I don’t usually wax eloquent on our family blog – I try to keep it to our family and ministry happenings. But, I’ve been very contemplative this Christmas season and thought I’d just take a couple minutes to share some thoughts that, for once, are not just a typical update.
I’ve been a Christian a long time. I’ve also taught children a long time. During these years, there are a few Bible stories one tends to teach frequently: Christmas and Easter. It can get easy to find these repetitive and begin to think that you know the whole thing, there’s nothing new there. But, the Word of God is “living and active,” so I decided a few years ago to ask God to teach me something new from these stories – something I’d either never thought about or a fact I never knew previously. He never disappoints! Something new always crops up.
This year, it began with a simple phrase:
…And Joseph named him Jesus. -Matthew 1:25b
A general theme this Christmas season in church, in our kid’s program, and in my personal life was about doing hard things and trusting God to accomplish the outcome. This was summed up in that verse about Joseph.
Let me back up:
God asked Mary to do something exceptionally difficult: to “not be afraid” and to, essentially, be God’s mom. She was a young girl, Jewish and engaged, who was told she was going to get pregnant outside of wedlock. The ramifications of this one statement were enormous. In Jewish culture, at the very least, she was going to be ostracized. At the most extreme, they could have chosen to stone her. More than likely, she was going to end up divorced from Joseph, ostracized, and unable to remarry. This was a big proposition for a young girl of probably 14. And yet, she didn’t ask anymore questions of the angel beyond, “How is this going to happen since I’m a virgin?” After that, we only hear her glorifying God for giving her the immense privilege of being the mother of the Son of God.
God asked her to do something extremely hard – and she said ‘yes.’
Joseph was such a good man. He must have loved Mary very much. He had every right, in their culture and faith, to make a public example of her. Legally, they were married and just waiting for him to complete their home and make it official. To end their betrothal, they needed a divorce. He could have done this quite publicly – made her an example, humiliated her, and made it impossible for her to hold a job or remarry. Instead, his desire was to simply divorce her privately. No big scene, no one had to know the circumstances (although a pregnancy would’ve been made public at some point!). This would have allowed him to remarry eventually if he so chose. By Moses’ law, this was completely permissible and probably the most respectable solution.
Instead, as we know, God told Joseph to “not be afraid” and take Mary as his wife anyway. Not only did Joseph take her as his wife, he stayed pure until the baby was born, AND – Joseph named him Jesus.
We all know step parents. We know really good step-parents and we know not-so-great step-parents. The really good ones are usually the ones who take the step-children in as their own. They give them their last name, the kids call them “mom” and “dad” and there is mutual love and respect. One would have no idea they were “step-children” unless they were told. The family merges seamlessly. This is how I picture Joseph. He didn’t just marry Mary. He didn’t just stick by her while she raised this child. She was not the sole parent. Joseph took the responsibility of raising Jesus as his own and it began with giving Him His name. He took ownership of this child that was not his own.
God asked Joseph to do something extremely hard – and Joseph said ‘yes.’
While God won’t be asking any of us to be parents to His Son again any time soon, I do believe He asks us to do hard things. Immediately, when I think of “hard things”, I think of missionaries. You know the ones I’m thinking of: out in a tribe, learning an unwritten language, with people who have never had an outside influence before, forging through the jungle, and building a home out of mud. That, to me, is hard!
But, God hasn’t asked me to do that. Am I unworthy? Or is He simply asking me to do something else, equally as hard in its own right?
You may not be asked to leave it all and live in the jungle, either. But, you might be asked to love your impossible-to-deal-with neighbor. To witness to someone who is a staunch atheist. To love a family member who is completely unlovable. To raise a difficult child. To work in a less-than-convenient work environment with little pay and less recognition. To stay in a marriage that feels like it’s crumbling under your feet. To move your family to a new country or State because God has called you to a new ministry or job. To leave your job and be a stay-at-home mom even if it means less income.
Or something else entirely.
And you know what? It’s HARD.
God may have called us to ministry and we may have a very clear understanding, desire, and love for that call, but that doesn’t mean we don’t fight, cry at night, get frustrated, or want to give up sometimes. With great joy also comes great heartache. Doing what God asks brings immense contentment and eternal rewards, but it also brings sacrifice. That doesn’t make it bad, nor does it mean you’ve “missed your calling.”
Joseph and Mary were specifically chosen by God to do extremely hard things. We look up to them and every little girl wants to play Mary in the church Christmas program. But, we tend to look beyond what is not written in our Bibles: the scorn, shame, and incredibly difficult time they must have had raising this “illegitimate” child. Think about it: gave birth in a barn (away from home and Mom!), fled for their lives to Egypt in the middle of the night with a toddler, lived in a foreign country for a few years (and who knows how much contact they had with family at that time – did Mary’s mom even know if they alive, or ever coming home again?), and returned home to a small town to raise a child no one had seen yet (and we all know how small towns talk!). And this was just His childhood!
So, what has God asked you to do in 2017 that’s hard? Every year comes with it certain challenges, most of which we will never foresee coming. Yet, when they’re from God they are always prefaced with, “Do not be afraid!”
At least for me, I always enter a new year with excitement and a little bit of fear and trepidation. I know what God has asked of me in the past, so I’m always just a bit curious what He’s going to ask of me this year! This year, though, I’m going to keep in mind what I learned this Christmas season: Do not be afraid if God asks me to do hard things and answer His call with an obedient ‘yes.’
I don’t know what 2017 holds in store for you, either, but I hope this encouraged you to do the same. Don’t be afraid; God’s got this all under control.
Happy New Year!