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News That Seems Too Good to be True: A Christmas Message December 11, 2009

Posted by CapitalSpirit in Uncategorized.

A couple of days ago, after the Caps shut out Tampa Bay, I sent a word of congratulations to Ted Leonsis. First place in the entire NHL in October isn’t that difficult; in December, it requires some consistent winning over time. We have ourselves, I believe it safe to say, a very good hockey team here in Washington.

Mr. Leonsis replied politely, as ever, but then asked me one question. This isn’t verbatim, but close: “Why do I still get email from some fans that say we stink?”

Sometimes, news that’s good can sometimes ring too good to be true. I’m going to elaborate on that by way of a seasonal passage of Scripture, and a look back at my own life.

I’m going to zero in on Luke 1:26-38. I was reading the first two chapters of Luke, and there is just so much there which I could write about, but I’m going to focus on one scene, The Annunciation. Artists have done depictions of this for centuries, and I’m not going to add anything new or profound to the discussion of this passage. But I do think there is something here for Capitals fans–namely, how do we respond to news that seems too good to be true?

Here, then, the passage:

In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” The angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God. And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also comceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. For nothing will be impossible with God.” Then Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” The the angel departed from her.–Luke 1:26-38, NRSV

The first thing I want to point out is Gabriel’s initial greeting and Mary’s reaction. Normally, when angels appear in Scripture, the first thing they’re usually saying is some variation of “Don’t be afraid.” Gabriel gets there–eventually–but his initial salutation is quite different, and seemingly exuberant. To me, that suggests–and this is admittedly a flippant way to put it–that he was so excited by the message he had to deliver, that he just came bursting in, with jubilation in his voice, and momentarily forgot that he might need to reassure the startled human first. So naturally, Mary didn’t quite know what to make of such a lofty greeting, which isn’t entirely surprising. After all, this is one of the most senior angels in Heaven (whoa!) appearing out of nowhere (whoa!) and addressing her as “favored one” (double whoa!) That, folks, is an awful lot of “whoa!” to process all at once. No wonder Mary was “much perplexed.”

Gabriel then settles down, I suspect, and settles into his message, in verses 30-33. It’s very, very good news, which continues to inspire artists to this day (to pick just one recent example: Kristine W actually did a dance version of “Mary, Did You Know?” on her 2008 EP “Hey Mister Christmas.”)

The part I want to focus on is Mary’s reaction to that good news. She wants to believe, but isn’t quite sure she can. She asks Gabriel for clarification; note, though, that she doesn’t say that she doesn’t believe him. As an aside, compare Gabriel’s response to Mary’s hesitancy in this passage, to Zechariah’s flat-out disbelief in Luke 1:8-20, which you’re on your own to look up. Here, Zechariah gets similarly too-good-to-be-true news–he’s about to become a father, as old as he is–and he essentially tells Gabriel to go strum a harp. That, Caps fans, makes Daniel Carcillo’s sucker punch on Matt Bradley last week look Einsteinian by comparison: Zechariah ended up being struck mute until after his son was born. Zechariah got news that was too good to be true; he didn’t believe it; and his doubt was heavily penalized. He eventually made up for it, naming his son John as he had been instructed to do. Once he did that, all was forgiven. But how much better things could have been for him, had he believed right away!

Mary also got news that was too good to be true, and she wanted to believe it, but she also wanted to be sure it was true. Gabriel told Mary that Elizabeth was six months along, and hey, if God can do that…well? Mary believed the good news, and, more importantly, accepted her place in it. The rest, as they say, could fill a world’s worth of books. (Not my choice of words, by the way–check John 21:25.)

So, what then is our response to news that’s too good to be true? Mary accepted and believed the good news, and was very richly blessed. Zechariah refused to believe, and was out of favor until he finally accepted the news, and, more importantly, his place in God’s plan.

Capitals fans have been given some very good news recently–we are, as of this writing, the #1 team in the NHL. That’s very, very good news. For some Caps fans, it almost seems, yes, too good to be true. After all, with three and a half decades of history behind us, and zero games won in the Stanley Cup Finals, it’s simply our lot in the sport to be a perpetual also-ran, right?

I’m not buying that.

I believe there’s a bit of an inferiority complex at work here. I can say that with assurance, because I know what it means to have one.

I’ve written elsewhere that I began working with angels as a way of dealing with some challenging spiritual warfare. What I haven’t written about is why I kept on with that–after all, if you’re a good Christian, God has an open-door policy, and He wants to hear from you. So, do you really need to know what’s happening on the shop floor, when you already have full access to the top floor?

I didn’t see it that way years ago. Why would God, the Almighty King of the universe, want to hear from me? And am I even safe taking such trivialities as my own before Him? This, after all, is the God of “fiat lux”; the God of fire and brimstone; the God of the burning bush; the God who made His people wander in the wilderness for forty years; the don’t-you-dare-cross-Me God who told Eli (1 Samuel 2:33), “The only one of you whom I shall not cut off from my altar shall be spared to weep out his eyes and grieve his heart; all the members of your household shall die by the sword”; you get the idea. I was, frankly, scared of God. I believed Him to be a God of anger: God may very well love me, I told myself, but I don’t feel comfortable talking to Him. And of what use, I wondered, could I possibly be to a God who speaks universes into being? In the cosmic scheme of things, do I even matter at all?

And every year, Christmas would return, with its eternal message of God’s perfect love, peace on Earth, and goodwill to all. I had, as you may well surmise, a lot of trouble squaring that particular circle. Maybe it was because the idea that God could love me, personally, as is, and genuinely care about my life…maybe that news seemed too good to be true.

That’s why I continued working with angels: I felt a lot more comfortable working with them…sort of. Some of the more famous angels I considered beyond my league, on similar logic. Michael has evil to fight, do I matter to him? Raphael has a world to heal, do I matter to him? You get the idea. I knew which angels were assigned to me personally, and worked with them almost exclusively for years, because I did not feel worthy enough to ask for the assistance of angels who were more universal in nature. Could Archangel Michael–general of Heaven’s armies, leader of the host, one of the most famous angels in existence–really care that much about what was going on in my life, when I already had angels assigned to me? Again, that news seemed too good to be true.

And even when working with angels I knew were working with me personally, I would wonder sometimes if their love for me was by choice, or by definition–in other words, I wanted to know if they loved me because they wanted to, or because they had to.

Inferiority complex? Oh, gee, ya think? Been there, done that, closet full of T-shirts, thank you very much.

But the more I read about these angels, the more I wanted to know. And the more I was told I was loved, the more I wanted to believe it–even if it did seem, you got it, too good to be true.

Eventually, I stopped asking angels if they had a minute: they’re outside of time, so they have all the time in the world. I stopped worrying about being a distraction: all angels can be in multiple places at the same time, so I won’t keep them from something important. I stopped thinking of my requests as trivial: if it’s important to me, then someone who loves me should also think it important, right? But above all else, I finally accepted that yes, I really could be loved, as is, unconditionally, and yes, voluntarily.

It took a long, long time to get there, but I’m no longer scared of God. Yes, He’s big. Yes, He’s holy. Yes, you don’t take Him lightly. But He is a God of love. And so, yes, He really does care what’s going on in my life–even if it’s something as small as missing my keys. That’s not trivial. It matters a lot to me, and it also matters to the God who loves me completely.

So when I was told, not long ago, that Michael and Raphael are always near me, that news–which, years ago, I would have deemed, here we go again, too good to be true–was welcome. It’s reassuring; it’s comforting; and I know much more peace now than I did back then. I have a long, long way to go; but I’ve also come a long, long way already.

My point in all of this is as follows. Yes, it is a bit unusual for it to be two weeks away from Christmas, and somehow the Capitals are in first place in the entire NHL. We Caps fans are not used to that. It seems too good to be true–but, in fact, true it is. It seems odd to think that Jose Theodore and Semyon Varlamov could be considered a very, very good goalie tandem. Too good to be true? I don’t think so–they are that good, I believe. The defense isn’t supposed to be that good, but when much-maligned Jeff Schultz is (as of this writing) ranked 10th in plus/minus for the entire league, and a trio of Capitals backliners are in the top 18 league-wide, I think it safe to say our defense is perhaps better than it sometimes gets credit for. The idea that the Caps might actually have a pretty good defense–with room to grow before April–may sound too good to be true, but I contend that true it is.

The Caps have been banged up, blowing leads, and not playing the full sixty some nights. That I won’t dispute. So I understand why the idea that they’re actually a pretty darn good hockey team sounds too good to be true–but, I submit, true it is.

What, then, is our response?

In my own spiritual development, I let “too good to be true” get in my way for years. Zechariah couldn’t believe what seemed too good to be true, and suffered. Mary would not let “too good to be true” stand in the way of her carrying out God’s plan for her, and the rest is history. And ultimately, I personally came to realize that just because something sounds much, much better than I think it should, that that doesn’t mean it’s automatically untrue.

Sometimes, you have to believe your ship will come in. Sometimes, you have to believe that nice guys can indeed finish first. Sometimes, you have to believe in miracles. Sometimes, you even have to believe the impossible.

I believe that these Washington Capitals are a darn good hockey team. And I also believe that that’s not too good to be true.

As Christmas approaches, I wish you all the boundless blessings of the season, and all the best to you and yours in 2010.



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