Miracles and Christmas

By: Scott Armstrong

Rain coming at the disciples sideways and wind buffeting their tiny boat…

Until…

Jesus scolds the storm, and instantly the weather becomes perfect for a restful day at the lake.

A crippled man waiting by a magic pool without anyone to help him in…

Until…

Jesus speaks the word and, wide-eyed, the invalid picks up his bed and walks.

And my favorite: a man blind from birth…

Until oddly…

Jesus spits, makes mud, rubs them on the blind man’s eyes, and after a good wash, he sees the world for the first time!

Have you ever been fascinated by the miracles of Jesus?

I have. In one embarrassing moment I admit that I even looked to see if there were books that outlined the formula Jesus used for healing and doing miracles. If I could just get the “how-to manual” for Miracle Working 101, right? Is that too much to ask?

While there are principles and conclusions we can draw from Jesus’ many wonders, he himself seems to vary his techniques dramatically. It’s as if Jesus wants us to focus not on the specific formula, but rather on him and his compassionate power unleashed to meet the needs around him.

The theologian N.T. Wright likes to ask teens when he is invited to speak, “What would it look like here if God were in charge?” Sometimes some 14-year-old will joke, “Well, the refreshments would be better,” and another will quip, “We’d play better music around here instead of these boring songs.” But then the discussion starts to go deeper. Would there be no sickness? Would everyone be united and there would be no disagreements anymore? What would our world really look like if God was in charge?

The answer to the question shows up in the person of Jesus. When Jesus proclaims, “The Kingdom of God is at hand,” he is essentially saying that now his Father is in charge. And even more specifically, Jesus is what God being in charge looks like.

That does not mean that there are no difficult questions. For example, if Jesus could heal the blind man, why didn’t he heal ALL blind men (and women)? If Jesus can calm the storm, why does he seem to let MY storm rage on uncomfortably long? Even more personally, if God is in charge, why did MY grandmother die of cancer, or MY parents get divorced? These are doubts that many Christians would rather not entertain for too long. Wrestling with them requires diving into bottomless faith instead of following God only for what he can do for us.

And I think that’s the point of miracles. The Gospel of John calls the wonders Jesus performs “signs.” They are meant to point us to something – and someone – much more important. Those who race after Jesus for the multiplied fish and bread are surface-level followers. Jesus can meet physical needs, but he wants to go much deeper.

To be clear, all of this undoubtedly has to do with Advent and Christmas. As N.T. Wright says, “The point of the gospel stories, bringing to a head the prophecies of Isaiah, is that when God takes charge he does so, not by sending in the tanks, not by cleaning everything up at once, but precisely by sending Jesus; or, we should say, by coming in our midst in the person of Jesus. God doesn’t sort out the mess by pressing a button or pulling a lever upstairs. He comes down to the place of sorrow, shame, sickness and death and takes the worst of it upon himself.”

It is that kind of God we worship. It is that kind of Savior we adore. In the Incarnation we celebrate with astonishment that the true God of the universe took on human flesh, coming into the world in one specific place and time, so as to eventually transform all.

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