Hitting a curveball is not easy. The curveball in baseball is just that: a ball that curves. It is a pitch that is thrown by a pitcher attempting to make the batter hit a ball that doesn't travel in a straight line.
Trevor Bauer is a major league baseball player who makes a lot of money throwing curveballs for the Cleveland Indians. Bauer is so good with his curveball, batters who are expecting a straight fastball buckle their knees in a kind of instant paralysis trying to hit his curve. The wistful helplessness on batters' faces as their knees buckle speaks volumes about the difficulty in hitting one of Bauer's curveballs.
Those faces sum up the way we feel when life throws us a curveball. The unexpected happens. The knees buckle. Paralysis sets in. Helplessness overwhelms. I spoke with a woman earlier this week who found herself being scheduled for emergency surgery to save her life from cancer when doctors discovered it wasn't simply an upset stomach needing some Pepto. Sickness seemingly out of nowhere changed life in an instant.
The Christmas story begins with a curveball. St. Matthew tells the story of a guy named Joseph who is getting ready to wed his lovely bride Mary and live life happily ever after. No sooner are those plans made and Joseph is getting a visit from an angel announcing to him the birth of a baby that is not his. Joseph embraces the scandal of his son being born of the virgin Mary, a scandal that follows Jesus throughout his life.
It's a curveball that follows Joseph and Mary to Bethlehem on the holiest of nights, when the Messiah is to be born. Joseph shows up with a very pregnant Mary in Bethlehem looking for a place to stay. St. Luke pens their difficulty in a very interesting way: "While they were there, the time came for her to give birth. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn." (Luke 2:6-7).
Have you ever noticed that Luke does not say "because there was no place in the inn"? I think when we re-enact that Christmas pageant during this time of year that's the way we say it. But that's not what Luke writes. Luke says, "because there was no place *for them* in the inn." Plenty of room for others. Just not Joseph and Mary. "No room for *you*" he says to Joseph, as he and Mary watch others taking the empty rooms.
I tend to think Luke writes *for them* into the events that placed Jesus in a lowly manger because the scandal had followed Joseph and Mary to Bethlehem. Even if that's not necessarily the case, what we do know from Luke's words is that "no room in the inn" is a curveball, a curveball that results in the Savior of the world being born in the lowliest of circumstances: a feeding trough for dirty animals. "For them" puts an exclamation point on the indignity.
Those curveballs at the beginning of Jesus' life play out into a life that is one big curveball. Jesus doesn't come to save his people from Roman oppression. He comes to save His people "from their sins" (Matthew 1:21). He doesn't come to the great, the mighty, the popular, the smart, the successful or the religiously obedient (the righteous). He comes to the downtrodden, the oppressed, the outcasts, the sick, and the sinners. He doesn't come to exact tiring work from his followers. He comes to give them "rest" (Matthew 11:28). He doesn't come to beat people over the head with their guilt before God. He comes offering forgiveness. He doesn't come to win the argument in glory. He comes to lose his dignity and his life on a cross.
Many of us are not looking forward to this holiday season because of life's curveballs. Many of us want to enjoy the holiday season but find our circumstances to be overwhelming and a mess. Our health may be broken. The relationship we've cherished for years is in tatters. The finances are piling up. Depression is a companion. The bottle has become a necessary medication. And for many of us, we also look in the mirror and realize the curveball is one we threw. It's self-inflicted.
But this is why, this holiday season, we need to come to the manger. There at the manger we find hope. You see, there are no curveballs with Jesus. The curveball is simply a human analogy for what we cannot explain. None of what we are going through catches Jesus off guard. He’s not shocked. He’s not surprised. His knees aren’t buckled in divine helplessness.
Joseph and Mary’s scandal? He planned that. No room in the inn “for them”? He planned that too. A dirty feeding trough as a cradle? Yep, planned. Jesus is in that undignified manger “for us”. God became flesh “for us”. God went to the cross and died “for us”. Three days later, Jesus walked out of the tomb “for us”. All of it, according to plan because He loves us, in spite of us and in spite of our circumstances. He is “for us” in that manger.
Vicar/Specific Ministry Pastor
St. Paul Lutheran Church, Harlingen
On Christmas Eve at the Homosassa Springs State Wildlife Park, Nature Coast Church will be telling that story of Jesus in a way that invites us all to the manger. Join us for a Candlelight Christmas Service, which includes a live nativity, a message by Pastor Brad, a light show, and music.
For more information visit: https://www.floridastateparks.org/events/celebration-lights-2
Posted on Fri, November 30, 2018
by Amy Rise