The observation that God moves in mysterious ways has become such a hackneyed cliché that even restating it in less familiar terms is bound to produce more yawns than any hint of endorsement. But as with other such simple truths, it is worthwhile to examine the weight of evidence that gave rise to the maxim in the first place. The Christmas event gives us the best opportunity to do so, not only due to the humble circumstances surrounding the birth of Mary’s child but also in light of the roles played by the cast of characters in the story. Like shooting stars, many of the characters enter and leave the stage without much fanfare, shining their lights for brief moments before fizzling out of the scene.
Take, for instance, John the Baptist. From his miraculous conception to his father’s nine-month muteness, the Scriptures leave no doubt that he was a unique child. All who knew about him could not wait to see what he would become (Luke 1:66). Jesus would say later that John was greater than any prophet who had existed up to that point. But John’s role in the life of Jesus lay many years in the future, with the intervening period being largely uneventful. Like the person who introduces a prominent speaker in a major conference, the whole purpose of his existence was reduced to the occasion of announcing the arrival of the long-awaited Messiah. Like a shooting star, John’s light fizzled out when the Messiah entered the scene. Isn’t it curious how a carousing band of petty potentates succeeded in ending John’s life in such seemingly tragic and frivolous circumstances while the King of Kings walked about the same neighborhood?
Well, they may have succeeded in ending his life, but they never defeated his purpose. John had already calmly reassured his disciples that it was alright to take down the props. His job was done, his joy was complete, and he was prepared to become less so that the Messiah could become greater (John 3:27-30). Unlike a permanent star planted in the sky as part of the very fabric of the universe, John’s role on the stage was quite short-lived, though he still carried it out in style—both in dress and diet.
Another such character was Simeon to whom God had given the promise that he would live to see the birth of the Lord’s Christ. Taking the child in his arms, Simeon could not help but offer praise to the director of the entire production for dismissing him in peace.(1) One could also mention Anna, an eighty-four year-old woman who had prayed and fasted in the temple ever since her seven-year marriage came to an end with the death of her husband. She too had a role to play in the drama of the birth of Jesus: her shining moment was the solitary event of holding Baby Jesus in her arms and saying something about him!
By focusing our attention on seemingly menial tasks performed by people whose lives were otherwise mundane and uneventful, the stories of the church conspire to teach us that though the world is indeed a stage on which human beings make their entrances and exits, as Shakespeare claimed, God takes special interest in the every role. The sheer number of names in the very pages of the Bible and the countless ordinary, unnamed individuals through whom God has accomplished his purposes in the world testify to that. Thus though my role may not seem as glamorous as the roles played by others, it is an indispensable piece of the larger puzzle in the mind of God. The hymn, God Moves in Mysterious Ways, contains a warning that is really worth heeding, especially in light of the apprehensive mood in which many enter the Christmas season and the coming New Year:
Judge not the Lord by feeble sense,
But trust him for his grace;
Behind a frowning providence,
He hides a smiling face.(1)
And, oh, one more thing! “Shooting stars” are not stars at all. They are broken pieces of rock or metal that burn up once they come into contact with the earth’s atmosphere, eventually landing upon the earth as dust. Just like the moon, the light they reflect is not their own, but unlike the moon, they are used up in the process of lighting up the sky. What a fitting metaphor for the myriad of individuals, like John the Baptist, Simeon, Anna, and countless others throughout history, who have been content to be used up for the sake of the Kingdom of God! Of such the world is not worthy. Even though they do return to the earth as dust, the earth itself will eventually have to give up even their bodies, for the Babe of Bethlehem clothed himself with dust so that the person of dust may be eternally clothed with glory. Merry Christmas!
J.M. Njoroge is a member of the speaking team at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in Atlanta, Georgia.
(1) See Luke 1:25-32.
(2) Written by William Cowper in 1774.