Step Towards the Difficulty, Not Away from It
“But just when [Joseph] resolved [to distance himself from Mary], an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, ‘Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.” – Matthew 1:20
Christmas is Relational Complexity
One of the ironies in the season of Christmas is the difference between the harmony and joy we hear around us and the emotional pain we feel. For such a lovely time of year, it’s also one of the most stressful and painful. We’re supposed to feel at peace with everyone. We’re supposed to be able to relax at home with a fire going and our feet up on an ottoman. But, our reality is often times quite the opposite. There’s that feeling of tension in our necks as we prepare for our family to gather in our home. There’s that inner turmoil as we try to satisfy the litany of voices telling us we can’t be at peace until we’ve taken care of all our tasks and accomplished all our shopping.
It’s good news, then, that the first Christmas stories are full of this same reality.
The stories leading up to Jesus’ birth are full of complexity, stress, and relational difficulty. In fact, this seems to be a precursor to the good news.
At this particular point in the story of God’s wonderful plan of salvation, the prospects look bleak. The 12 tribes of Israel have descended into a cool, rigid pattern of differences rather than mutual life. Cultural differences dominate the lands around Jerusalem, Bethlehem and Nazareth. And to make things worse, the leaders of the day are a corrupt, cruel king brooding over the Israelite people with evil machinations and a distant, harsh government controlling a vast empire.
Focusing in on the more intimate, things are just as difficult.
Zecheriah and Elizabeth are forced into a hard silence between them, both having to trust and lean in with each other during a stressful time in their marriage. Zecheriah’s public life has just gone through a whirlwind, and Elizabeth will be called to break a cultural barrier and name her own son outside of tradition.
Then, there’s Joseph and Mary. Mary is called to take up the most harrowing of labors – to patiently and lovingly accept a fate that is beyond her control, a situation that is sure to draw ridicule and scorn from others.
Joseph, for his part, almost can’t handle it. He’s about to step away from the situation. I know what he is feeling. Don’t you?
Mary is clearly “with child,” and it’s not his. To stay with this woman, to stay with this situation is to step further into the complexity. It’s to step into relational difficulty. What will his peers think? What will his parent’s say?
Yet, we see Joseph do precisely this: step into the situation in faith.
Perhaps that’s the word you need to hear today. I know it is for me. Thankfully, a good friend of mine just brought me the same message over a cup of coffee.
Wherever there may be conflict and dissension in your life, step into it trusting that God is in the difficult situation and about to birth something new.