I recently created a 31-day Advent/Christmas devotional booklet for my church called “Glory to God in the Highest.” I will be posting a devotional from it each day between now and the end of the year. Enjoy!
Scripture: Matthew 2:13-15, 19-23
In keeping with the spirit of Christmas, the holiday classic Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer begins with the birth of an unconventional child: baby Rudolph has a glowing red nose! Unlike in the Christmas story, however, Rudolph’s parents are not happy about it. In fact, the first thing that Rudolph’s mother, Mrs. Donner, says when she sees her son’s glowing nose is, “We’ll simply have to overlook it.”
Overlook it? Why can’t Rudolph’s mother conceive that this unusual feature of her son’s anatomy, far from being a problem, might actually be a gift or a blessing in some way?
In a new book he wrote with his wife, an English pastor and theologian named Andrew Wilson reflects on his experience parenting his two young children, who have autism. Having children with special needs, he writes, is like being at a dinner party at which all the other guests receive a “chocolate orange” for dessert. (A chocolate orange is a British candy in the shape of orange wedges, which are wrapped in foil.)
While you watch all of your friends receive creamy, sumptuous chocolate oranges, the host of the party hands you an actual orange instead. Wilson writes:
Special needs, like the orange, are unexpected. We didn’t plan for them, and we didn’t anticipate them. Because our children are such a beautiful gift, we often feel guilty for even saying this, but we might as well admit that we didn’t want our children to have autism, any more than we wanted them to have Down’s, or cerebral palsy, or whatever else. Give or take, we wanted pretty much what our friends had: children who crawled at one, talked at two, potty trained at three, asked questions at four, and went off to mainstream school at five… So there are times, when we’re wiping the citric acid out of our eyes and watching our friends enjoying their chocolate, when it feels spectacularly unfair, and we wish we could retreat to a place where everyone had oranges, so we wouldn’t have to fight so hard against the temptation to comparison-shopping and wallowing in self-pity. We know that oranges are juicy in their own way. We know that they’re good for us, and that we’ll experience many things that others will miss. But we wish we had a chocolate one, all the same.[†]
So oranges are good, he says—they’re delicious, they’re nutritious, there’s simply nothing wrong with having an orange—any more than there’s something wrong with Rudolph’s having a shiny red nose. In fact there is so much that’s right about it!
But we look around and what happens? We “comparison-shop”: Why can’t we have what they have? What we have is great, but… it’s more difficult, more challenging. It’s not what we expected.
Which brings us to the Christmas story. Think of Joseph. Talk about not getting what we expected! First, he has to deal with his hurt and bruised feelings when he imagines that his fiancée has cheated on him. Then he has to deal with the fact that his first-born son won’t be his own—that he will only be the child’s adoptive father.
Again, there’s nothing at all wrong with that; it’s just not what he expected.
Then he has to uproot his family and move to Egypt, when he finds out that the jealous King Herod is out to murder his son. Finally, even after that Herod dies, he still can’t return to his ancestral home of Bethlehem the way he plans, because another Herod is on the throne there—and this Herod is even worse than the first.
This isn’t at all what Joseph expected. His life is a thousand times more difficult than he thought it would be. But has any man in history been more blessed? No way!
The point is, God will often give us “gifts,” which, from our perspective, we would just as soon return for store credit.
But the question is this: Will we trust that what God gives us will be good for us—whether it’s what we want or not?
Do you ever “comparison-shop” when you look at what someone else has? Does it make you feel better or worse about yourself? Do you trust that God knows what he’s doing?
† Andrew Wilson, “The Life You Never Expected,” thinktheology.co.uk. Accessed 01 December 2016.