Back in the 1980s I did part of my student teaching in a third-grade classroom. I got to introduce children to the wonderful world of fractions. In some ways my degree, teaching credentials, and career rested on my ability to help the children learn to use fractions. For the children, and more than a few of their parents, I opened the door to some mystical world that defied logic.
I think math books should be sold at the checkout counter right next to Peoplemagazine. Certainly the Pythagorean theorem is more fascinating than the latest Hollywood scandal. Impulse buyers should not be able to resist mathematical beauty.
Before my students could venture into the world of algebra, geometry and statistics, they needed to grasp and celebrate a world between whole numbers. And I got to take them there! Of course they had experienced less than whole when their first bottle approached that sad sucking sound. They had reduced their parents’ sleeping time to a fragment of what it had been before their blessed arrival. Cough syrup and other medicines came through little tubes with hash marks indicating parts of the whole. Fractions should be no problem for little people of normal intelligence and a vast body of experience.
Yet many of them suffered.
I lovingly explained the concepts many times. I used paper puzzles. I even pulled out the ultimate weapon, chocolate candy bars, to explain the bigger the number on the bottom (everybody say denominator), the smaller the fraction. Most of them got it. I passed student teaching, graduated, and got a job.
Walking through Luke 2 shows how we all experience the disorienting world of new understanding even though our daily lives are saturated with truth. I marvel at God’s patience as we wrestle with His commitment to reclaim all things from the brokenness of sin. Deliberately walking through the chapter makes His love palpable for me. It is like the story is unfolding right before my eyes.
God displayed His grace everywhere, yet most did not grasp it. Some people call the years between Malachi and the birth of Christ the 400 years of silence. God has never been silent. Every sunrise and every rain drop conveyed God’s love. Not only did creation declare God’s ongoing conversation with humanity, the Spirit still spoke to devout men and women. Simeon and Anna heard God. Anna prophesied under the direction of the Spirit. They patiently anticipated the fulfillment of what they had heard.
With the birth of Jesus, God spoke in a new way. He chose to use questionable taxation practices to fulfill Old Testament prophecies. He sent angels to invite shepherd boys to see grace incarnate. Joseph and Mary had the courage to make the journey as an engaged couple – evidently Mary’s dad expelled her from his house rather than waiting for the wedding celebration.
The parents could not fully grasp what was happening. The shepherds’ revelation brought wonder to them and others who stood by the manger. Something about the boys’ encounter caused Mary to ponder what she thought she already knew. Presenting the child at the temple bought new understanding. Simeon blessed the parents and warned Mary of heart piercings to come.
Parenting the Christ must have brought many moments of wonder. Jesus’ four-day conversation with temple teachers brought anxiety, distress, astonishment, and deepening awareness of how little they understood their son. Mary wisely treasured all new information in her heart even though she would not understand their meaning until decades later. This One who submitted to them continued to grow in wisdom and favor with God and humanity.
The early church could not grasp the full meaning of angelic words regarding great joy for all people and peace on earth. Simeon’s prophetic words of salvation for all people groups and revelation for the Gentiles sounded as strange to the church as the new world of fractions did to my eight year-olds.
As I walk through the chapter I hear young angels with glittered wings grinning from ear to ear as they race through their lines before family members. How can six-year-old children drama team members understand these words? As shepherds poke each other with staffs and prance because they need to go to the bathroom, these eternal words echo through the congregation – a congregation that has heard the words often before. They smile and take pictures. They fail to marvel and treasure words that have not fully come to pass. I must value these words afresh as I approach the later seasons of my life.
The wonderful truths still await their fulfillment. I have experienced kingdom power most of my life just as children live in a world of fractions. Though I breath kingdom air, I still have new truths and behaviors just beyond my mental, spiritual, and emotional reach. These partially realized truths call me to pray.
Thank You for never being silent. Sometimes Your voice booms with tidal wave strength, while at other times only patient and spiritually focused people will hear Your small voice. I worship You for the things I have heard. I repent of times that I have set my ear to the wrong frequency.
Your birth still contains truths just beyond my reach. Sometimes I feel like the shepherds; I marvel at the divine invitation to leave mundane things behind and gaze into a beautiful eternity when all creation is restored. At other times I feel like elder Simeon who heard the Spirit’s tug for decades. I believe, but I also wonder what it will be like to hold the promises in my hand. Today I feel like Mary. I have heard new things these past few months. These new things build on the foundation of truths I heard four and five decades ago. The new things bring fresh hope mingled with perplexity. I hide them in my heart.
Thank you for Your patience. Like a gifted math teacher, You have introduced and reinforced the wonder of Your kingdom coming and Your will being done in all the earth. My eyes sparkle with a new dawning of awareness. New faith, new trust, and new sense of Your gifts in my life call me forward.
I celebrate these kingdom impulses today, and I anticipate even more astonishment in the days to come. The pain in my heart truly does not compare to the possibilities I sense in the spirit.
In Jesus’ name,