Thursday, January 3, 2008

Back to Normal

Christmas is over, the artificial tree is put away, and holiday visitors are gone. New Year's diets have begun as we try to shed the pounds of Christmas treats we consumed. So we are back to our normal routine again. We like holiday breaks but we may like getting back to our normal routine even more. But what is normal, anyway? After Christmas the news was grim. Stocks were down, oil was up. There were reports of ethnic cleansing in Kenya. Pakistan was on the verge of chaos after Bhutto's assasination. Millions were homeless, jobless and hopless around the world.

In Matthew's gospel, after Christmas was hardly back to normal either. There was a surprising visit from foreign royal astronomers who read the stars and found their way to the Christ Child. When they got there they worshipped and were overcome with joy. Hardly normal when you consider that the normal thing would have been for the ones who knew the Old Testament scriptures and who lived nearby to pay a visit. Yet, it was the outsiders who came to Jesus birthday party and the insiders who apparently didn't have a clue or didn't care. Matthew is telling us that the gospel is for all people.

Then we read the disturbing story of King Herod, hardly a normal guy. It is said he killed his wife and other members of the royal family for suspected alliances against him. When he was close to death himself he had numerous citizens of Jerusalem killed so there would be plenty of mourning when he died. After the wise men's visit, he had all the children under two killed in Jesus hometown. This may have been normal behavior for Herod but Jesus birth hardly heralded a sense of normalcy for the area of his birth.

From this moment things were not normal when Jesus was around. Plenty of people found help and healing in his presence but many others were profoundly threatened by him, just as Herod was. "The shadow of the cross" fell over his life from this point on. Jesus turned things upside down. People, too.

I know people whose lives were changed dramatically when they met Jesus. And not only when they met him but all their lives. I heard from a friend who is a pastor and has been for almost 30 years. He has been at his last church for well over 20 years. His family is raised. He is getting close to his retirement dreams. Instead, he and his wife are selling out and moving to Texas to join a new church planting mission in some of the most unchurched areas of the world. He is trying to raise his own support. That is not normal. At least the way our culture views it.

Following Jesus often leads to all sorts of non normal behavior. Like the wise men, followers of Christ are on a journey. It is tempting to stay still, to become comfortable and secure in our careful lifestyle planning. Plenty of Christians are settled down and the excitement has gone out of their lives. Their lives are as normal as they can make them. There is nothing wrong with enjoying the comforts home and family bring. Just so long as we don't forsake the journey. God may not call you to leave home and job to take long trips to follow him. A lot of times the journey is much shorter. It may be to the living room early in the morning for a quiet time of prayer and Bible study. It may be across the street to care for someone home from the hospital. It may be to the other side of town to ask for forgiveness or to give it.

There will be a journey. Like the wise men, that's where we will find the joy of the Lord.