This morning as I checked my Facebook I had 40 friends whose birthday is January First. On an average day I should have 8 or 9 friends to wish "Happy Birthday." (3,200 Facebook friends divided by 365 days in a year equals 8.77 friend’s birthdays per day.) Today, there is a 456% increase in birthday averages. What is up?
A couple of my Bazungu (white, or those who wander in circles) friends truly know that January 1 is their birthday. A couple of my friends from Africa who were fortunate to have their mother deliver in a hospital during a day of relative peace truly know that January 1 is their birthday.
Yet, for the majority of my 40 Facebook friends today they were born during a season of absolute chaos. They were born in places like remote villages, refugee camps, and urban slums. Their mom was one of the world’s poorest of poor. She was likely on the run. Their mom was thankful to have lived through delivery, and today is exceptionally thankful the child born on that day is alive.
These friends of mine share a common past with my boss, Jesus of Nazareth. He too was born in poverty (Luke 2:1-21). Stables and mangers in church nativity scenes frequently miss this point. If you can’t smell the manure your church has understated the chaos of Jesus’ birth. Jesus was born in forced circumstance as his nation, Judah was under Roman occupation. His parents were forced to travel near the end of his mom's pregnancy just to register for a census and pay tax. Forcing a pregnant woman to travel is the height of oppressive government policy.
These friends of mine likely share another common past with my boss, Jesus of Nazareth. His family was forced to flee for their safety as refugees (Matthew 2:13-18.) An evil despot intended to kill all rivals, and that included infant boys in a remote village. Despots do the same things today.
Where is God in such circumstances?
Paul in describing the riches of knowing Christ tells an unfathomable truth (Ephesians 1.) Before creation God in His infinite knowledge knew His creation would rebel. God’s holiness could not dwell with rebellion. Our rebellion would cause eternal separation from the God of infinite love. The consequence was as horrific as an infant child abandoned and left to die in a field (Ezekiel 16:4-6.) God chose to rescue us by sacrificing the life of His own Son. In the process He took us rebels, and adopted us into His family. Can you imagine? He knew every sin we would commit. He knew the horrific costs. Yet, He chose to create what He would redeem though sacrifice. Amazing. Jesus is Emmanuel, God near and with us.
In the chaos that humanity lives God watches every movement of life. In God’s eyes there are no forgotten birthdays. His word states,
“Yet you brought me out of the womb; you made me trust in you, even at my mother’s breast (Psalm 22:9.)”
“For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb (Psalm 139:13.)”
“This is what the LORD says— he who made you, who formed you in the womb, and who will help you: Do not be afraid… whom I have chosen (Isaiah 44:2.)”
“This is what the LORD says— your Redeemer, who formed you in the womb: I am the LORD, the Maker of all things, who stretches out the heavens, who spreads out the earth by myself… (Isaiah 44:24.)”
“Before I was born the LORD called me; from my mother’s womb he has spoken my name. (Isaiah 49:1.)”
“And now the LORD says— he who formed me in the womb to be his servant (Isaiah 49:4.)”
“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; (Jeremiah 1:5.)”
In eternity, God will redeem each one of these chaotic births. In God’s eyes there are no forgotten birthdays. Yet, we do live in the here and now. Is there hope in this life for God to bring good out of chaos?
Absolutely. God is sovereign. He is good. He is full of love. His ways are mysterious. Yet, His ways are just. History is full of stories of God bringing good from chaos.
One of the privileges God gave me during my season in Rwanda was to be a facilitator in the Presidential Scholars program. Facilitator sounds important. All I did was pragmatically pastor. I made friends. I helped friends communicate to one another. Sometimes it was rather mundane. One of the mundane moments was filling out visa applications. The applications required filling out a date of birth. Many times we wrote in the application January 1, _______.
Most of those bright young Banyarwanda who wrote January 1, ______ were not born on January 1, ______. Instead they were born during absolute chaos. All their family can remember is a year filled with turmoil. In some ways, God has helped them forgive the sources of the chaos, and in the process forget a few details that would even include the month of the birth.
|Rwanda Presidential Scholars at Hendrix College|
Yet, something wonderful happened in the years following the traumatic birth. Enough peace came that a family could survive. They could put down a root somewhere. The kids could go to school. Many times the schools were barely functioning. Yet, somehow learning happened. The brightest students found a place of marginal stability and success. They kept at it for years. Then they sat their final secondary exam. They scored near the top of all the students in the nation. Then they received an opportunity to interview with the different universities offering scholarships. For some of these bright Banyarwanda, this was the first time they had even been in the capital of Kigali. If there was no God they would have had no chance. Yet, there is a God. He is good. He enjoys showing His grace upon the most humble. These kids whose families don’t remember their birthday were offered scholarships to attend prestigious universities in the United States. God is good.