Scandalous, Unthinkable Nearness

Romans 5:7-8 (ESV)
For one will scarcely die for a righteous person – though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die – but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

When other people wound me – whether through their words, actions or their failure to take appropriate action – my willingness to “draw near” to them dries up pretty quickly. You too? I suspect most of us share that tendency to one degree or another.

The all-too-typical response to being offended by another is to 1) draw back, 2) lick our wounds for a bit and perseverate endlessly over how horribly we have been wronged, 3) engage in destructive gossip with others, and then, finally, 4) disappear entirely – or at least as much as possible – from each other’s lives. The slightly-better outcome many of us are familiar with is to slowly re-establish contact, typically in the face of external demands – family gatherings must go forward, work relationships are not going to change anytime soon, etc. – but most often this is done haltingly and begrudgingly, frequently accompanied by a clear acknowledgement that “The relationship will never be the same; the damage is too great.”

Far more precious are those times when interpersonal conflict actually enriches a relationship.

The Birth and Death of JesusIn this season of Advent, my prayer for God’s people is that we will collectively meditate on just how incredibly scandalous it is that God chooses, on purpose, to draw near to us in love. He drew near to us in Eden, even after we rebelled. He drew near to us at Sinai, to show a horde of ungrateful rebels how to live at peace with Him and our fellow man. But when God drew near to us through the birth of Jesus, He gave Himself over to His image-bearers in actual flesh and blood; feet that could be anointed with the most costly of perfumes could also be pierced through with a crucifixion spike, hands that could miraculously multiply bread, give sight to the blind, and fashion cords into a whip to drive idolaters from His temple could also be impaled with spikes as part of an agonizing execution.

Although it’s an obvious truth, it’s only been in the past few years, really, that I have come to appreciate that the events of Christmas in Bethlehem took place in full view of the march to crucifixion on Golgotha and that the wooden feeding trough of His birth was a divine foreshadowing of the wooden cross on which He would die. Not one single thing took Jesus by surprise as He marched from Bethlehem to a hill outside Jerusalem.

The scandal of God drawing near hits me hard, especially in those moments of temptation where I am readily inclined to close off my heart toward another “sin sufferer” like myself. Yes, there are those with whom I would rather not engage, and probably would find myself unwilling even to cross the street to say “Hello” to, let alone climb down off the perfect throne of Heaven to enter my own Creation via a stinking barn filled with animals. The awareness of my own reluctance to draw near to others is made all the worse by the certain knowledge that I too am a great sinner, entirely unlike Jesus in His perfection. My “journey” from the throne of my own heart toward another person is infinitely shorter than the distance Jesus traveled to be with me.

As we go about our lives this week and next, I pray that we who claim Jesus as our Savior might pause for just one second to actually notice (and quickly confess in prayer) those moments when we find our hearts in any way unwilling to draw near to another. While it goes without saying that this world is filled-to-bursting with people who are not “safe” for us to reach out to, I think we far more often demonstrate an unwillingness to draw near to those who have not necessarily dishonored God or the laws of the state, but dishonored us.

How great is our God, then, that He refused to wait until we had “gotten our act together” sufficiently to come closer to us in the Person of Jesus. How amazing – and yes, scandalous – that He did not set forth Minimum Requirements for Personal Holiness prior to allowing the Holy Spirit to take up residence in our hearts.

God is never too busy for you. That’s how close he is. That’s the kind of love that he has. Psalm 145:18 says, “The Lord is near to all who call on him.” Every time you call, God is near. He thinks about you a lot more than you think about him. He thought about you before you were born. He thinks about you every moment of every day. The truth is that too many times, we get too busy for God. But he never gets too busy for us.
God Is Close” by Rick Warren

Psalm 34:18 (ESV)
The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit.

James 4:8
Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.

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