Today we begin the transition from Advent to Christmas. We are led to the stable. Our hopes, dreams and longing for a Saviour are the same hopes, dreams and longings people had on that first Christmas 2,000 years ago. The birth of the Messiah pointed to the promise of the Kingdom.
To many people at that time, the promise of a coming Messiah was like a dream. They dreamed of a Messiah who would change their lives by driving out the Romans. Their dreams meant the end of their old world and their old way of life and the beginning of the kingdom. This change would not be dramatic. It would be brought about by God entering in the lives of two very ordinary people-Mary and Joseph-and an extraordinary circumstance. God uses ordinary people to do extraordinary things. He used two ordinary people to be the parents of the baby that would bring salvation to the world.
At that time, Jewish marriages took place in three stages. First, there was engagement. This was where the marriage was arranged between both sets of parents when the couple were still children. Second, there was the betrothal, which took place one year before marriage. At this stage, the girl could refuse the agreement, but if she accepted, the only way the agreement could be broken was by divorce. The couple was legally married but could not consummate the marriage until the third and final part of the marriage took place. That part was the wedding celebration, when the groom took the bride home to be his wife.
God interrupted the plans that Mary and Joseph had for their lives, and for a good reason. God’s plans for their lives had to take priority, just like his plans for our lives have to take priority. Mary was pregnant out of wedlock. That was a scandalous situation in those days, and could lead to death by stoning, unlike today where this situation is commonplace. Mary’s pregnancy was disrespectable in the eyes of the people in their home village, but it was honourable in the eyes of God. Honour also fell on Joseph because he was made part of God’s plan for his people.
Human plans were overridden so that God could do good things for us. It shows that something good can come from a messy situation. We don’t always have the control over our lives that we thought we did. We need to ask God to deepen our faith so we can accept things when the absurdities of life happen. This reminds us that Jesus is “God with us.” Jesus revealed the entirety of God. Jesus became the sins of the people so he could save us from these sins. He showed the love he had to give us the precious gift of salvation. This would not be possible if Joseph and Mary did not follow God’s call and his plans for their lives.
Speaking of dreams, God often speaks to people in a variety of ways, including dreams. Take Joseph for example. He wanted to divorce Mary privately and quietly because she was pregnant out of wedlock, but God spoke to him in a dream and told him not to divorce Mary. Dreams were a special mode of revelation by which God gave instructions to his people.
Joseph tried to live according to his faith and its traditions, but Mary’s pregnancy created a conflict between Joseph’ head and his heart. Life is like that. Life isn’t black and white, and neither are law and grace. Often we find ourselves in situations where opposites create conflict and we have to find ways to make them work together. In this case, the solution led to the miracle of Jesus’ birth. This miracle led to the gift of salvation for all people, including the religiously unclean, the poor, women and the Gentiles.
God intervened in Joseph’s plans to quietly divorce Mary by encouraging him to make a decision out of love instead of following the rules. Love is supreme in God’s Kingdom. There are times when society’s rules will have to be overruled by love for our fellow man in order to make something happen that will save lives. In other words, salvation comes when we put love above rules.
Christ was the same when he was on earth. He came into conflict with traditions, beliefs and the way of doing things. His work as the Messiah conflicted with the type of Messiah the people expected. He often clashed with “the establishment”. Man tried to resolve this conflict by nailing Jesus to the cross in hopes that he would be silenced forever. Jesus used the cross to resolve the conflict by offering his people the gift of eternal life to those who believed in him.
Our response to God when he speaks to us constitutes our prayer. Prayer is not easy, but obeying God is not easy. We will face difficulties when we obey God. It is in these times that we must remain steadfast in faith and trust God to bring us through these difficulties. We can face any hardship when we trust God. This hope is an attitude to the future.
Joseph is an example of how Christ wants his people to act. Joseph could have made a public spectacle out of the situation, but he didn’t. He acted out of love and not out of anger. He obeyed God, and God rewarded his obedience with grace. God’s grace to Mary is the starting point of the story of salvation-a story that includes suffering. God’s grace extends to everyone, and that grace includes suffering for his sake. We must endure our own suffering and encourage the suffering of others. In this painful situation, Joseph’s only concern was for Mary. This is righteousness in action. Joseph also did not make a hasty decision. He took time to consider his options, and during that time he positioned himself to hear God’s word. God instructed Joseph through his dreams.
Joseph was a righteous man, but he was not self-righteous. He did not want to cause Mary any pain, so he decided to divorce her quietly. He showed Christ-like compassion in the face of what was a “sin” in the eyes of the people. He was as perfect as humanly possible, even as God is perfect. He was righteous and obeyed the word of God perfectly. God drafted Joseph into a difficult position. If we are faithful, would we be willing to be drafted by God?
Joseph’s righteousness was deeper and more profound than observing laws and customs. It grew out of God’s presence in his life, and it allowed him to hear the voice of the angel in his dreams and obey its commands. He could look directly at what confronted him, see it and all its implications and obey God without regard for his own reputation. He could accept the angel’s message that Mary’s unborn child was of the Holy Spirit.
Joseph was a common man who dared to obey God’s will for his life. Joseph put his own ego aside and put Mary and God first. He is an example for all of us-an example of humility based on a simple trust that all things work together through God’s grace for those who love the Lord and are called according to his purposes.
Christmas is not just a holiday. It is a holy day. It is the day God came to earth as a baby to reconcile us to him. Reconciliation would lead to an exciting life of faith. To live that exciting life of faith, we have to keep on trusting God. Joseph didn’t understand what God told him, but he trusted God. He knew things that Joseph didn’t know.
The Virgin Birth was God’s greatest affirmation of humanness. God showed that he could become human without becoming sinful. He had to enter into every detail of human life. Then, when he died on the cross for our sins, he would have already experienced all the pain and testing himself and would be able to help where help was needed.
Today we begin our preparation to meet Christ at Christmas. We might feel confused and troubled like Joseph was. We might feel unworthy to receive Christ because we lack the virtues that Joseph displayed-charity, faith and hope. We must strive to imitate Joseph’s qualities of humility, faith and obedience. Our Advent might not have been the season of preparedness that we wanted it to be, but it is not too late for us. We can become full of purpose and believe the promises of God that Joseph believed.
God works with us where we are, but he can bring us to where we ought to be. He came into the life of Joseph and brought him to great sanctity. He works with people who are more flawed than Joseph was and does great things with them and through them.
Christmas is a chance to worship God, to bow down and pay homage to him for humbling himself and appearing in human form. God’s word is more certain, more secure and more immoveable than any event on earth. He is the answer to our needs. He sacrificed himself to save us. That is the mystery of the Virgin Birth and the reason we celebrate Christmas.
Advent invites us to let go of the expectations of society. Advent calls on us to forget about our own expectations and remember the love of Jesus and Joseph and the love of God. We are called on to let God’s peace gradually warm our souls and free us for new expectations and the birth of something within us and for us. We need to remember the essential message of Christmas-God is with us.
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