On Sunday, I put my Jesse tree ornaments on my Christmas tree. My flatmate is Lutheran, and I didn’t want to put the ornaments on the tree until Advent had properly begun for all of us.
As I put the ornaments on the tree, I found myself thinking about the people depicted on the ornaments. They are the great heroes of the Old Testament-David, Abraham, Samuel, Miriam, Moses, Elijah etc. They are people who lived their lives with great faith in a God whom they could not see. They were given a promise, but the promise was not fulfilled in any of their lifetimes. But that did not keep them from faith.
As I put up the ornaments, I found myself thinking about Hebrews 12 saying “Since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us…run to Jesus.” Ordinarily, I think of this in terms of the Saints of the Church-St. Peter, St. Andrew, St. Barbara, St. Cecilia, etc. But as I looked at the ornaments, I realized that these Old Testament figures are just as much a part of that cloud of witnesses. Samuel is no less a member of that great cloud than St. Nicholas. They had a different vision of holiness, but they each lived a life of holiness and sanctity according to the knowledge that they had in their day and age.
And as I kept thinking about that, I found my mind traveling to the end of the eleventh chapter of Hebrews. “And all these, having obtained a good testimony through faith, did not receive the promise, God having provided something better for us, that they should not be made perfect apart from us.” (Hebrews 11:39-40) On this side of paradise, I have a limited understanding of the Divine Plan. I don’t know why exactly the Messiah had to come when and where he came. I only know that it happened because it was God’s plan.
While the timing or the place might not make sense to me, the reason is simple. God had a plan. It was a better plan than a plan to send the Messiah at the time of Samuel or Nehemiah or the Maccabees. It was a plan that somehow included us in a way that another plan would not.
And that’s a really beautiful thing. God sent the Messiah into the world at time that would benefit us. He thought of us. From all eternity, he chose to send the Messiah into the world at a time that would be the best time not only for the people of that time but for the all people in all times. The Incarnation was not for one time or one place. It was for all times and all places. It happened in one time and one place, but it happened in such a way as to impact all that had come before it and all that would come after it. The time was perfectly chosen from all eternity.
I find a great deal of hope and encouragement in this. Like any normal person, I struggle with understanding God’s plan at times. I don’t get why things do or don’t happen. I don’t always understand his timing. I know that his ways are perfect and his times are perfect. But that perfection does not automatically mean that I understand what is happening. A few years ago, I went through a very bitter and confusing season of life. In the moment, I could not understand it. Even now, I occasionally look back on it and wonder why that had to be a chapter of my life. I know that I’ve come out the other side, and I believe that both my life and myself as a person are better for that season. But I don’t fully understand why it happened. Regardless, I know that God had a plan for that season as for all of my seasons.
I don’t have to understand that plan today. I don’t have to understand it next week or next year. I may never know on this side of paradise. But I do know that I was guided through that season by a good and loving God. I know that I came out the other side because of God. I know that while I have plans for my life he has a better plan.
As I’ve been meditating on St. Joseph this Advent, I’ve been struck by that thought. Joseph, a humble carpenter from Nazareth, had some plans. He probably figured that he was going to marry a nice girl. They’d have a few children and grow old together. Instead, he married the Theotokos, the Mother of God. The only child he ever raised was not his biological child but rather the Son of the Living God.
God interrupted St. Joseph’s plans in order to bring about a more perfect plan. He spent much of the Old Testament interrupting Moses’s and David’s plans for a quiet life and elevating them to greatness. God interrupted the Israelites’ plans for a warlike king as Messiah with a humble servant crucified outside the walls of Jerusalem. God will interrupt our plans whether or not we want him to. The great saints throughout history teach us that our only real option is to get out of the way and allow him to act.
Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.