Speaking Of Life 5005 │ Best-Laid Plans
Those who know me know that planning is one of my love languages. I love the feeling when a perfectly laid plan comes together. And my love tank is filled when someone considers what I like when planning a night out. But life experience has taught me that plan A is not always guaranteed to turn out. This might remind you of the common saying, “The best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry.”
This saying was adapted from the poem “To A Mouse” written in 1785 by the Scottish poet Robert Burns. In the poem, Burns apologizes to a mouse whose nest was destroyed when Burns plowed the field the nest was in. The poem makes the point that regardless how well human beings plan, those plans can be overturned in an instant.
We often base our plans on expectations we have for how things are usually done. If we’re planning a trip, we expect the airline to leave at the specified time, and when it doesn’t, our plans are upended. We’re left unsettled and sometimes frustrated.
In ancient times, the Jewish people expected God to provide a Messiah who would deliver them from their Assyrian oppressors and usher in a time of peace and plenty. They yearned for deliverance and had expectations for the way that deliverance would take shape. The prophet Isaiah spoke to their concerns and assured them that God saw their suffering. But the scripture verses from Isaiah 9 talk about a Messiah who would be much more than they expected or planned for:
The people walking in darkness
have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of deep darkness
a light has dawned.
For to us a child is born,to us a son is given,
and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the greatness of his government and peace
there will be no end.
He will reign on David’s throne
and over his kingdom,
establishing and upholding it
with justice and righteousness
from that time on and forever.
The zeal of the Lord Almighty
will accomplish this.
Isaiah 9:2, 6-7 (NRSV)
Isaiah’s audience expected a political and military leader to rescue them. But the prophecy pointed to more than just a military leader, or to Israel’s rescue – it pointed to the Messiah and the rescue for all of humanity. The Israelites didn’t know this, neither did the Jews in Jesus’ day. They had plans for their rescuer – their Messiah, but God had different (bigger) plans.
In similar ways, we make plans and expect God to operate in our lives in a particular way, and sometimes nothing turns out. When our plans are upended and our expectations overturned, we can feel unanchored or adrift. How can we trust that things will be OK?
Isaiah’s prophecy helps us remember that God plays a long game. He has a bigger plan and our sign for that plan is Jesus. Consider all the ways that Jesus’ birth, life, and death overturned human expectations. Here are a few.
- People expected the Son of God to be born in royal conditions; Jesus was born to a poor Jewish couple in a barn.
- People expected the Son of God to behave according to the cultural norms of the time; Jesus often defied cultural norms, choosing to eat with tax collectors and women and healing those considered unclean.
- People expected the Son of God to be above suffering; Jesus experienced suffering and grief to the point of death on a cross.
The “best-laid” plans we have will never be better than God’s plans, and though we don’t understand all of life’s twists and turns, we can trust that “a child has been born for us,” and the Prince of Peace will always be by our side.
As we celebrate his birth, may all who live in deep darkness see the great light of Jesus, and may your “best-laid” plans always be trumped by the love of God.
I’m Michelle Fleming, Speaking of Life.