Updated: May 29, 2021
I always think of Christmas as a time for miracles. I anticipate them, expecting that something wonderful just might happen, something that can only be explained by God – which is, after all, the very definition of a miracle. I have been praying for miracles all year, well actually, long before this year. But as the year went by, more and more things have gone contrary to my prayers. This has been difficult because I know that the things I was praying for were good. And I know that God is capable of granting my requests. But he didn’t.
I’ll admit, I’ve asked more than a few times if it’s worth it. It’s not a matter of believing in God’s existence. I have never doubted that – there is too much that simply doesn’t make sense without him. But sometimes I’d really like to know that he cares about me, and if he does, why are things still so difficult? Why doesn’t he do the miracles that he is fully capable of doing? And why does it feel like he’s so far away?
I was watching the Korean drama, Goblin, earlier this year, and one of the scenes stuck with me. The goblin, a character with god-like powers, helped a boy whose stepfather had been beating him and who was about to run away from home. He told the boy that if he leaves home now, his life will be even worse and he will never see his mother again. The boy asked him if he would take responsibility for how his stepfather might hurt him, and he responded, saying, “That’s why I broke a rib for you.” At that moment the stepfather came running out of the house, tripped on a planter, and broke his rib. The goblin then handed the boy a sandwich and told him to go to school. He even gave him the correct answer to a math problem the boy would struggle with later that day. The boy just stared.
While this scene was beautiful, it wasn’t the end of the story. Fast forward 50 years and the ageless goblin is sitting across the table from this boy, now an old man, about to pass over to the afterlife. The boy had become a lawyer and spent his life well, helping those in need. He said he had always wanted to repay the goblin. The goblin mused that many people, once they realize he exists, only demand more miracles. But because of the miracle, the boy instead chose to change his life.
One of my favorite movies, The Ultimate Gift, has a similar message. The main character is chasing after his fortune when he meets a little girl dying of leukemia and her poor, kind, beautiful mother. At one point in the story when the man believes he is failing and might lose all that he’s worked for, the little girl looks at her mother and says this to him:
You have to admit, even if you got nothing else out of the deal but her, you’d still be a huge winner.
The Bible often talks about the Christian life as one of sacrifice, and this is one we are familiar with. “We have left everything to follow you” (Matthew 19:27). We hear this in our churches, our devotional readings, even our conversations with each other. We are called to suffer, to deny ourselves, to take up our crosses, to give up what we want – even the very things we want most.
But sacrifice is only one way to look at our story. These movies showed a different picture. And my heart needs to look at that other picture or it will too easily grow discouraged, feeling that God asks too much of me. There was a miracle given to all of us, a single moment when heaven came down to earth and everything changed. God became human, and for a time, walked among us. For the creator of all that exists to take on the form of one of his own creations, to subject himself to the indignities we face in order to be with us and show us that he cares is completely scandalous, totally unexpected, and hauntingly beautiful.
What if the miracle that began on Christmas morning is the only miracle I ever get? Yes, God is able to do more miracles and the Bible recounts many instances where he did more. But what if he doesn’t? Is that one miracle enough for me to continue to follow him, to love him for what he has done, to live a life that is changed because of who he is? And if I get nothing else out of Christianity than Jesus, do I believe that’s enough?