Article Dec 19, 2016

Joining the Christmas story: Lessons from the life of Joseph

Watching is a big part of the Christmas season. We watch plays, movies and musicals. We watch parades. We look at light shows. We are awed by the beauty and décor of Christmas. But the good news of Christmas is that God has posted a casting call inviting us to join his story of redeeming love. One man who quickly accepted this invitation was Joseph.

Joseph was a blue-collar man who made a living as a carpenter in the small village of Nazareth. He fell in love with a young girl named, Mary. They were making plans to be married, but it was discovered that she was pregnant. We can only imagine the sense of loss and disappointment he felt, but he loved her and did not want to disgrace her. So he decided to call off the engagement privately. That is when an angel of the Lord appeared to him to inform him that Mary had conceived by the Holy Spirit and would give birth to a Son who “will save his people from their sins” (Matt. 1:21).

Bad news suddenly turned to good news as God invited Joseph to enter his story. Joseph never hesitated and “did as the Lord’s angel commanded him” (Matt. 1:24).  On the night Jesus was born, the best spot Joseph could find for Mary to give birth to the Son of God was a borrowed stable in Bethlehem. Shepherds visited, and everyone was amazed. A few months later, wise men from the east arrived to worship Jesus.

Despite challenges and awkward moments, Joseph was riding the waves of the miraculous. It was an immaculate conception here and an angel sighting over there. It was one extraordinary event after another. It was everything we would want Christmas to be. And then after the wise men left, the story took an unexpected turn.

“After they were gone, an angel of the Lord suddenly appeared to Joseph in a dream, saying, ‘Get up! Take the child and his mother, flee to Egypt, and stay there until I tell you. For Herod is about to search for the child to destroy him.’ So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night, and escaped to Egypt. He stayed there until Herod’s death, so that what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet might be fulfilled: Out of Egypt I called My Son” (Matt. 2:13-15).

Joseph had not planned on raising the newborn King as a refugee, but that is what was happening. Now joining the Christmas story was not just exciting, but it was deadly. For Jesus to live, Joseph’s plans had to die, but Joseph never hesitated because he knew who Jesus was.

A right Christology produces a faithful missiology. In other words, a right view of Jesus, knowing who he is and why he has come, leads us to forfeit even our best intentions to do whatever it takes to make Jesus known in the world. Christmas is not a sentimental story to watch, but a salvation story to join. Joseph shows us how.

We join the Christmas story when we listen to God.

Sometimes we think of Joseph as an awkward bystander to the Christmas narrative. He was not the biological father of the baby. He was not royalty. He was not a theologian. He did not even make hotel reservations in Bethlehem. We may be tempted to think of him as the Ray Romano of Christmas, yet Joseph was anything but disengaged or incompetent.

Matthew records Joseph’s genealogy to prove his credentials. The angel appeared to Joseph and invited him to go behind the scenes to see what God was doing to redeem the world, and Joseph readily embraced it all. He was a man who walked with, listened to and obeyed God.

There was no rationalizing, no procrastinating and no excuse making. There was no seeking advice and no praying about it. When Joseph heard from God, he responded without reservation. He must have had many questions, but none of them were more important than listening to and obeying God.

We join the Christmas story when we take what God gives.

Joseph and Mary packed up Jesus and their belongings for a 175-mile hike to Egypt. Historians tell us that, more than likely, the first part of their trip was through rugged terrain. They had the gifts of the wise men to fund their journey and their stay in Egypt. And even in Egypt, they were likely in a community of Jewish refugees who had resettled there to escape the oppressive rule of the Roman Empire.

All of this reminds us that, just because God sends an angel to call us, does not mean he will send an angel to deliver us. The uncommon work of God is often accomplished through common means. When Herod threatened Jesus, God could have miraculously rescued this family. Instead, he warned Joseph, and Joseph strapped on his sandals, packed up their things and walked through the dark desert to relocate his family to a foreign country.

Making Jesus known often means being comfortable with inconvenience, laboring in ordinary work and staying faithful in obscure, uncelebrated and unremarkable obedience.

We join the Christmas story when we persevere into the unknown.

How long would they stay in Egypt? The angel didn’t say. And Joseph never asked.

As it turned out, they likely stayed in Egypt only a few months, but they didn’t know that when they started the journey. They were willing to miss birthdays, funerals and weddings. They were willing to take their only son away from parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles and friends. They were willing to grow old in a foreign land if that’s what it meant to make Jesus known.

God’s activity to redeem the world is always an open-ended assignment. Hosea prophesied, “Out of Egypt I have called my Son.” Joseph likely knew the Law and Prophets, but how all the pieces fit together was a mystery to him. But it was no mystery that God’s eternal purpose was more important than his own plan.

Joseph refused to simply watch the Christmas story from a distance. He gladly abandoned his plans to join God’s redeeming work to make Jesus known. Whatever story, whatever plan, whatever platform, whatever future we think we are building for ourselves, Jesus can build a better one because he is simply a better Savior of the world than we are.