“Do not fear to take Mary as your wife.” Matthew 1:20
Has everything in your life turned out the way you expected? If you’re honest the answer is a resounding NO! It’s curious to me, however, that in spite of the ridiculous notion that everything should turn out as we expect, most of the time we’re still surprised, hurt, or angry when it doesn’t.
The theme of this Second Sunday of Advent is peace, and in many traditions we light The Bethlehem Candle. Peace. Bethlehem. An odd combination. At the birth of Jesus that little town of Bethlehem was hardly at peace. It was overcrowded with angry people who had to come to be counted in a census.
Also in the crowd was a desperate young couple, the man trying feverishly to find a place off the streets, and preferably under a roof, where his betrothed could give birth to their son. They settled for a cave-like stall and laid the baby in a feed trough. No one expects that kind of life.
Least of all Joseph. Mary certainly had some major adjustments to make. It’s not every day you get a visit from an angel and learn that you’re going to be the mother of God. But I would argue that Joseph had the most to overcome.
The life he expected was as a carpenter in a small, poor, but surviving Galilean village. He learned his trade, took a fancy to a simple girl named Mary, and become betrothed to her. This was the typical, expected life he had planned for.
Then Mary informed him she was pregnant and gave an incomprehensible explanation. Now at that point the only thing Joseph knew for sure was that the baby was not his. Life had taken a turn, and the expected course was to divorce her, which he planned to do.
Then another turn. An angel appeared to him in a dream saying that her story was true, and he should still marry her. Then another turn. As the due date drew close, they had to hit the road for Bethlehem. Can you imagine being near your 40th week, bouncing along an unpaved road, on a donkey? Not what either of them expected.
Let’s just go through the rest of the unexpected turns quickly: baby born in a barn, shepherds gathering, wisemen arriving, Herod threatening, extended sabbatical in Egypt, multiple angelic visions, return to Nazareth, and finally, raise the Son of God.
The turns in your life may not be of biblical proportions, but they have sometimes so twisted you around that you can’t remember the path you were aiming for. This past year alone may have left tire tracks on your soul. You arrive at the second week of Advent with anything but peace.
The absence of a blessing, in this case peace, merely highlights our need for it. We must guard against falling for the trap that the absence of peace equals the impossibility of peace. Don’t give up hope!
Peace can be ours when we accept hardships as the pathway to peace. Apparently Joseph did that. Now I’m certain he often shook his head at the mind-boggling way his life was turning out, but he apparently had a simple trust that no problem he faced was greater than God’s steady hand of providence.
I have a good friend who, with his wife, has gone through an extended series of difficult turns in his life. One of the lowest points was in 2011 when he had to forfeit his house. They had to be out by 9:00 one morning, so they packed, stored, and tossed everything they owned. They cleaned their empty house one last time. But before they left, they went into the attic, and on a rafter wrote a simple testimony. It read, “Gregg and Kim 2011. They lost their house, but not their faith.”
That kind of creed survives any turn. You can work your way through most changes, but often you just trust your way through. And that will bring you peace.
Dr. Terry Ellis
December 7, 2014