fulfilled what was spoken by the prophet Jeremiah: ‘A voice was heard in Ramah, weeping and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be comforted, because they are no more (2:17-18).’”
Finally, why did Jesus have to grow up in the slums of Israel? So “that what was spoken by the prophets might be fulfilled: ‘He shall be called a Nazarene’ (2:23).”
When a teen asks, “Why is all of this stuff happening to me?” this Christmas season, let’s remind them of the Royal Family. God loved them. God favored them. One of them was God! Yet, God allowed trials and difficulties in their lives from the very beginning. Why did He do this? Because He was busy at-work, bringing about the greatest rescue plan the world has ever known, and leaving His fingerprints – through fulfilled prophecy – all over it so its truth could be discovered. I wonder how the world will see the fingerprints of God on our trials and difficulties some day.