Lessons from a familiar holiday story
Isn’t it amazing how things often don’t turn out as planned? You think things through very carefully and get key steps set up ahead of time, with all details considered. Finally, you are ready to go. Then, without warning, something unforeseen changes the situation and all your effort seems for naught. How could this happen? Maybe it is a catastrophe affecting not only yourself, but others as well. It may be that someone you were counting on lets you down. Either way, your plans are no longer possible—at least in the form you intended.
For most of us, this causes frustration and depression, but it doesn’t have to be that way. In fact, when things don’t run along smoothly according to your plans, it can be the gateway to much greater blessing that you had previously imagined.
Take for instance the case of a young carpenter. He and his bride-to-be are making plans to settle down in a small city and begin life as a family. They are from devoutly religious families, so their plans include a deep desire to serve God. The wedding, the preparation of a home, their dreams for the future—all make life exciting. But suddenly everything changes. Before they are married, the young man’s bride becomes noticeably pregnant. And, if this isn’t problem enough given their culture and religious upbringing, the prospective groom knows beyond any doubt that he is not the father of the child.
She has told him and her parents a far-fetched story about being visited by an angel and told that God is going to give her a supernaturally-conceived child. But who would believe such a story? Most people would draw the natural conclusion that she is either a liar or somehow deranged in her thinking. So, scratch one wedding. But then, the prospective groom is also visited by the same angel. He is reassured that his fiancée’s story is true. The wedding is on again, but under much different circumstances.
The plot thickens. As the time draws near for the birth of the child, there is another drastic change of plan. The government of the nation which has conquered and occupied their people has ordered a census. This is to be carried out by mandating that everyone return to their ancestral towns to be counted. So, late in Mary’s pregnancy, the couple makes a hasty and extremely arduous journey to a distant city where they have no connections. This would be like asking all of us to return to the place where our paternal ancestors originated generations ago. In my case, it would involve traveling back to a small town just south of Rotterdam in Holland. Few of us would be more than outsiders in such places.
Upon arrival, the carpenter and his young wife find that Bethlehem is swamped with visitors. This is because the family of their distant ancestor, King David, was a large and prosperous one. Therefore, lots and lots of their remote cousins have also been forced in this journey. That is why every available room for rent as already been taken. We don’t know how long Joseph and Mary spent asking around and receiving no help, but it must have been a relief when some kind-hearted person offered a stable where the desperate couple could shelter. It was in these less-than-ideal circumstances where Mary gave birth to the baby who would change the world.
Plans change; lives are dramatically affected; and yet God is sovereign. I often wonder why God asks people to do amazing and difficult things and then, seemingly, gives few details about how the plan is to be carried out. The Bible is full of such cases. Undoubtedly this requires living by faith, but I’m sure that Mary and Joseph would have appreciated at least a rough outline of what they would have to face along the way. In my study of the Bible, I have found that God typically gives the overall direction and the promises to go along with it. But he leaves it up to us to navigate our way through the details of fulfilling that objective. And, when it all seems impossible, he steps in at crucial moments to orchestrate circumstances and motivate people to make possible the fulfilling of his plan.
If you are experiencing a major setback in life or a significant re-arrangement of your neatly-ordered future, it may be well to remember this record of some people who experienced much the same thing. Mary and Joseph trusted God. They accepted his plan in their lives and believed that, if he called them to fulfill a certain purpose, he would also provide the means to do so. In their faith and obedience, they experienced blessing themselves and were the means of unimaginable blessing for the rest of us.
So, trust God: he will never let you down. He may not give you the detailed road map you desire as you follow him through the twists and turns of your journey, but he will see to it that you arrive at the destination. Of course, ultimately, the true destination is home, not to the inadequate city of a remote ancestor, but to the eternal and unspeakably wonderful city of God our Father!