Just some early morning thoughts from me to you…

…Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit. Because Joseph was a righteous man and 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 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. She will give birth to a Son, and you are to give Him the name Jesus, because He will save His people from their sins’…

When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded…”

Matthew 1:18-24 (NIV)

It had to be a life-changing experience for Joseph.

Surely it had to be strange.

From the little we know of Joseph, he seemed to be a good man, a righteous, law abiding, hardworking and compassionate man. He was pledged to Mary and under Jewish customs no intimate relations could take place between them until they were married. And then he finds out Mary is pregnant. He saw that he had two options to save his integrity—to publicly divorce her, or, to spare Mary that embarrassment, he could divorce her privately. But to have stayed with her now would have been an admission of guilt that he had caused her to become pregnant. And so he decided he would divorce her privately and quietly.

But a strange thing happened to him as he debated his options. He had a dream. And an angel spoke to him and told him of a third option, God’s option:

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. She will give birth to a Son, and you are to give Him the name Jesus, because He will save His people from their sins.”

The Angel might well have said to him something like, “Joseph, you think my appearing to you is strange, you just wait! You want to see strange Joseph—just wait!” And the event the Angel described now looming before Joseph and Mary would indeed be strange—as only God can do strange.

We’re in the home stretch toward Christmas. Presents are being bought and wrapped. The dinner menu for Christmas day is being settled. Travel plans have been made. The stockings are all hung “by the chimney with care, in hopes that”—well, you know the rest. Yet I wonder if any of us feel stressed out like those two folks who I observed the other day screaming at each other over a parking space at the local mall.

We’re in the home stretch. And tell me again, where are we headed? And why are we headed there? And how will we behave along the way? And what will we do when we get there?

Joseph was in the home stretch heading toward Bethlehem because of a census requirement, with dust building in his lungs from miles of dry road beds, aching joints from years on the job standing, squatting and swinging a carpenter’s hammer. Traveling with a woman he was scheduled to marry who was—only the Lord knows how—already pregnant, he journeyed along on the home stretch. And so on he traveled, leaving his place of comfort, believing in a dream, believing in an Angel, believing in—it seemed a strange thing God was up to this time.

I wonder what we would have done.

The journey sounds a bit like ours. Difficult, busy, cluttered days on uncertain stretches of our lives, traveling out of our comfort zones, with growing aches, pains and health problems from years of doing whatever seemed to be necessary to make ends meet. And then the stress and heartache of family troubles, illnesses, losses, relationship struggles and daily disappointments, unfulfilled expectations and too-many rejections, no “parking spaces”, and always having to make do with what we have and where we are—wondering if the grass is greener somewhere else.

And Joseph’s response to all of what God was doing and what the Angel said was before him? Are you nuts, Lord? Okay, parting the Red Sea and shutting the mouths of lions, those were amazing, but a virgin birth? Maybe that’s what we think he should have said. Maybe that’s what we would say. Maybe that’s what we say today when we’re faced with mountains and valleys and as we search high and low around bend after bend, for that perfect path through all the uncertainty of our lives.

But look closer at Joseph. He’s the one always standing quietly in the background of manger scenes everywhere. Do you see him? And even though he didn’t understand, even though he no doubt wondered why him, and why this way and why here, Joseph’s response was one of humble obedience. Something made him believe, as in so many moments throughout God’s history, that what was happening was not about him, but it was about something much greater than him.

It was about God’s strange plan to save the world.

And it was a life-changing experience for him, and for all the world. As strange as it may seem, and as far removed as two-thousand years ago is from us today, it was and can be a life-changing experience for us afresh and anew today.

And it will happen if we believe, and when we believe in the Babe of Bethlehem. That’s where we’re headed and that’s why we’re headed there, and He’s what we’re headed for today and all the way to Christmas day, and to everyday thereafter for the rest of our lives.

It will be a life-changing experience for us.

We’re in the home stretch, dear friends. Get ready—God is up to something strange. For you and me, and all the world.

Amen and Amen.

In His Name—Scott

Copyright 2011. Scott L. Whitaker. All rights reserved.