Earlier this week I was driving when I heard a song on the radio that moved me in an unexpected direction. I'd heard this song many times before during Christmas seasons past. Each time it touched me. Mostly because I found it easy to go for a walk with this song's creator in Joseph's shoes. But this week, when I heard it for the first time this year, I found myself walking in a different pair of shoes.
The song is: A Strange Way to Save the World by 4Him. The lyrics are below.
I'm sure he must have been surprised
At where this road had taken him
Cause never in a million lives
Would he have dreamed of Bethlehem
And standing at the manger
He saw with his own eyes
The message from the angel come to life
And Joseph said
Why me, I'm just a simple man of trade
Why Him with all the rulers in the world
Why here inside this stable filled with hay
Why her, she's just an ordinary girl
Now I'm not one to second guess
What angels have to say
But this is such a strange way to save the
To think of how it could have been
If Jesus had come as He deserved
There would have been no Bethlehem
No lowly shepherds at His birth
But Joseph knew the
Reason love had to reach so far
And as he held the Savior in his arms
He must have thought
Now, I'm not one to second guess
What angels have to say
But this is such a strange
Way to save the world
Such a strange way, this is
Such a strange way
A strange way to save the world
A strange way to save the world
It isn't hard to imagine why Joseph would question God's approach to saving the world is it? I mean of all the ways God could have come to earth, why a tiny little baby. And if a baby, why the cold and dark and dirty manger and not a room at an inn worthy of a king? A teenage girl for a mom? What sense does that make? Not to mention the unremarkably simple man, Joseph? Not Joseph the baby's dad. But Joseph the man picked seemingly out of nowhere and unqualified to stand in as our Savior's dad. And through it all, a baby. A precious, smiling baby. Not born to live. But to die.
With all the rulers in the world, why a baby? Why this baby?
I've wondered that for years. Tried to make sense out of God's plan. But I can't. I always end up at the same place. That there's no getting around that it really was a strange way to save the world.
I used to feel guilty when I arrived there - quietly critical of God's plan. How do you place your faith in God and at the same time question his sensibilities? Myself, I've only found two ways to justify it.
One. A very big One. The plan worked. That sweet baby boy in a manger, with strength only found in a Savior, captures some of the coldest hearts from some of the darkest, unfindable places on earth. He walks them on a journey of hope from that manger in Bethlehem to a cross on Calvary. There, he reveals the blood that was violently drawn on their behalf. For forgiveness. Out of a comforting love they've been longing for their entire lives. They walk away, hand in hand, two people in one - that one never to be the same. For them - for me - the plan worked. And because it did, I have to at least consider: maybe their wasn't a better way.
Here's the other thing. Acknowledging that God's plan to save the world was strange in the beginning is the only way to make sense out of his continued willingness to use strange circumstances today - events that often overwhelm us with indescribable sadness and anger - to continue pointing people to that manger in Bethlehem.
Earlier this year a friend of mine, Scott Menzies, lost his wife in one of those strange circumstances. An eighty year old woman dies peacefully in her sleep - now that's a death that makes sense. But Scott's wife, Meg, a young mother of three school age children hit and killed by a drunk driver heading to work. I'm sorry, but that's a strange death.
Strange, that is, if you stay focused on the death itself.
But in the aftermath of Meg's death a lot of people have experienced things that have unexpectedly changed their lives. They've developed friendships built on unconditional love and support. They've found a place to share hurts they'd never shared before. Found peace they'd believed escaped them long ago. Husbands cling to wives with an understanding that strange things can happen. Mom's hug babies not just to hug, but to share love rooted in the fertile soil of gratitude. People take longer walks and faster runs. Not to say they did it, but to give thanks that they can. So many people have seen days turn from numbered squares on a calendar to periods of time given as a gift to live out. And they are indeed living them.
I am one of those people. But I tell you it's not because I've been inspired by a life lost. It's because in the midst of the unspeakable sadness that lies at the very second of impact of that strange death, a sadness that overwhelms the hearts of a young lady's husband and kids and family, are these very same people pointing us to that manger in Bethlehem. I know they feel us responding and see us heading in that direction by the thousands. And they have to say, or at least think, God, this is a strange way to change the world.
But even so, they have not turned their backs on that manger.
Here's what I've come to understand a little better this year. If God's plan for the world is to have everyone living happy lives, unthreatened by tragedies and the unexpected, then a young mom struck by an errant car on a morning jog is a strange part of that plan. A Son left to hang and die on a cross while a Father capable of stopping it stands idly by - that is a strange part of the plan. If God's plan is for us to experience uninterrupted joy, surely those stories don't belong.
But if God's plan is not about earthly joy, but rather to forever redeem the world from its brokenness. To point hearts to that quiet manger in Bethlehem, and join them on the journey to the cross on Calvary. And then convince them, Calvary is not the final stop. They must keep on marching toward their heavenly crowns before eternity's throne, and there, only there, will they find uninterrupted joy. If that's God's plan, then I have to say, God, you've picked a strange way to save the world. A strange way to change us. Through your son. Through families like the Menzies and Cross families. Through me. It's a strange plan God, but maybe there really is no better way.
Below, a powerful version of A Strange Way to Save the World by Rascal Flatts