The Unexpected Pathway to Christmas

by Randall Merrill on

Articles 5 min read
Psalm 32:7

I want to suggest a principle for you to consider. It goes like this: 

When God does a work, He makes preparation first. 

Think about it: Before God made the first human being, He prepared an environment for him to live in first, as we read in Genesis 1. When God wanted to build a tabernacle in the wilderness, He laid out the blueprint for Moses in great detail. Later, when God wanted Solomon to build a temple, once again he provided a detailed plan.

But if we look at the stories in the Bible, we will notice that God often intermingles an unexpected element into the preparation—suffering. Look at the all the hardships Moses endured with God's people in the wilderness. Why? Because God was doing something bigger than Moses. It wasn’t just about him. Amazingly, Moses wrote about 20% of the entire Bible while he was stuck in the wilderness, leading around a bunch of miserable Israelites who challenged his leadership constantly. Fun? No, but the words he wrote in those miserable conditions are still shaping lives today.

Think of Naomi, who lost her husband and both her sons, leaving her with no heir to the family. In response, according to Ruth 1:20, she changed her name to Mara, which means bitterness, saying, “Yahweh has dealt bitterly with me.” In all fairness to her, it sure looked like it. But by the end of the story, she has an heir who is placed at birth on her very knees. And it wasn’t just about her. The bigger story is incredibly profound. The last word in the book of Ruth is “David.” In the end, her path of suffering eventually led to the birth of the greatest king to ever rule over God’s people and put her in the ancestral line of the Messiah, Jesus. 

Fast forward to the time when God’s people were sent into exile, into Babylon. The book of Daniel gives us an exceptional window into that historical period. There we find Daniel and his three friends serving as eunuchs in the palace of King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon. Lest we forget, eunuchs were men who had been castrated when they were young. In the ancient world, the primary tragedy of castration was not the physical pain or the humiliation of the aftereffects. The crushing reality of this condition was that a man could not produce an heir (see Isaiah 56:4–5 for food for thought on the subject). A eunuch’s only hope of a meaningful life was to faithfully serve the very king who had put him in this condition.

And that is exactly what Daniel and his three friends did. But we hear no complaint. We pick up on no resentment. Not only are they faithful to their king, they remain unshakably steadfast to their God and to His commands—suffering, but faithful. Somehow, they seemed to know—it isn’t about us. God is at work. If we are to imitate these four heroes, we have to lift our eyes from ourselves. We are not the center of the universe. The sooner we grasp this truth, the sooner we will begin to understand the ways of God and the less we will resist Him. There will always be some things that are beyond our comprehension. We are not wired to completely understand His ways any more than an ant can understand quantum physics.

Significantly, King Nebuchadnezzar eventually had a reckoning with reality. Because of his inordinate pride, he was deposed, driven into the woods, living like an animal for seven years until he acknowledged God’s supremacy. And in the end, he declared the praises of the true God and proclaimed His fame throughout his kingdom, as we can read in Daniel 4. Later, after Daniel persevered in the lion’s den as recorded in Daniel 6, the Persian king Darius, who by now ruled much of the known world, proclaimed that Daniel’s God was to be feared throughout the entire Persian empire. God was making Himself famous, even in exile.

So this entire era of intense suffering had a broader purpose. As the fame of the true God spread throughout much of the known world, people were being prepared for Him who was born the King of the Jews. For the wise men came, tellingly, from the east, which was toward Babylon, searching for the King of the Jews. The fame of the God of the Jews had spread generations before, during a time of intense suffering, to prepare the world for the coming of One who would be called a Light to the Gentiles. Incredibly, Nebuchadnezzar’s homage to the God of Daniel as recorded in Daniel 2:45-47 is repeated once again when the wise men do exactly the same thing in Matthew 2:11, worshiping the Christ child. Christmas was set up by Babylon. The Savior was preceded by suffering.

So, in your unexplained circumstances, lift up your eyes. You are not the center of the universe. It may be that God is doing something much larger. So often, the more intense the suffering, the bigger a work God is doing. Remember Moses. Remember Naomi, a.k.a. “Bitterness.” And remember four Jewish men who were thrust into a hopeless world. If the people of God endured hardship and misfortune, and if the Messiah Himself did not escape this earthly life without intense personal anguish, do we really think we deserve special privilege? And do we really think that God is so cruel that He allows suffering with no design behind it all? We can’t possibly fathom all that God is doing, any more than Daniel and his friends could have. But we can learn from them and determine to be faithful. 

So, trust God in your suffering. Maybe it is not about you. Maybe greater suffering is a marker of a greater work of God. Watch for His hand and you will begin to see traces of a grand design. The pathway from Babylon to Christmas has much to say to us.

The only question is whether or not we are listening.

About the Author

Randall Merrill (M.Div., Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary) is the president and CEO of Elevate Chaplains and Care Coaching, a firm that pours God’s love into people in the workplace.