“When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him.” Matthew 1:24
Are you dealing with unexpected turns in your life? You might be feeling kind of lonely, but trust me, you have lots of company. We’re all either in the middle of turn, about to go into a turn, or coming out of one. We just need a reminder that God is with us through all the turns.
Joseph is a good reminder. Let’s take a look at the life that he had planned. From Gospel of Matthew and Mark we know that Joseph was a carpenter, for some of the foes of Jesus derided Him as merely the “son of a carpenter.” Carpentry was his trade. He was, in all likelihood, a hard-working man. Joseph’s career was set. He would be a carpenter. In this respect he would get the life he expected.
But then the turns begin. A young woman named Mary caught his eye. She is lovely, a beauty and sweetness that comes from her very soul. They did not date in those days, probably did not even court in the usual sense of the word. Marriages were usually arranged by parents. They were betrothed to one another. Betrothal means more than engagement, it’s just a slight degree from marriage itself. Betrothal means a ring and a date, dressed purchased, tuxes rented, invitations sent, standing at the altar. That would be the modern day equivalent. So Joseph looked forward to marriage with Mary. That is the life he has planned, the life he rightly expects. He would wed Mary, be a carpenter in his hometown of Nazareth and make a life together.
Then a turn! Mary informed him that she is pregnant! This was a biological impossibility from Joseph’s viewpoint. He knew they had been honorable in their courtship. This had to be the most devastating news he had ever heard in his life.
Now we know that Mary had already been told of the miracle inside her, and we can imagine that she tried to explain that this pregnancy was from God. I’m sure that her explanation was more than a little confusing. For any other girl, this story would be greeted with one gigantic, “yeah, right!” But Joseph loved Mary and probably wanted to give her the benefit of the doubt. Still he knew he was not the father of this child. This was not turning out like he had expected.
So then he made a very important and revealing decision. He decided to divorce her quietly. You can see how binding betrothal was when the word used to dissolve it is divorce. He had every right to be angry, and to protect his reputation by publicly exposing her pregnancy and making certain that people knew he was not the father. He likely would have been believed. He might have even been encouraged to do this by family and friends.
But Joseph obviously had a very strong sense of honor. He would keep this affair quiet, suffer silently, absorb the pain and try to move on. He had no idea what plan B would be for his life, but with this difficult decision behind him he went to sleep.
Then another big turn! An angel appeared in a vision and confirmed what Mary likely told him. This was God’s Son. Joseph was to marry her and take care of this baby. He woke up from the dream and the scripture tells us he obeyed God. He married Mary, and when the child was born he did exactly as he had been told. He performed the rights of a father and named the child Jesus, again, exactly as he had been instructed. It’s a wonderful life, but definitely not the one he had planned. Life had taken a turn.
But let’s back up. There were other turns. Near the time Mary was to give birth the emperor decided to take a census and everyone had to go to their ancestral home. For Joseph this was Bethlehem. He had expected to be able to stay at home, provide for Mary and the new baby. Instead, as the 40th week approached he finds himself leading a donkey with a very pregnant wife aboard, journeying about 80 miles to fulfill a stupid mandate from a stupid Roman emperor! I can tell you that if this would have been Leslie and me that would have been one cranky couple. We have no evidence of that with Joseph and Mary. But Joseph was bound to think at least occasionally, “this is not turning out like I expected.”
The story is not finished. More turns! Because of the anger and jealousy of another stupid ruler, Herod the Great, the baby’s life is in danger. Again, an angel appeared to Joseph with instructions to take the child to Egypt. Egypt?!!? Who did Joseph know in Egypt? I would have all kinds of questions, but apparently Joseph had none. He obeyed, all the while thinking, “this is definitely not turning out like I expected.”
A while later he got the angelic green light to go back home. He and his family settle in Nazareth. He worked as a carpenter, provided for Mary and Jesus, and taught Jesus the trade when he was old enough to learn.
He had come full circle. This is the life he had anticipated, but what a journey to get there!
All of the unexpected events in your life have surprised you, shaken you, and, at their worst, threatened to overwhelm you. But not a single one of those events occurred without God’s knowledge, presence, and enduring purpose. He simply does not allow evil to derail His providence in your individual and precious life.
The theme of the second week of Advent is peace, but so little of the events surrounding the birth of Jesus were peaceful. It seems that God is not terribly interested at any point in history in eradicating all chaos and confusion, until the end I suppose. He just shows up in the middle of it all and offers peace.
I think Joseph found out that was enough, And he was still enough to hear God. He had to be. Otherwise he would have flung away in anger and frustration. Instead he just listened, obeyed, and God gave him the life he always wanted.
I’ll take peace this Christmas. I’ll find it in the gentle whispers of God, but I have to be still. I do hear those whispers. I have peace. Now I want to remember this through all the turns of life.
Grace (and peace),
Dr. Terry Ellis
December 14, 2017