Sometimes it is confounding how God manages to make good things take place.
If you were in charge of creating the conditions which would bring about the birthing the savior of the whole world, how would you do it?
Would it be done with high amounts of honor, celebration, and religious piety? A parade maybe would seem fitting.
Would it resemble a respectable, quiet, and orderly Christmas Eve Candlelight celebration? Songs of praise would seem about right.
I only ask, because the reality of the birth seems to be so…not that. Instead it is messy and full of what resembles family dysfunction of the lowest order. I am not even talking about the messy stable here. What I am talking about is the situation in which Joseph, and by extension, Mary, is put.
Let us take a moment to envision the unfolding of the Christmas events from Joseph’s perspective.
Joseph’s world is rocked from a presumed life of peace, stability, and excitement about his future marriage when he finds out that his soon-to-be wife is pregnant.
I can imagine the sleepless nights of tossing and turning as he tries to figure out why his fiancé would do such a thing to him. Staring at the ceiling, he goes back and forth between self-loathing, trying to figure out what he did wrong to push her away into another man’s arms, and anger at how she could have stepped out on him. They had not even slept together yet!
Tossing on his side and staring out the window, he struggles to figure out what to do. He still loves her, so the very thought of throwing her out into the town square to face execution by a barrage of stones and torturous ridicule turns his stomach.
He is not that kind of man. Mercy is more in his character.
Just swallowing the pain, Joseph decides to just allow everything to go away quietly, including the one he loves.
You see what I mean? Life is most likely not turning out like Joseph expected it may.
All he wanted in life, all any on us want in life, is a life of peace, joy, and love. A normal life of work and kids and laughter is not too much to ask for is it? But, as someone who lives an actual life, Joseph find out that the answer is “yes,” yes it is too much to ask.
Life is messier in reality. Why should the birth of the savior be any different?
The birth of Jesus is messy. It is full of drama (the bad kind of drama) and full of heart ache. But, the story does not end in heart ache. God is somehow able to turn the story around from something messy, and redeem it into something beautiful with a small child in which the world will put its hope.
Sometimes messiness is the way God manages to make good things take place.
This business of messy lives sounds a little too familiar does it not?
I cannot tell you how many people have come up to me at the end of the year and proclaimed that they are ready to have this year pass away into oblivion. Death, family struggles, employment struggles, health struggles, political squabbles, friendships strained, and relationships ended or still clinging on in struggle; no matter the reality, most people are ready for the ball to drop and for a new year to turn over.
But, here is a sobering thought. Most of us could not wait for the previous year to pass into oblivion. We know the truth: life in the new year will look a lot like regular life. It will have its own struggles. It will have its own drama. Life is not easy. That never changes.
So, maybe that is why I like this Christmas story so much. It does not point to a perfect story in a perfect fairy-tale land. Instead, the story is real. And, if God can redeem this story, maybe God can redeem our story also.
In the night, by the means of a dream, an angel comes to redeem Joseph’s heartbreaking story. An angel of the Lord puts the whole matter into perspective for Joseph, and allows him to see the situation in a whole new light.
From the angel Joseph learns had not been betrayed. His relationship with Mary is much more secure than he ever imagined. She is with child by the Holy Spirit, and the child will save the world from its sin. He will be Emmanuel, which means “God is with us.”
God is with us.
God is with us. Is that not the truth that we tend to forget when life fails to go the way we expect? We forget that even though life is not as peaceful and secure as we would like, God is with us. God can take even our messy lives and transform them into something beautiful and redeeming.
We are not alone in it all. God is with us.
Even when life brings you to a horrible, undeserved death on a cross, this event too can be redeemed by God. God is with us. On the third day, that death can be transformed into a reality of new life and new possibilities. Does it all seem a little messy? Of course, but, that is life! Life is messy.
That makes no difference what-so-ever because it is through the messiness itself that God manages to make good things take place.
In the end of the story, Joseph wakes up from his dream and lives his life in a new way. In reality, nothing has changed. His wife is still pregnant from a source other than himself, the people around him may still look with side-ways glances and disgrace in their thoughts, and he did not ask for any of this! Nothing in reality has changed.
So, what is different? What allows Joseph to get up, take Mary as his wife, and name the baby Jesus, raising him as his own? What has changed?
One thing has changed. More to the point, one person has changed. Joseph has changed. Joseph has been reminded of a powerful truth, God is with us. And, when God is with us, even what appears to be a horrible situation can be transformed into something beautiful.
I pray this day that you also remember that God is with you.