Advent Podcast Day 15: “What Is God Up To?”

December 18, 2017

From the first day of Advent until Christmas Day, I’m podcasting a daily devotional. You can listen by clicking on the playhead below.

Devotional Text: Matthew 2:1-2, 7-10

You can subscribe to my podcast in iTunes, Google Play, and Stitcher.

Hi, this is Brent White. It’s December 17, 2017, and this is Day 15 of my series of Advent podcasts. You’re listening to the Beach Boys’ version of “We Three Kings” from their 1964 LP The Beach Boys’ Christmas Album. Our scripture, appropriately enough, is about the so-called “three kings” or wise men or magi, found in Matthew 2:1-2 and 7-10. I’ll read it now:

Many years ago, not long after I graduated from seminary, I was an associate pastor at a large church. I frequently visited a parishioner who was convalescing at home after a debilitating illness. He was a retired NASA scientist—with a Ph.D. from Harvard—who was also an amateur astronomer. (“Amateur” in the truest sense of the word: he didn’t need compensation to pursue his love for the stars.) To pass the time and keep his sanity during his long recovery, he engaged in some astronomical research.

“I’ve made a discovery,” he told me with excitement as he greeted me at the door. “I know the date on which Jesus was born!”

“Really?” He sensed skepticism in my voice.

He then qualified his earlier words: Maybe he didn’t know the exact date, but he had a narrow range of dates, within a week or two, given certain assumptions. “Look, I’ll show you.” He explained his findings using a star chart, the Bible, and various clippings from astronomy journals. Given a few more assumptions, he said, Jesus was most likely born on… Well, now I wish I had written it down. I forgot.

Surprisingly, it all seemed very… plausible to me. And I promise you this man was not a crackpot. He argued that it wasn’t actually a star, per se, that led the magi from the Persian Gulf to Jerusalem but a morning star—Jupiter, I believe—which would have been visible to the magi at this particular time in this particular region.

Contrary to popular illustrations of the Star of Bethlehem and Christmas songs like “Do You Hear What I Hear,” this astral phenomenon was not something just anyone would have noticed. But for men like these magi, who made their living studying the night sky, this would have been an incredibly curious event.

The point is, my friend believed that through this natural event, God was speaking to the magi.

If I could go back in time and talk to him, I would ask him about verses 9 and 10, which describes the original star “going before them” and “coming to rest over the place” where Jesus was. That doesn’t sound like it can be explained by a merely natural phenomenon, but that doesn’t matter for this podcast. 

What matters for this podcast is that this parishioner helped me appreciate once again the importance of God’s providence. Which means that God is always at work in our world—not merely through supernatural events—but through completely normal, natural, predictable, scientifically explainable events! Nothing happens outside of God’s sovereign control. If something happens in the universe, whether caused by God or allowed by God, it happens according to God’s will, for his purposes, for his glory.

So even if the Star of Bethlehem was a natural event—and I have no idea—it was a natural event designed by God to bring these magi west to Jesus Christ. To bring them to salvation through Christ.

From my perspective, then, this means miracles happen all the time—even if we can “explain” them naturally. God’s fingerprints everywhere!

Years ago, I was going through a particularly difficult time in my life; I was complaining to a friend, who happens to be Jewish. I asked angrily: “Why is this happening to me?” And my friend said, “Brent, don’t ask, ‘Why is this happening to me?’ Instead ask, ‘Why is this happening to me now?’”

In other words, he wanted me to imagine that God was using this disappointment—this setback, this crisis—in order to teach me something that I needed to learn.

And I’m like, “Of course! You’re exactly right!”

What if, whenever we face a disruption in our plans, a setback in our careers, or a crisis of some kind in our lives, we asked ourselves, not “Why is this happening?” but “I wonder what God is up to?”

Because scripture is clear: he’s up to something good!

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