but after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit – Matthew 1:20
Imagine being on the brink of the most important time in your life. You have been careful… cautious, doing everything so that the time or event would turn out perfect. You even took it further: trusting this area of your life to God, asking for His will in your life decision.
It could be a relationship, a job, a ministry, or simply a connection. It might be something as meaningful to you as winning a race, or planning a wedding. This, in fact, was the case with a young couple named Mary and Joseph. We don’t know much about them but we do know that they had a dedication to God that God decided to capitalize on.
A gift opens the way for the giver and ushers him into the presence of the great – Proverbs 18:16
With our dreams often come thoughts of their impact: Who might be touched or influenced by our decision, our action, our lives. We see following God as an adventure, as an opportunity to leave a mark, to have something that others say they want to emulate. Now we cannot say for sure that Mary and Joseph had those dreams or aspirations, but whether they did or not, we stand in awe that God would take such “normal” people, and use them to do something great. 2000 years later, people hold Mary up as “mother of God”, an icon to be revered, and Joseph is often quoted as the righteous man who did not want to disgrace Mary. If there was or is anyone to pattern your life after, Mary and Joseph would be at the top of the list. This, of course, is because we know the story, how it ends, and what God has to say about them in all of this. On “this side” of Mary and Joseph’s life, there is something “right and perfect” about it all. God chose the right time and the right people to bring His beloved Son into the world.
Closed Book Test
We can read scripture and see that God moved in the fullness of time to bring salvation and adoption to the world through the advent of His Son. This was all according to God’s perfect plan. However, let’s, for a moment, close the book, and look at the unfolding of this plan in the lives of two unsuspecting people.
A Day (un)Like any Other…
A normal girl in a normal house, in a normal village, in a normal nation, received a very abnormal visit that would change her life. Mary received a visit from an angel, telling her that even though she was pledged to Joseph, she would have a child by someone who was not her husband. (just pause and think about that for a moment…) At this point, Mary was not the revered saint that we all know and love. She was just a young girl in a small town. The girl that everyone knew, the girl that did things right. Now this girl was going to begin to change in front of their eyes, and it would be obvious that something was amiss – the wedding hadn’t happened yet. This was still the betrothal period… do we really know the real Mary? Is she as godly as we thought?
Joseph, it appears, did not have the benefit of having an angelic visit to tell him the great news. Joseph probably had to hear it from Mary, and was left to stew on this for a bit
Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly. But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream… – Matthew 1:19-20a
Two people, in the perfect center of God’s will who, in that time, no one would have wanted to be.
Holy Chess Matches (Batman)
We generally hold two views of God working out his will in our lives. Both of those views usually involve us as the main character of God’s action.
The two views are:
1) God needs me: He is doing something to me, so something good can happen for me. God works in my life because He loves me and wants to see me do well and live happy and healthy, by which I can be an example of how others should live.
2) God is in a grudge match with Satan where we are collateral to be used to gain the upper hand when necessary.
When we take the second approach, we can form the opinion that God is bringing “bad” in my life for a reason – either overt sin, or to teach me a lesson, make me humble or something else so I can “look the part” more.
As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” – John 9:1-2
We don’t get the promotion, we get sick, we lose relationships, get misjudged, and all we can think is “I don’t remember doing anything to deserve this”. Sometimes, however, it has nothing to do with God bringing correction. Sometimes situations are opportunities for God to reveal His glory – opportunities for God to do something out of the ordinary, to move us in areas we never thought we would go, or do things in and through us that we never would have had the guts to do.
What is “Bad”?
Just before Mary and Joseph had to work through this change in their lives, their relatives Zechariah and Elizabeth were also going through and unexpected life change at the hand of God:
Both of them were upright in the sight of God, observing all the Lord’s commandments and regulations blamelessly. But they had no children, because Elizabeth was barren and they were both well along in years… but the angel said to him: “Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son and you are to give him the name John…Zechariah asked the angel “How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well along in years?” – Luke 1:6-7, 13, 18
It is easy for us to label things as good and bad, right and wrong, possible and impossible. Partially it is how we were made (Adam naming the animals). The hard part though is we label things as right or wrong according to how we see them, or according to what we think is going to be acceptable by those around us.
At that time Jesus went through the grainfields on the Sabbath. His disciples were hungry and began to pick some heads of grain and eat them. When the Pharisees saw this they said to him, “Look! Your disciples are doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath”… “If you had known what these words mean, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice’, you would not have condemned the innocent. For the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.” – Matthew 12:1-2, 7-8
God sees the situations of our lives differently, because he is not looking through our lens, but rather His own. What we call bad or hard or impossible are labels that God does not use. This is why Jesus could stand in front of a woman, convicted by her peers of wrongdoing, and declare that he would not condemn her. Jesus looked at her, at her life, and at the entire situation differently than we do, and in that situation offered mercy and a changed life.
Similarly with Mary and Joseph, even though to those externally it was not perfect, to God it was. He didn’t have to defend it to anyone, to make sure people were happy with it or Him for He knew it was the right thing. To the human mind, it was bad, but to God it was wonderful.
If I say “Surely the darkness will hide me and the light become night around me,” even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to you. – Psalm 139:11-12
God will often enter our lives and do things that we wonder why… it’s hard…bad…ugly. However, rather than looking at our judgment in the situation, we need to look to His purpose in it all – at how He sees it.
|Zechariah’s Response, and Result||Mary’s Response and Result|
|How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well along in years… and now you will be silent and not able to speak until the day this happens because you did not believe my words||How will this be, Mary asked the angel, since I am a virgin? … I am the Lord’s servant, Mary answered. May your word to me be fulfilled|
Mary had the right response to God’s word, even understanding the difficulty that may come with it. However, she didn’t see it as good or bad. She saw it as the will of God. When we can see that God’s plan doesn’t have to look perfect on the outside, we can remain confident in His plan as He works it out for and through us.
Eagles: Cruel parents
Bald Eagles set their nests high in the mountains as a protective measure for their young. One of the things that is hard to see, as a nature lover, is an eagle parent literally kick their young out of the nest when it is time for them to fly. We see it as cruel because the young eagle could get hurt if they don’t fly. The parents, however, see a greater hurt – eagles were meant to fly, not to stay grounded, so they push the young eagles into what they were meant to be and do. These same parents will also swoop down and catch a falling eagle if they fail to fly. The pushing out of the nest is not to see if they will pass or fail the test. The parent makes sure the young passes the test. God did the same with Mary and Joseph. This was not a test of their faith to see if they could handle it. God knew what they were meant to be and do, and orchestrated everything so they would succeed.
In his heart a man plans his course, but the Lord determines his steps – Proverbs 16:9
Through the angel, God showed Mary that he already had things in motion with Elizabeth. In a series of dreams God spoke to Joseph not only about his initial decision, but about what he needed to do to keep his family safe and cared for. God was determining the steps of this young couple, just as he does with us.
Living Imperfectly Perfect
Mary was gutsy. She made the choice to do something that was not conventional – to live a life that didn’t correspond to the rules.
She had to: she was bringing the Life Changer into the world – how could her life not be dramatically altered in the process? God gives us the opportunity to be just as gutsy – to follow Him in his plan, even though it completely “messes up our lives”. We can choose to stay where it’s safe, to consider like Joseph did to “set it aside privately”, or step into it, where “things are scary and unfamiliar” and watch God weave an imperfect life or situation into His perfect plan.
What is God bringing into the world through you? How does He need to mess up your perfection in order to do it?