Thursday, December 15, 2011

Character

In this school year (which is the way we always mark our calendars, no matter that the year changes half-way through each one) five young couples close to us will become parents.  That's a whole lot of new life.  Recently, when I spoke to my niece, who is the first of these women to set eyes on her baby, we talked about the days of infancy she's in with her son.  They are hard going with sleepless nights and a lot of exhaustion because that baby only has one way to communicate at the moment and it's a very loud one.  And he's so small his needs are the largest thing about him; they actually consume my niece's whole life at the moment. And he's a good, easy baby. This is just the nature of infancy.

It takes time to get to know a child's character. I remember sitting on a bed in my parents' house where E and I had come after getting out of the hospital (her VERY late (21days) arrival meant Beve had to leave 10 hours after her birth to be best man in a wedding across the state, then go from there to Oregon to work at a basketball camp. It was just the beginning of learning how our plans often had to be thrown out the window when it came to kids). I sat on that narrow hospital bed where my blind grandmother had so often listened to the Bible on tape, or knelt to pray for, watching E exercise those extra-long limbs that had been folded up inside me far too long and wondered who in the world she really was behind that mask of a face. I didn't have the faintest idea about her character. She could stare but couldn't even smile, could cry but couldn't laugh.  But somehow, looking at her, it seemed like it was all there behind the intensity of her gaze at me. Like everything she was was simply waiting to be revealed.

I don't have the faintest idea if this makes sense to anyone else, but it's the way I felt about each of my children: that who they were was stamped in them from the beginning, and even in the earliest days, there were deep and extraordinary differences based on the specific characters God had given them when He created them 'in the secret place,' as the Psalmist puts it in Psalm 139.  Beve and I both remember the strong sense of, "Ta-DAH!" we had from SK when she was an infant, even though she was our tiniest baby. She was so present, like she was certain we had all been waiting for her to show up.  And, of course, in a sense, God knew we had been. Or at least that we should have been.

But even in this age of ultra-sounds, we don't get to know who our children will be. Yes, we can discover their gender, but that doesn't tell us much about character.  It takes getting to know that child for us to get that.

Mary and Joseph, on the other hand, had a whole lot of foreknowledge about the baby God had planted in Mary's uterus. In the Psalms-- 89: 36-37 says He'll be faithful ('a faithful witness'); 100:5 also calls Him faithful and adds goodness to His character.  Isaiah 9:7 calls Him just, compassionate and gracious, and 11:2-4 says He's full of truth, wisdom, understanding, is compassionate and gracious.  Isaiah 42: 2 says the Suffering Servant will be meek and lowly and chapter 53 speaks of all the acts He'll do because of these things He is (but we'll look at that on its own another day).

It's a pretty extensive list.  Imagine looking at your brand new, barely out of the womb baby and knowing this much about Him. These are what you can expect of Him as He begins to smile--and not just from gas!--and laugh and speak.  When he talks and walks and plays with his younger brothers and helps around the house, these are what you see. But you knew you'd see them because they were written down hundreds of years before He was born. So when you see them, you smile quietly, if you're Mary, and treasure them, because you know who He is and what it all means. It's a smile with a sword in it, after all. You were told that too.

But those words about the Messiah, the ones Mary treasured, the ones she saw from the earliest, hidden days, they are really for all of us, so we'll know Him when we recognize Him when we see Him walking across the dusty roads of Galiee to wherever we find ourselves this very day.  That's the point of the old prophecies, after all. They aren't simply parlor tricks, a way of God showing off what He is able to do.  He could knock our socks off with a lot more than this if He was so inclined. That's not the point. The point, and it's a sharp one, is to draw our attention with laser focus, on the one man who was also God. Jesus. He had all these traits because these are the Holy traits of God's character. On earth as in Heaven.

He is good and just and compassionate and gracious, wise and true.

I think of two different verses when I list out His character this way: first, Philippians 4: 8 where Paul exhorts us to think on whatever is true, lovely, trustworthy, noble, etc. That is what God is, and what the Incarnate was while He walked on this earth. Basically, He's telling us to think on Christ rather than thinking on whatever it is that is tearing apart our insides and making us crazy or sleepless or angry or whatever else we are. Secondly, (maybe you're way ahead of me), Galatians 5: 22-23. The Fruit of the Spirit.  Not only are we to think of the character of God, but we are to develop that character in ourselves.  And how do we do it? Not by huffing and puffing, I can tell you that. It's called the fruit of the Spirit, folks. That means we need HIM to develop the fruit in us. That fruit manifests itself in all of these character qualities. We don't pick and choose. I know I'd like to. A little more patience, but do I have to be generous too? Sigh.  No, it's all the same fruit from the same tree. The tree of God's presence in our lives.

His character in our lives.  So we can see it. Just the way Mary saw that character every day in Nazareth as she watched that child grow up. That's the character we're after in our lives. God's character growing up inside us.


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