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Disarmed by Holy Innocence

26 Dec

 

“….on earth peace, good will toward men.” – Luke 2:14, KJV

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In our reading from Isaiah we just heard:

For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given,
and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the greatness of his government and peace
there will be no end.

This is no doubt an amazing Christmas text, prophesying the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ…

But look at what comes right before it!:

You have shattered the yoke of their burden,

the bar across their shoulders,

and the rod of their oppressor.

5For every trampling boot of battle

and every garment rolled in blood

will be burned as fuel for the fire.

Now, what is that all about?

Well, Christmas is actually nothing unless it is about the real peace that comes to us in the midst of real conflict on earth…

Even though we may have known a time of relative peace for a good many years, the overriding theme of human history is one of sin and conflict.

Men at war with one another. One scholar described it like this:

As it is in my own life history, so it is in world history, as a part. We should speak more cautiously and soberly in the plural, of world histories: namely, the histories of great social groups or movements; the histories of alliances, nations, and blocs; histories which stand apart and never merge into a world history in the singular. These world histories are nothing but the histories of the seeking, enforcing, denying, or lacking of mutual recognition. They are the histories of vindications and the assigning of guilt. They are one long story of the battle for mutual recognition, a life and death battle. In this regard, then, we can indeed speak of a world history in the singular (Bayer, Justification and Sanctification, p. 4)

And so, in part because of the search for recognition and status (things like pleasures too, right?), oppression occurs. And that, in part, is why Isaiah writes as he does.

At the same time, it is not like life is best described as perpetual misery and suffering.

Even as its true that men war with one another, the Apostle Paul tells us that God also grants all people in this life – not only Christians – a real measure of joy (see Acts 14).

And not only this, but Christians themselves also begin to gain glimmers of hope and peace that passes all understanding, even as they too, sadly, have fought one another on opposite sides in wars…

And, so yes – back to that, to the fact of conflict.

Why, ultimately, are things like this?

It is because mankind, the crown of God’s creation, is at war with God.

This is one of the most important things we can know.

The Bible calls mankind rebels, God’s enemies even…

And so, what does He do?

Does He go to total war against man?

No.

I’ll tell you what He does instead in the form of a little story I once heard.

It begins like this:

“Once upon a time in a large forest there lived a very furry bunny. He had one lop ear, a tiny black nose, and unusually shiny eyes. His name was Barrington.

Barrington was not really a very handsome bunny. He was brown and speckled and his ears didn’t stand up right. But he could hop, and he was, as I have said, very furry….”

As we read on in this story, we discover that Barringon liked winter in some ways, but not others.

He was, we learn, the only bunny in the forest, and therefore couldn’t gather together with family for Christmas like the other animals could….

He consoled himself by “Hop, Hop, Hippity-hop[ping]” in the forest and thinking to himself “Bunnies…can hop. And they are very warm, too, because of how furry they are.”

When it got dark, Barrington decided to go home and came across a squirrel family in the trees and a beaver family by the river, both of which seemed to be having a wonderful time. He asked if he could partake in their celebrations, but they both said no to him.

First, he was told that he was a bunny, not a squirrel, and that bunnies could not climb trees, which is where their house was. Next, he was told that he was a bunny, not a beaver, and that bunnies could not swim, and their house was in the river.

He wished them both a Merry Christmas but went away very sad, consoling himself again that he could hop and was very furry and warm. Nevertheless, he began to grow very sad, and begin to cry, thinking “Bunnies… aren’t any good to anyone. What good is it to be furry and to be able to hop if you don’t have any family on Christmas Eve?”

Suddenly, however, Barrington realizes that a great silver wolf is watching him. He isn’t afraid, but we hear that “The wolf was large and strong and his eyes flashed fire. He was the most beautiful animal Barrington had ever seen.”

After being silent for a while, the wolf “slowly and deliberately” speaks, asking Barrington why he is sitting in the snow. Barrington tells the wolf that bunnies aren’t any good to anyone and the wolf says that they in fact are, because they can hop and are very warm.

“It is very good indeed,” the wolf says…, “because it is a gift that bunnies are given, a free gift with no strings attached. And every gift that is given to anyone is given for a reason. Someday you will see why it is good to hop and to be warm and furry.”

At first Barringon doubts, but the wolf convinces him that all the animals of the forest are his family. And so, thought Barrington, “All of the animals in the forest are my family… It’s good to be a bunny. Bunnies can hop. That’s a gift.” And then he said it again. “A gift. A free gift.”

On the way past the beavers’ house, he leaves a stick at their door, with a note: “A free gift. No strings attached. Signed, a member of your family.” Going along, he thinks “It is a good thing that I can hop… because the snow is very deep.” He also digs up some dead leaves and grass to make the squirrels’ nest warmer and leaves them the same kind of note: “A gift. A free gift. From a member of your family.”

It was late though, and a blizzard was beginning. He gets lost, the wind howls furiously, and the cold sets in… Realizing that he might freeze if he does not get home quickly, he then hears a small “Squeak, squeak”. It’s a baby field mouse, lost in the snow…

I’ll directly quote from the short story now:

“I’m lost,” sobbed the little fellow. “I’ll never find my way home, and I know I’m going to freeze.”

“You won’t freeze,” said Barrington. “I’m a bunny and bunnies are very furry and warm. You stay right where you are and I’ll cover you up.”

Barrington lay on top of the little mouse and hugged him tight. The tiny fellow felt himself surrounded by warm fur. He cried for awhile but soon, snug and warm, he fell asleep.

Barrington had only two thoughts that long, cold night. First he thought, “It’s good to be a bunny. Bunnies are very furry and warm.” And then, when he felt the heart of the tiny mouse beating regularly, he thought, “All the animals in the forest are my family.”

Next morning, the field mice found their little boy, asleep in the snow, warm and snug beneath the furry carcass of a dead bunny. Their relief and excitement was so great that they didn’t even think to question where the bunny had come from.

And as for the beavers and the squirrels, they still wonder which member of their family left the little gift for them that Christmas Eve.

After the field mice had left, Barrington’s frozen body simply lay in the snow. There was no sound except that of the howling wind. And no one anywhere in the forest noticed the great silver wolf who came to stand beside that brown, lop-eared carcass.

But the wolf did come.

And he stood there.

Without moving or saying a word.

All Christmas Day.

Until it was night.

And then he disappeared into the forest.

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I just told you an abbreviated version of the already short story “Barrington Bunny” found in Martin Bell’s book The Way of the Wolf.

The story, which I heard read to me at a camp retreat with my church youth group in the late 1980s, became quite well known in some Christian circles, memorable as it is.

Still, I confess that it’s easy for me to be cynical about stories like this…

Like a lot of those Disney films about animals acting like people, in some ways it seems designed to just manipulate your emotions.

And, you know, the Bible reading from Isaiah doesn’t seem to totally jive with it either… with its mentions of warriors’ boots, battles, and blood.

Also, even as the story is designed to get us to think about Jesus Christ, we might wonder how closely Barrington’s sorrows and trials match up with those of our Lord and Savior… (and Jesus was a bit stronger to be sure!)

And yet, and yet… many of us will no doubt find the message of personal sacrifice and love in this story very compelling.

Such a story disarms us. What could be more disarming, less threatening, than a soft, cuddly, loving bunny?

In like fashion, the Gospel of Jesus Christ utterly disarms us.

What could be more disarming, less threatening, than a simple, humble infant?

You know what I am talking about right? Even from just an earthly perspective, people will find themselves taken off guard by how a baby can melt a hard heart.

We are told that the eternal, the immortal, the Almighty God who made heaven and earth and whose name is hallowed – that means, is set apart from all created things – how he Himself “takes on human flesh” and becomes one of us, in the form of an infant.[i]

And we are disarmed!

It is man’s fallen nature to be terrified of God – strenuously suppressing this though we may.

It is God’s nature, though, to disarm us.

He does not desire to hide his tender mercies from you….

Yes, don’t get me wrong:

God is indeed a warrior!

He is the One who fights His battle against those who oppose Him and His people. He will come again in judgment!

but look how He came on the scene… and comes to us now

…as this not only humble and simple but pure and innocent baby who will grow into the pure and innocent Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.

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In any earthly conflict, deceiving your enemy is a critical element.

And some people in the early church thought that the Father and Son defeated the devil by deception.

The idea was like the worm on a fishhook, with Jesus being the worm. When the devil bit and swallowed him, that is, sending him to the tomb of his belly, he got more than he bargained for.

Tricked into eating God Himself, his belly could not hold Jesus, and He burst forth on the third day, leaving a slain devil, death, and sin in His wake.

It is no doubt a helpful picture to think about. At the same time, I don’t think that Jesus deceived anyone.

The innocent baby Jesus grew into the innocent Lamb of God who simply lived in accordance with God’s law, who lived by love and who by doing so made everything right.

…whose perfect life and innocent death for the forgiveness of sins now becomes ours.

Through faith in Him we stand holy and righteous before God!

Satan may have misinterpreted what all of this meant – and tragically so for him. This, however, is not because God deceived him but because evil always must destroy itself, deceive itself. For there is no life, light, and love in it….

So again, in many ways, the story of Barrington is really a great picture of how God disarms us, His enemies, with His pure and innocent gift.

Yes, man is at war with God, but this is one of the other most important things we can know.

In a world racked by fear, those of other religions have attempted to appease their god though sacrifice and deeds, but the Bible tells us that it is only through Jesus Christ that man can know the grace of God which overcomes sin, death, and the devil, and  to know true love….

And so, as the Apostle John simply says we love because He first loved us….The world doesn’t know the kind of love that does this.

But we do know such love, and so we can begin to know peace.

We can begin to know trust… and live for Him, like the Apostle Paul describes in our Epistle reading for this morning…[ii]

And then, even as Christians might end up fighting with one another, things happen that remind us of what can, and should

…and will, bring us together.

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One more quick story, this time from history.

In the Christmas of 1914, there was a day and a half truce of sorts between some soldiers in the trenches fighting in World War 1. What happened is that one side began to hear the other side singing Christmas hymns. And saw them setting up Christmas trees on their parapets, the walls protecting their trenches. Soon, both sides sang, and then one shouted “Tomorrow you no shoot, we no shoot”…. And so, for the next 1.5 days, the men offered one another drinks and cigarettes, spoke with one another, and even kicked a soccer ball around.

In the midst of a brutal, total war, the presence of the Prince of Peace had brought a bit of a respite. The world was amazed. Even as these men picked up fighting again, as was their duty to their nations, afterwards.

And so as we come out of the Christmas season and face once again all the challenges that lie before us in the world, know that we are some of the most blessed men and women on earth.

For we are among the “all people” who have not only been offered salvation, but given this great, great, gift.

Know that we have the message that gives peace not as the world gives, the tender and gentle and humble and simple love of our God, who, for us, took on human flesh, becoming man, specifically in order to die for our sins and bring us to God.

And hence we sing of this great love in a hymn like “What child is this?”

Why lies he in such mean estate
Where ox and ass are feeding?
Good Christians, fear, for sinners here
The silent Word is pleading.
Nails, spear shall pierce him through,
The cross be borne for me, for you;
Hail, hail the Word made flesh,
The babe, the son of Mary.

On earth peace, and good will toward men!

Amen

 

 

 

[i] One wonders what was going through the angel’s mind when he appeared and made his announcement to the shepherds?:

And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

Joy to the world!

And this is the baby who of course will grow into that 12 year old boy who causes the teachers in the Temple to marvel! Who will grow into the simple carpenter from Nazareth baptized by John the Baptist. Who will begin His world-changing ministry by choosing disciples not from among the elites but from the common man….

13 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,

14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”

Or as the King James version puts it“….on earth peace, good will toward men.”

[ii]11 For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. 12 It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, 13 while we wait for the blessed hope—the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, 14 who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.

 

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Posted by on December 26, 2020 in Uncategorized

 

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