Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Joy: Being Trees in the Forest

Thinking about the theme of Joy . . . I have the most joy when I am immersed in Story. Usually it’s fiction (often children’s fiction), but I find the same is true for my own day-to-day as well. I thrive on purpose, plot lines, and meaningful characters. Maybe that’s why I love the season of Advent and the narrative of Christmas so much. We can see the arc of the story from the back story of the ancient prophets to the climax of Jesus’ birth, and then the anticipation of a sequel and the glorious finale.

I was not a literature major in college, but having studied history, I appreciate the way I can look back at an event or time and see the why’s and how’s of the story—in this case, God’s hand on human history.

In his book, A Million Miles in a Thousand Years, Donald Miller speaks a lot about Story. After having read Victor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning, Miller summarizes that each of our individual stories is part of a larger story, saying, “I am a tree in a story about a forest, and it is arrogant of me to believe any differently. The story of the forest is better than the story of the tree.” Later he drew a similar comparison to the life of Job: Job found contentment and even joy, outside the context of comfort, health or stability. He understood the story was not about him, and he cared more about the story then he did about himself.”

I think this was Mary’s perspective when she said yes to the angel Gabriel; Joseph’s when he chose to carry out his betrothal to Mary; the Magi’s when they dropped everything to follow a star; the shepherds’ when they sought out a Savior in swaddling clothes; and Jesus’ when he did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men . . . and humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” (Philippians 2:6-8)

The arc of any story is about transformation. In our own lives it is often so hard to see. Yet looking back we can often see each valley, mole hill and mountain for what they truly were. When I was young, my family would gather together each night of Advent to read from an Advent calendar and devotional. There was one time we read the following quote from Calvin Miller’s The Christ of Christmas:

“We must look to Mary's example to know how to deal with the glorious impossibilities of God. Look how she turned the world upside down by making one simple statement.”

The phrase “glorious impossibilities” jumped off the page at me. I have remembered it to this day as a word-picture of Advent. Mary’s story was one “tree” in the “forest,” yet it made an impact. May we find joy at being included in His far-reaching story.

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