I am always moved when in the Gospel of Matthew God appears to Joseph and tells him to take wife and child and run away, for Herod wants to destroy the child. As a father, I'm moved to want to protect my children – if that means running and hiding I'll do it. I know many in Gaza are feeling this way these days. Just as in Israel, the Sudan, Myanmar, Mexico, and all the places where babies depend on their parents for nurture in a world run ragged by the cruel arms of oppression.
What is more, as a believer, I am so deeply moved by the idea that God - who is infinite - has chosen to become a tiny baby in need of the protection of his parents, from the threat of folks like Herod. It still boggles my mind that our good old story of salvation is rooted in the story of the Son of God who became a baby dependent on a mommy and a daddy, so he might grow up to become the strong man on the cross.
I am also moved by the connected passage in Jeremiah where it says, "The Lord has redeemed him from hands too strong for him." Jeremiah is not just talking about the individual man who once wrestled with God, but with all persons who struggle with God. Jeremiah is also talking about the work of the fragile baby who becomes the strong man on the cross, who pries us free from hands too strong. Hands of sin, of fear, of destruction.
I am moved by this Word about a Baby going to Egypt long ago, and this prophesy about a redeemed creation. Moved because for me, it's not out there. It's not long ago. It's right here. It's now. I hear God speaking to me in these words.
Back in college I had a friend who was like a little bear. This guy was short and stocky and strong. Like strong teens often will to other boys, he'd come up and grab me sometimes – and just crush me. I tried so hard to break free, but he was just too strong. His hands and arms were too strong for me. He could have killed me with a bear hug, but instead he merely crushed me and then mocked me. He'd say, "Boy, you sure are big not to be strong."
Ouch. But it's true. Not only have I almost always been a bit stocky, and not that athletic, but I've never been able to get sin's strong arms off me either. This is why I thank God that the "Mighty Lord Become Tiny Baby Become Strong Man on The Cross" has done so for me.
This is the Gospel of course, that Christ offers strength to those who set their hearts on him. That's His message of transformation, to we Americans who are awfully big not to be strong for the Lord. That's His call to grow in spiritual strength, so that we might become strong hands for Christ.
We who have grown so filled with privilege and American overplenty, are called out of our big but weak lives into something more for the Kingdom. And it's not a guilt trip, but a journey toward service in Christ.
As I understand it, too, there's only one exercise that will transform ourselves, souls and bodies into Christly people. That exercise is the picking up of our cross.
This year, here are five ways to carry the cross and grow stronger in faith:
1. Forgive someone, even if they don't deserve it.
2. Make a sacrificial gift for the work of the Kingdom.
3. Volunteer in the name of God somewhere.
4. Read a bit of the Gospel everyday.
5. Take on daily prayer for self, neighbor and world.
We are all awfully big not to be strong. But the strong one on the cross will help us change.
The Rev. Samuel Gregory Jones ('Greg') is rector of St. Michael's in Raleigh, N.C. and the bass player in indie-rock band The Balsa Gliders - whose fourth studio release is available on iTunes. He blogs at Anglican Centrist.