And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. (Philippians 1:6 ESV)
When I was little, I was a dancer. Ballet, tap, jazz (or contemporary)… starting at 3 or 4 years old all the way through my early teens with surgeries in between, I danced. As a child, dancing was for me an outlet and a place where I could pour my heart out or even pour my heart into something. Even at home alone, I would put a record or cassette on (yes, I’m that old) and dance all over the living room, which consequently was something I did well into my 20’s when I was by myself to find or express my heart. I literally danced until I couldn’t dance anymore. And even now, when Stephen took me to the ballet for my birthday or when the music rises and falls and my spirit is reaching for the One I love the most, I can close my eyes and almost feel myself leap into a grand jete or turn and pirouette across the floor. In my soul, there is a dancer, but my body in chains could not even begin to stand in first position, much less bend into a demi-plie. This picture of the dancer within and the chains without is the great tension in which I live out all of my days.
It is the tension of the now and the not yet… the reaching with highest hopes and the waiting in the stormy present. It is a body that binds me when my heart reaches for more, legs that have trouble getting across the room when my heart dreams of climbing the heights of Everest. My body is broken and weak and bound, but sometimes my soul just cannot seem come to terms with that reality. And that is when the tears fall and the pain and loss can seem too much to bear. It feels like such a lonely reality at times, like I’m out here in the pounding storm all alone longing for the perfection of sunlight upon my face.
But isn’t that true of all of us to some degree? Is there any one of us who has somehow escaped the pain of a fallen world and all that comes with it? Broken bodies, broken hearts, broken relationships, broken creation… do any of us escape this age unscathed by those realities? We like to pretend like we do sometimes. Like if we just eat all the right things and avoid medicines and vaccines, we will somehow live forever and escape the reality that our bodies are dying every day and will one day, if the Lord tarries, give way to death and decay just like all of humanity since the great Fall. Or if we avoid conflicts and keep a positive attitude and are humble enough and righteous enough and trust God enough and choose just the right people as our friends, our hearts will never feel the sting of an unfriendly arrow or the pain of rejection. But I have never met a person, not one, whose body is not somehow showing signs of the wrinkles of this age (whether they want to admit it or not), nor have I met anyone who has managed to escape the broken ways we as broken people deal with one another and the scars we leave in our relational wakes. Whether intentionally or unintentionally, we will all get our feelings hurt; and shocking as it might seem to some of us, we will all hurt someone else’s feelings. Sadly, it seems to be the people we love the most who bear the brunt of our brokenness. And when any of the above happens, when the fractures, warts, and wrinkles begin to show, one of the hardest parts is that thing inside of us that shouts for something more, something better, “This isn’t right! This is NOT how it is supposed to be!” Even my six year old is stumbling through the pain of this in relationships… “why do they tease me if it hurts my feelings?” And so we say, “Well, sometimes kids just tease each other even though it’s not very nice.” And his little heart reaching for the something more says, “But I know that Jesus wouldn’t do that, and that is not how He wants it to be. So why?” There is just something in us that reaches for the perfect, the holy, and the ‘something more than this’ in the midst of the broken. We know it’s not quite right and so our hearts reel and search for an anchor to hold onto in the storm.
During Advent this last year, we focused a little more on the Old Testament and the history of our faith leading up to the birth of the Messiah. The first day we talked about the Righteous Branch and I was undone by the fullness of the story… the Tree in the beginning in the Garden, the Tree upon which He would be crucified, and at last, that Tree that stands in the Heavenly City when all things are made new. I was struck by this Branch who came forth from such a broken and wretched family tree… a tree that began in the Garden with the promise of One who would come forth and redeem us from this mess we ourselves had made. And then we talked about Creation, and the Fall and the heart of God crying out with longing, “where are you?” not because He didn’t know where Adam and Eve were, but because He wanted them to know that He cared about where they were. We continued to read about how wickedness flourished and all of humanity abandoned their Maker for lesser pleasures, and how His holy tears filled the oceans with judgment until the land was no more and wickedness was swallowed up by the perfect storm. But even there, God preserved Noah. He kept His promise to Adam and Eve that through their seed a Redeemer would come to restore humanity and creation to the goodness and perfection of that which was in the beginning in that Garden. And as a reminder, He arched His great love and faithfulness across the sky as a promise for Noah and his family, and for us all.
Even though the wickedness of the earth had been cleansed in the flood, the problem of sin remained. Man was created to love God and make His name great, but just a few generations after the flood the people of the earth gathered once again to make themselves great. God’s plan was that all of the earth would gather around the city of Jerusalem in the land of Israel and worship Him, but men had built a city called Babel to exalt themselves instead. To stop them, the Lord came down and made them all speak different languages, and thus, He scattered the nations. Yet even among the scattering nations, He preserved just one. In His amazing mercy, God did not stop His plan even after the earth gathered in rebellion against Him. God had chosen Noah’s son Shem to be the family from whom His Son would one day come, and it was Shem’s great great (many greats) grandson named Abram through whom God’s promise would continue. You know the rest of the stories… (if you don’t, pick up your Bible and read them again… you might be surprised what you find in those pages).
God preserved a man in a flood, a nation among the nations, and a tree from which the Righteous Branch would spring forth (the Branch who was also the Root). As a pillar of fire, the angel of the Lord, a cloud of smoke, a wooden ark, and a different kind of Ark in the Holy of Holies, and through priests and kings and judges and prophets, God maintained His Word. His promise remained from generation to generation, even as humanity rebelled and turned away and refused to believe… He orchestrated all of history among nations who had mostly forgotten and forsaken God, so that in a tiny town and in a persecuted nation, God would be born in the flesh in a stinky stable with just a teenage girl, a young adoptive father, and some sheep there to greet Him. God in the flesh grew up and walked around on the earth and said stuff and did stuff. Selah. God invited us into His heart again and cried out, just as He had a million times before, “I haven’t forgotten My promise… I still want you to be with Me where I am.”
But the story wasn’t over yet. This God-Man, He would die upon a bloody tree and breathe His last and all of the hopes of the disciples would be crushed in one unthinkable moment. “This isn’t how it is supposed to be. This wasn’t supposed to happen!” How could the Promised One, the Messiah, die? And there they were in the stormy and unthinkable present reeling and reaching once again for the Hope that assures that He isn’t done with us yet. But of course, because we have the privilege of knowing the rest of the story, we know that in fact, Jesus is not dead, but that our Redeemer lives! And as Job said so powerfully and prophetically thousands of years ago, we will one day stand with Him in the flesh upon the earth and we will finally see Jesus as clearly as we are seen and known. The rainbow faithfully reigns across the sky even now in our stormy present to remind us that He is not through with us yet. His Story isn’t over… not even close.
I was so struck by taking a step back and looking at the entire story and seeing how God wove these broken, little lives into the enormity of His plan… He took their weak little yes’s and even their turning away and faltering and He redeemed it all and turned it all for their good, and our good. And He’s not done with us yet. There’s still so much more. That dancer in me who longs for a day without chains will dance and leap and sing and fall before a God who is coming to make all things new again.
I know and believe that Jesus could heal me tomorrow, but that Day – when all is unhindered and we are face to Face with the Holy Three is still the better Day. It will always be better. That is the Day that I am truly longing for in my heart of hearts. Because there with Jesus, face to Face, unhindered and unbroken… that right there is the fullness of the hope of the ages, the City that those in Hebrews 11 were reaching for, and the real reason for the tension that exists within us in the midst of the brokenness of today. It won’t be right until He comes. It just won’t…
But even here in the waiting, my heart doesn’t faint with despair. We have an anchor to hold on to. Why? Because there is a banner swinging wildly and passionately over me and over you… that bow of color stretched across the sky that says, “I promise. I am coming!” Jesus is the beginning and the end of the story, the first and last Word, the Alpha and Omega. He is my past and my future. And here in the stormy present, He is the rainbow reaching across the dark and cloudy skies to remind me that the story far from over yet.
Outside I am in chains, bound by a body broken and weak, and truly there are days when I feel that the walls of this prison are closing in to crush me completely. But inside, I am a dancer, gliding and spinning and leaping across the stage of creation. Inside I fly, I soar, I sing, I dance without limitation. And above me… a rainbow.
His promises are true. This Hope is real… my soul is anchored in the promise that breaks these chains and annihilates the prison walls forever… this is the truth that sets me free. Because you see… Hope… He is coming for me.
Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. For by it the people of old received their commendation…
These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city…
And what more shall I say? For time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets— who through faith conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, were made strong out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight. Women received back their dead by resurrection. Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life. Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword.They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated— of whom the world was not worthy—wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth.
And all these, though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised, since God had provided something better for us, that apart from us they should not be made perfect.
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 11 & 12:1-2 ESV)
Behold, He is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see Him, even those who pierced Him, and all tribes of the earth will wail on account of Him. Even so. Amen.
“I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.” (Revelation 1:7-8 ESV)