Life is full of surprises.
Sometimes the surprises are wonderful and exciting and put smiles on our faces and make us thankful to be alive.
But life also brings surprises that don’t make us feel very good. They can be relatively small disappointments such as getting stuck in traffic, opening an envelope with a bigger-than-expected, or missing a game or performance we were looking forward to attending. Then there are significant negative surprises such as losing a job or the death of a loved one.
We live in a broken world, therefore we always will experience our share of not-so-wonderful surprises. The question is: How will we respond to them?
Pastor Scott offered us some insights in regard to this all-important question as we took a look at the first chapter of the Gospel of Matthew and the super big surprise that hit Joseph, the earthly father of Jesus, before that first Christmas two millennia ago.
In short, Joseph learned that Mary — his wife to be — was pregnant; and Joseph knew he wasn’t the father. As Pastor Scott explained, in Bible times couples who were to be married took a crucial step called “betrothal.” It was pretty much equivalent to marriage, barring the consummation aspect, to the point where couples actually had to go through a divorce process to break off the betrothal.
Imagine the pain, the utter gut-punch Joseph must have felt when he was hit with that awful surprise of Mary’s pregnancy! Of course he undoubtedly assumed she cheated on him. What other cause could be behind something like that? Shame. Betrayal. Hurt. Embarrassment. Joseph must have been feeling a wide range of negative emotions as a result of this surprise being sprung upon him.
And so the question — “What do I do now?” — naturally became prominent in Joseph’s mind. A lot of men would have made public spectacles to save face and inflict pain upon the women who caused them such anguish. Revenge. An eye for an eye.
But Joseph didn’t do that.
Scripture says (v. 19) Joseph was a “just man and unwilling to put her to shame,” and therefore he “resolved to divorce her quietly.” He trusted God with this problem and knew the Lord was in control, no matter what.
However, God — as he often does — had a different and better plan. A “third option,” as Pastor Scott put it. And it was yet another surprise in Joseph’s life.
Matthew tells us in verses 20 and 21 that while Joseph was sleeping, “an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, ‘Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.'” Matthew added that this news was meant to fulfill what the Lord said through the prophet Isaiah (7:14): “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel.”
What do you suppose Joseph was feeling now? Maybe he was unsettled (to put it lightly) by the Lord visiting him in a dream; maybe he was relieved that Mary had been faithful to him all along, and now he could feel good about marrying her; maybe he was nervous about the responsibility that was being placed upon him. But maybe God captured it best when his angel told Joseph “do not fear” moving forward with his plans to take Mary was his wife.
Do not fear.
And so that’s what Joseph did, as the remainder of the passage tells us — although consummation didn’t happen until after Jesus was born. On that note, Pastor Scott reminded us that Jesus’ other name “Immanuel” is translated “God with us.” And since Jesus is with us, what do we have to fear?
The Lord’s visitation with Joseph gave him a massive godly perspective. All at once. Boom! For us the Lord’s perspective likely comes through other means — and one of them, as Pastor Scott noted, is what happens to us when we attend church services with other believers. Gaining godly perspectives is one of the divine benefits of coming to church, not just because of the message coming to us from up front, but even more through how we interact together. Maybe you’ll have a chat with another church member and receive prayer — and insight. Maybe you’ll connect with other believers in ways you didn’t expect — hey, surprise! (Again!) Or maybe when you’re gathering with other Christians, whatever disappointment you may be experiencing in that moment won’t seem quite as grim when you can unburden yourself and let your brothers and sisters know what you’re going through.
As we excitedly await Christmas Day and remember the grand plan the Lord unfolded in bringing the Messiah to Planet Earth, ask yourself right now, “Do I really believe these truths put forth in Scripture?” If your answer is “yes,” then you and I can be like Joseph and respond to surprises — even difficult ones — knowing that Jesus is “with us” just as he was with Mary and Joseph, even before he was born.
God with us. Yesterday. Today. Forever.
Realize, too, that — as Pastor Scott reminded us — what began as a disappointment for Joseph was actually God “redirecting traffic” in his life so he could end up at the correct destination.
He’ll redirect the traffic in our lives, too — if we let him!
What’s changing in your life today? What’s gnawing at your heart? What’s unsettling your soul? Whatever it is, the Lord speaks to that very thing and says, “I will be with you.” Whatever you do, wherever you go, no matter what missteps you may take: “I will be with you.” Whatever disappointments you’re struggling with, Jesus can bear them — and again he tell us, “I will be with you.”