Thursday, December 1, 2016

When a Miracle Needs a Hand

When I was a boy, I considered CBS’s broadcast of Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer to be the official kickoff of the Christmas season. I loved watching it, emotional roller coaster though it was. 

Tears filled my eyes when Rudolph’s fake nose, which his father, Donner—who was a disgrace to fatherhood—forced him to wear, came off and the other reindeer kids laughed at his shiny sniffer. Righteous indignation stirred my spirit when Comet—who was a disgrace to the coaching profession— announced that Rudolph, just because he was different, wouldn’t be allowed to join in any reindeer games. Hope washed over bucktoothed, near-sighted, scrawny me when Clarice said she thought Rudolph had a handsome nose. 

And don’t get me started on the resurrection of Yukon Cornelius or on Santa having to ask Rudolph to save Christmas—speaking of which, Rudy is a much-needed model of how to be a gracious winner. 

But I don’t want to talk about Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.

I want to talk about ’Twas the Night before Christmas—not the poem, but the 1974 Rankin-Bass cartoon. 

That Christmas classic, set in the town of Junctionville, New York, tells the tale of a brilliant young mouse named Albert who, by writing an anonymous letter to the local paper saying that everyone knows there’s no Santa Claus, causes the jolly old elf to mark the town off his Christmas Eve itinerary. The townspeople are naturally desperate to get Santa to change his mind. The town’s clockmaker, Joshua Trundle, to whom Albert’s father (Father Mouse, naturally) serves as a mouse assistant—because of course he does—comes up with a plan to build a clock that will play a special song for Santa so that, when he flies by and hears it, he’ll know the town has repented and will bring the gifts.

But Albert—remember Albert?—curious to see how the clock works, ends up breaking it. All seems lost. Albert sets himself to repairing the clock. At this point, Albert sings a song to his father. It goes like this:

Miracles happen most ev'ry day
To people like you and me,
But don't expect a miracle
Unless you help make it to be, so...

You hope and I'll hurry,
You pray and I'll plan
We'll do what's necessary 'cause
Even a miracle needs a hand

You love and I'll labor,
You sit and I'll stand
Get help from our next-door neighbor 'cause
Even a miracle needs a hand

We'll help our Maker to make our dreams come true,
But I can't do it alone, so here's what we're gonna do

You hope and I'll hurry,
You pray and I'll plan
We'll do what's necessary 'cause
Even a miracle needs a hand

We'll help our Maker to make our dreams come true,
But we can't do it alone, so what are we gonna do?

You wish and I'll whittle
You drip while I dry
Let's all try to help a little 'cause
Even a miracle needs a hand.

Even a miracle needs a hand.

I thought about those words during the recent presidential election, during which I felt compelled to speak out against one of the candidates. Some of my Christian friends, concerned for me because of the amount of concern I was exhibiting about the election, reminded me that, no matter what happened, God would still be on God’s throne. 

I certainly affirm that. Remembering it provides proper perspective. We have to have faith.

But on the other hand, as the Bible says, God helps those who help themselves (Hezekiah 3:2). 

Okay, that’s not in the Bible, but there’s still some truth to it. Biblically speaking, there’s more truth to the statement, “God helps those who can’t help themselves.” Often, when there’s nothing else we can do, we find God doing something. It’s called grace.

Still, God does choose to work through people. God brought the Hebrews out of Egypt, but God used Moses to do it. The Son of God came into the world, but he came through Mary. God saved me, but God worked through the good people of the Midway Baptist Church to move me in that direction.

Is it saying too much to say that God needs us? Maybe. I’m not sure. But I am sure that God chooses to work with and through us to accomplish God’s will and to fulfill God’s purposes.

Sometimes, even a miracle needs a hand.

Sometimes, our cooperation and participation amount to a miracle.

I was pastor of a small rural church in Kentucky during my seminary years. One Sunday, after I preached on John’s version of the story about Jesus feeding the multitude (John 6:1-14)—that’s the version that has the boy share his five loaves and two fish—a church member said, “Do you know what one of our former pastors said about that story?” Now, that church had used seminary students as pastors for decades, so they had been subjected to all sorts of experiments. “What did he say?” I asked. “He said he believed that what happened was that when that boy shared his lunch, it inspired lots of other people in the crowd to share theirs, and that’s how Jesus fed everybody in the crowd.”

Now, that’s not what the story says. But I kind of wish it was.

I mean, getting people to share freely with those who are in need? That’d be a bigger miracle than the one Jesus pulled off.

So, when we ask God to help the poor, the hungry, the outcast, the marginalized, and the vulnerable—and we do, don’t we?—we need to listen for what God wants us to do.

After all, sometimes, even a miracle needs a hand. Or maybe even many hands …

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