This year we have been more keenly aware of what Jerusalem must have felt like when the Magi arrived from the east searching for Jesus, as described in Matthew 2:
After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”
When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him.
We know how the story continues—the part we like is played out in Nativity scenes across the world with wise men in splendid robes bowing low to worship and offer gifts to the Christ-child.
But we seem to skip the next part:
When they had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. “Get up,” he said, “take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.”
And we definitely skip the last part:
When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi. Then what was said through the prophet Jeremiah was fulfilled:
“A voice is heard in Ramah,
weeping and great mourning,
Rachel weeping for her children
and refusing to be comforted,
because they are no more.”
A ruler, shaken, his grip on power threatened by the announcement of a birth, lashes out and kills all the baby boys in a town.
A whole city shaken by that same announcement.
A family shaken—on the run fleeing the backlash against their obedience to God’s call on their lives.
A town shaken by a ruler’s rage. Families flung into deep grief at the senseless slaughter of their beloved baby boys.
We are becoming more familiar with that feeling—and we don’t like it! A global pandemic with all its repercussions. A hotly contested US Presidential election in a deeply divided country. A growing list of violent global conflicts. Perhaps you can add your own personal shaking circumstances?
Amid the shaking in 2020 a scripture portion from Hebrews 12:26-29 has been the recurring subject of prayer and reflection, reminding us that God has been shaking things for eternal purposes.
At that time his voice shook the earth, but now he has promised, “Once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.” The words “once more” indicate the removing of what can be shaken—that is, created things—so that what cannot be shaken may remain.
Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our “God is a consuming fire.”
We don’t like the shaking. We want it to stop. We scramble to try to fix things and control events that are largely beyond anyone’s control.
It has been our ongoing prayer that the shaking of 2020 will loosen our grip, as God’s people, on anything other than God’s unshakeable Kingdom and his unchanging purposes. That we won’t trust in familiar routines and comfortable habits in our walk with God, but rather that each of us press into a greater intimacy and abiding in Him, which is the source of enduring stability.
It has also been our ongoing prayer that the shaking of 2020 will expose the faulty foundations that those yet outside the Body have built their lives upon, and that the quest for stability will lead to the only sure foundation found only in the salvation offered through the finished work of Jesus Christ on the cross.
This Christmas, as our normal celebrations are shaken, may we press in to know the one who came as a wee babe, lived and died for us, and who now can hold us when all around is shaking.
Lorna Johnston is the Diaspora Ministries Leader at Outreach Canada. She leads two national teams--Loving Muslims Together (LMT) and Simply Mobilizing Canada (SMC). She works with teams of diverse and experienced leaders and ministries across Canada to alert and activate the church in Canada to the changing opportunities to engage God's mission right here in Canada.