To read the prequel to this post, click here: “The Great Depression.“
“What exists now is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done; there is
nothing truly new on earth. Is there anything about which someone can say, “Look at this! It is new!”? It was already done long ago, before our time… I, the Teacher, have been king over Israel in Jerusalem. I decided to carefully and thoroughly examine all that has been accomplished on earth. I concluded: God has given people a burdensome task that keeps them occupied. I reflected on everything that is accomplished by man on earth, and I concluded: Everything he has accomplished is futile—like chasing the wind! What is bent cannot be straightened, and what is missing cannot be supplied.”
Ecclesiastes 1:9-10, 12-15
The world of Ecclesiastes is old, stale, and hopeless. Solomon, husband of many wives, victor of many battles, possessor of great wealth, wonders if any of it is worth it. If the wise die in the same way as the foolish, if the rich suffer the same fate as the poor, if the good man fares the same as the evil man, why even make an effort? Even his last words carry the same sense of melancholy and hopelessness. “The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for that is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil.” Fear God and obey him, because it is your duty: it will not help you in life, it may not help you in death, you will still die the same as an evil man… but it is your duty nonetheless.
And that was the end of the matter. There was nothing more to said, nothing more to be heard, because even the words of the wise were vain and meaningless.
And then something happened that had never happened before. A new star appeared in the heavens and a company of angels sang to the shepherds of Bethlehem, because God had been wrapped in swaddling clothes and was lying in a manger. A living child had been born into a world of skeletons. Here, finally, in the fullness of time, was something new, something that that was not vanity and a chasing after the wind.
God was a child. He had friends, he played games with them, he skinned his knees, he was hungry and thirsty and tired. And then God grew in wisdom and stature and was a man. He was sarcastic and biting towards some people and utterly kind and gentle towards others. He was enraged at the misuse of the temple and driven to tears by the death of a friend. He had friends and ate bread and drank wine and slept under the stars.
And as we think about these things we must remember one simple truth: God does not do meaningless things.
And this does not just apply to his “kingdom work.” The ultimate proof of this is his very first miracle in John 2, unplanned and spontaneous. This is evident from his response to Mary: “What does this have to do with me? My hour has not yet come.” Such a response indicates that the forthcoming miracle has nothing to do with “his hour,” his primary purpose. But he does it anyway. He has the jars filled with water and by the time the first cup reaches the master of the feast, it is no longer water but the finest wine that has yet been served.
God does not do meaningless things. There were any number of ways to make his disciples believe in him, if that was his only goal. There were many ways to demonstrate his power, his authority, his deity. He could have made the water disappear, or turned it into grape juice or Dr. Pepper. But instead he chose to turn it into wine, and not just any wine but the finest wine of the feast. He turned it into wine better than the best wine around, wine so good that it made all the other wine pale in comparison. And so we must acknowledge this amazing truth: that God did something not just to further his mission, not just to make his disciples believe in him, but to help people celebrate a wedding not just sufficiently but extravagantly.
God does not do meaningless things. And that means that the world of Ecclesiastes is gone forever.
Because of Christmas, everything is no longer vanity and meaningless:
instead, everything assumes a colossal importance. Even “neutral” things like eating or sleeping become full of meaning when we consider that God himself has done these things as well. When we eat, even a snack, we are reminded that God has done the same. When we sleep, we are
reminded that God did too. When we attend a wedding, we remember that in doing so we walk in the footsteps of Christ.
Life is full of meaning: I might even say full to bursting. Serving God is no longer a mere duty; it is instead a privilege, an honor, a gift, as we walk this new world and think of Christ taking his first steps in Bethlehem.
“Never moving outside Scripture’s own footprint and reading as a disciple of Jesus himself, Mulligan offers an imaginative retelling of the ‘Peter of the Bible.’ Rather than a speculative filling-in-the-blanks, he offers a comprehensive portrait of Peter that is delightfully and skillfully woven together with the fabric of the New Testament. In what Jenson aptly categorizes as a form of lectio divina, Mulligan’s narrative is a sustained reflection on the text of Scripture.”
—Darian R. Lockett, Associate Professor of Biblical and Theological Studies, Talbot School of Theology, Biola University, La Mirada, CA