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If You Want to Make God Laugh …

January 06, 2019
By Rev. David French

I have no idea what you think of Woody Allen, but today’s Gospel reminds me of something he said, “If you want to make God laugh, tell Him about your plans.” The Epiphany account of the magi is a good example of how true those words are because they show God working very directly to change people’s plans.

I suppose we could take that idea all the way back to the visit that the angel Gabriel paid to Mary. I mean, Mary did plan to have children … someday … after she married Joseph, but God had other plans. Then there’s the place of the birth. Do you think Mary planned to give birth to her child in Bethlehem? She should have because God did reveal through Micah: “But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be the ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient days.”

Then there are the magi. Who knows what they had planned when they noticed that there was a new light in the sky … a star unlike any they had seen before … a star that caused them to set out in search of a new born king. They planned to find the king in Jerusalem, but that wasn’t God’s plan. King Herod told them to look for the king somewhere in Bethlehem, but as the magi set out from Jerusalem, the light of that star guided them to the exact location of the newborn king. The magi planned to worship the newborn king and then return to Herod, but God sent an angel to them in a dream and warned them to return by another route, again changing their plans.

Herod had plans. Herod planned to rule indefinitely. Herod had murdered friend, family, and enemy alike to keep himself on the throne in Jerusalem. Now he planned to murder this newborn king, but again God had other plans as an angel warned Joseph to flee to Egypt and stay there until he received further instructions.

Joseph planned to marry Mary and then be the father of her children. He didn’t plan to be the stepdad of a child conceived by the Holy Spirit. He probably never planned to do any international traveling either … much less to Egypt.

Yes, if you want to make God laugh, just tell Him about your plans. The entire account of the visit of the magi … in fact, the entire historical content of the Scriptures, consistently shows that God’s plans always come to pass while man’s plans are very much subject to change.

Did Noah plan to build a floating zoo? Did Joseph plan to be sold into slavery by his brothers and then become Pharaoh’s right-hand man? When Moses planned to deliver Israel from slavery, God sent him out into the desert for forty years. Then, when Moses turned eighty and gave up on his plan to deliver Israel, God came to him in a burning bush. Saul planned to travel to Damascus and arrest Christians, but God struck him to the ground in a bright light that blinded him that he might come to see, and so, changed his plan as he became Paul the apostle to the gentiles. And these are just a few examples of God changing people’s plans.

God inspired Isaiah to prophesy, “My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” My friends, we should be very, very happy that God changes our plans and very, very happy that His plans for us are not what we deserve.

When Adam and Eve sinned, they brought a curse on all of creation. They expected punishment. They ran and hid. They did not expect God to promise a seed who would crush the serpent’s head. I would have expected God to erase His creation and start over. He didn’t do that. He sent a savior, instead. Instead of punishing His creation or starting over, He provided redemption for His creation and promised that all things would one day be as He intended for them to be.

Even the way that the Redeemer did the redeeming did not fit the expectations of man. The people who had God’s promises … the people who should have known better … even these people expected a king of earthly power and glory. Herod most certainly expected a king of power and glory. That is the reason he was troubled. If Herod had understood the true nature of the newborn king … that His kingdom is not of this world … Herod wouldn’t have cared at all.

Man’s plans expect a redeemer who makes laws, not one who lives under the law. Man expects a redeemer of great power and wealth. Yet God’s Word reveals, “you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.” Even though the prophets foretold of the suffering servant of God, even Jesus’s disciples didn’t expect Him to suffer the way He did or to die the death He died.

The resurrection certainly didn’t fit in with the plans of the Pharisees and the chief priests as we read in Matthew, “The next day, that is, after the day of Preparation, the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered before Pilate and said, ‘Sir, we remember how that impostor said, while he was still alive, “After three days I will rise.” Therefore order the tomb to be made secure until the third day, lest his disciples go and steal him away and tell the people, “He has risen from the dead,” and the last fraud will be worse than the first.’”

The guards at Jesus’s tomb didn’t plan to ever see an angel, but God changed their plans as we read again in Matthew: “An angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. And for fear of him the guards trembled and became like dead men.”

So, if you want to make God laugh, tell Him about your plans. Pagan philosophers from a foreign land come to worship the Christ child. At the same time, the powerful in Jerusalem … the high priests … the scribes … the man on the throne … they haven’t got a clue. The account of the magi visiting the Christ child again shows us that our lives are subject to God’s plan … not ours. As the Holy Spirit inspired Paul to write, “It is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.”

Mercifully, it is God’s good and gracious will for us to spend eternity with Him which is why His plan, the great mystery Paul spoke of in our Epistle reading, is that God Himself would work out our salvation. As the Holy Scriptures remind us, “God chose us in [Christ] before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him.” You see, God’s plan of salvation for you and me has been in place since before He created the world.

It’s that plan of salvation that was unfolding as He revealed Himself to the magi in the person of the Christ child or the Savior by way of the star. It’s that plan that is still at work in us as God the Holy Spirit reveals and brings that same Savior and salvation to us through the same holy Word of God and same body and blood of His Son. It is that plan of salvation that will one day, by grace through faith, take each of us from this valley of tears to live in His eternal light-filled peace and joy for all eternity.

In His Name, Amen