Thursday, December 31, 2009

Tender Mercy

“And you, my child, will be called a prophet of the Most High; for you will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for Him, to give His people the knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins, because of the tender mercy of our God, by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven…”

When John the Baptist was born, these were some of the first words out of the mouth of his previously mute father. Mary was still pregnant with Jesus when this prophecy was uttered, but He was almost here. Soon would come the trip to Bethlehem for a poor young couple on their own. Soon would come the Braxton Hicks contractions, and then after that, the real thing: labor. Soon would come Baby Jesus. Soon after that would come some scruffy and wide-eyed shepherds to see the baby in the middle of the night. Were they nervous and awkward while holding Him? Probably depends on whether or not they had kids of their own. The seasoned vets probably showed the young guys how it was done; swaying and shushing the tiny boy, praying and saying a blessing with tears in their eyes, as my dad did over my three babies.

Have you ever stopped to think about the fact that Almighty God allowed people to hold Him in their arms? He allowed dirty fingers to touch His perfect hands. In the Garden of Eden, God made clothes for that first fallen couple, but in Bethlehem God let a fallen couple dress Him. The Word of God allowed people to teach Him how to talk. The Creator of rain and crops let people provide his nourishment. God let old men ruffle His hair and old women pinch His cheeks. He let little kids cut Him in line. He allowed Himself to be ignored, talked about and picked last in dodge ball. He permitted people to mistreat, lie about and betray Him. God let people arrest Him for no reason, torture and kill Him and He never said a word to stop any of it.

He could have thundered. He could have exploded in rage and wrath. He could have dealt out justice for every sin. He could have snapped His fingers and this world would be undone… unmade with a word as it was made with a word, but He never did. Zechariah, prophesying after his son’s birth talked of Jesus and how he would deal with sin by forgiving it because of the tender mercy of our God. He came helpless, restrained, permissive and patient. In His mercy, He made a way for forgiveness without opening His mouth.

In Philippians 2, Paul says, “Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus.” Jesus had every right to respond to sins against Himself with frustration, anger and justice for the sinner, but He didn’t stand on His rights, He stood on mercy. Tender Mercy. We’re supposed to be like Him, which means that we don’t really have the right to any anger, revenge, grudge, bitterness, explosive frustration or even personal justice. We have the right to be tenderly merciful and leave the justice and vengeance to God. In this next year, people are going to drive you crazy and treat you unfairly. They may talk about you or hurt your feelings, but don’t be ruled by your natural response and don’t think only about what’s wrong and right… instead, be like Jesus. Let it all happen. Have mercy.

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