Last Sunday I started looking at Advent things “I can practice.” I wrote about the need for us all to practice more empathy. This week I want to look at something else about the Advent story that I can practice – miracles.
Certainly the miracle of the Advent season is inescapable. The story starts with a pregnant virgin. Does not get much more miraculous than that. The Christmas story is the story of God, the infinite and all powerful, becoming man, the very finite and by comparison weak. As I said last week, “I can’t really get my head around that….” Nor do I want to try to. I want to take the miracle of Christmas at face value as miracle – unexplainable, incomprehensible, extraordinary.
The nation needs miracles, now more than ever. Look around you. We are confronted with so many insoluble problems. The recognition of Jerusalem as the capital if Israel has reminded us of the conflict there that seemingly cannot be resolved. The election of the current administration, barely over a year ago, widened already gigantic political gaps in our nation into an apparently unbridgeable chasms. Hurricanes, fires and floods have plagued the nation in recent months, to the point where I almost expect Moses to show up and demand freedom for his people. All our technological capability and yet such natural, and relatively frequent, occurrences can still lay us low. Our own technological prowess now seems to hold so many minds captive rather than fulfill the promise of setting them free. We need miracles.
At a minimum we need to understand that miracles are real, and relatively frequent. I would suggest there are two things about miracles that would deeply benefit the nation right now. For one we need to recognize the problems we cannot solve – we need to rely on miracles. Secondly we need to appreciate miracles for the gratitude they engender in us.
Earlier this week, I wrote a piece about “The True Obama Legacy.” It has garnered far more reaction than my typical piece does. As I reflect on the problems it identified, I cannot help but reflect on that fact that many of the issues arise from efforts to resolve problems that simply cannot be resolved. The impulse that drives us towards the bureaucratic, totalitarian state is an impulse that believes we can solve all and every problem with the sufficient application of our capabilities and our control. The impulse is anti-miraculous, relying on our own understanding.
The host’s Salem colleague Michael Medved’s most recent book is entitled, “The American Miracle: Divine Providence in the Rise of the Republic.” The Amazon blurb reads this way:
The history of the United States displays an uncanny pattern: At moments of crisis, when the odds against success seem overwhelming and disaster looks imminent, fate intervenes to provide deliverance and progress. Historians may categorize these incidents as happy accidents, callous crimes, or the product of brilliant leadership, but the most notable leaders of the past four hundred years have identified this good fortune as something else—a reflection of divine providence.
Our nation is built on miracles! We cannot expect them for it is in the nature of miracles to arrive unexpectedly. But clearly we can rely on them and understand that some things are beyond our power.
Which leads me to the second point. We need to appreciate miracles for we are surrounded by them. I’d like to suggest two ways to build such appreciation. First of all, learn history. I have not seen “The Darkest Hour” just yet, but am much looking forward to it. Few people in history are more men of the moment than Winston Churchill. A man of extraordinary gifts, and much maligned failings. But at a particular moment in history he was unquestionably THE man for the job. His failings and gifts, the timing of so many events, came together in a particular fashion and changed the world. If that is not a miracle, I do not know what is. Medved’s book is full of such instances. Look to history with an eye for the miraculous and you will find history is replete with them.
Secondly, learn how the world works. I am first and foremost a man of science with a graduate degree in chemistry. The more I understand of how things works, the more I appreciate God’s miraculous hand in the universe. Most everybody has, at some point, been confronted with the miracle of cosmology that has resulted in life on Earth – the star, our distance from the star, the presence of just the right chemicals…yada, yada, yada. But that IS science. The intricacies of how things work is stunning. The properties of silicon, phosphorous, indium, antimony, etc. – how they interact and make possible the device you are reading this on is an extraordinary coincidence – so extraordinary that it seems miraculous. Sure there is human ingenuity involved in taking advantage of those properties and interactions, but they had to be there to begin with. Not to mention human ingenuity itself – its development is extraordinary enough to qualify as miraculous.
When confronted with the miracles of history and the miracles of science, or even the small miracle of finding a parking space at Trader Joe’s, we cannot help but respond with gratitude. Such gratitude changes our outlook on life – it makes us happier, more joyful. What could be more appropriate this Advent than to be more joyful?
This Advent, I am practicing the miraculous, trying to learn that which I cannot solve and rely on them and trying to appreciate the numerous ones around me.