“She will give birth to a son, and you are to name him Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” (CSB – Read the chapter)
The first Christmas involved faith. A lot of faith. It involved a great deal of individuals no different from you and me being willing to trust God on a series of adventures they didn’t plan on, and which – if they were being honest – they didn’t even want at first. But in the end, they were all willing to take their plans, hopes, dreams, desires, and set them aside in favor of His. The result was nothing less than the world being irrevocably changed. We talked about one of these stories yesterday in Mary. Today, let’s take a look at Joseph’s story.
Perhaps one of the most powerful examples of this faith is right here in Matthew’s telling of Jesus’ birth. Mary’s life was turned upside down, yes, and she responded with incredible faith, it’s true. But Joseph was an innocent victim to those changes. While she was dealing with her part of God’s adventures, his whole life and reputation were coming unglued. The embarrassment and shame he would have accrued socially for being the kind of guy whose fiancée cheats on him would have been enormous. And while he was wrestling with the reality of that, God asked him to take this son who was obviously the result of her infidelity and raise him as his own.
Take just a minute and try to get your mind and heart around that. What is perhaps one of the most impressive parts of this story is the fact that when Joseph discovered Mary was pregnant, his intention was to divorce her secretly so that she was not disgraced publicly. And can you imagine the moment Joseph made this discovery? From Luke’s telling of the story, Mary left town to go to Elizabeth’s almost as soon as she discovered the angel’s words were true. He goes out of his way to emphasize the fact that she hurried there. And the hill country of Judea where Zechariah and Elizabeth lived was a long way from Nazareth.
Meanwhile, Joseph was probably out of the loop on all of this for rather obvious reasons. It is likely that Mary’s father or perhaps a brother delivered her to Zechariah and Elizabeth. Joseph may have been told that she was simply going to visit her extended family for a few weeks, but he may not have even been told that. The relationship between his own family and Mary’s may have gotten tense in the weeks she was away as they suffered through an information drought, wondering if her family was going to come through and honor the contract they had together.
Then, when the time was drawing near for her to return, perhaps Mary’s father started having some conversations with Joseph to prepare him for the surprise she was going to be bringing back with her. Nothing could have prepared him, though, for seeing the bump in her midsection that hadn’t been there when she left – a bump with which he had not had any involvement whatsoever. His whole world would have come crashing down around him.
He could have been angry. He should have been furious. And any attempts Mary might have made to explain the situation to him would have just made it worse. You’re pregnant, which can mean only one thing, and you expect me to believe an angel came and told you this was going to happen, that you are totally innocent of any wrongdoing, and that this whole thing is a miracle from God to bring the Messiah into the world? Talk about the truth being so much stranger than fiction that the fiction starts to sound more truthful than the actual truth!
But then, just when he was ready to move forward with his plans to end things quietly – something she certainly didn’t deserve – the angel of the Lord came to him in a dream. I always wonder what this experience would have been like. Was it at night? Did it happen during a daydream? Did he suddenly enter into a trance and God appeared to him there? Whatever the details were, though, the result is what mattered. God spoke to him in the dream and basically affirmed everything Mary had told him as true and called him to his own part in this whole adventure: raising this child who was not his as his own son.
Nothing about this situation invited him to play along. Not a single thing. Put yourself in his sandals. Would you have said, “Sure God, I’ll get right on that”? I’d have been mightily tempted to tell God to take a hike and to start blazing my own trail. And yet, with everything in the world pressing back against him, Joseph went forward with God’s plans and left his own in the dust.
Let’s land right here: We may not need to do something quite so flashy and huge as this, but how could we take a small step in the direction of turning to God’s plans instead of our own? That’s all it takes: one single step. We may not understand it. We almost certainly can’t see the big picture at all. It just may cost us a great deal to do it. But if we’ll step forward anyway, the world just may never be the same.
The season of Advent – and indeed our entire lives waiting on the return of Christ – is not simply about sitting on our hands and doing nothing until Jesus shows up. It is about moving steadily in His direction in spite of not being able to see Him as clearly as we’d like, because we trust more in His promise to return, to reward those who have followed Him faithfully, and to make right all the things that are broken than we trust in what our eyes might be telling us about the situation we are in. Just one small step. It just might make all the difference in the world. Where will you take yours today?