It’s been a while, and this isn’t really a deep post, but it’s more than a Facebook comment for friends. I hope everyone is having an amazing, perfect Christmas, but the reality is, most folks aren’t. Lots of people are hurting, missing someone, worried about finances, their future, their children, or a hundred other fears. They might be battling depression, or just overwhelmed by the difficulties of life, and more than a little irritated that no matter how they try, they can’t seem to get a break. This time of year it’s especially hard, because, you know, you’re supposed to be HAPPY!
As I’ve been contemplating the Christmas story this year, I have been drawn to thinking about it from Joseph’s perspective. He was a good man. He always did the right thing, to a fault. He worked hard, and tried to honor his girlfriend even though the world said he should publicly humiliate her for cheating on him. Then, God sent a messenger with a crazy message-he was supposed to keep her, and raise the boy as his own, even though he was God’s son.
Sometimes when we’re doing exactly what God wants us to do, we expect everything to be easy and go our way. I’m guessing Joseph did too. But he got ostracism, gossip, shunning by the people of his community. Every day. And, just when it couldn’t get any worse, he gets ordered to travel to be counted (and taxed) by the oppressive government. With a 9 month pregnant wife.
I can hear him shouting in desperation, “Seriously God?” (Joseph sounds a lot like me in my imagination, and I’ve been saying that a lot lately).
I can’t imagine traveling with a 9 month pregnant lady, on foot, for days. It can’t be good. I suspect the conversation was more than a little strained. Hours of long walking in silence, rehearsing conversations, counting frustration on frustration… And then they get to Bethlehem, and there isn’t even a decent place to stay to have the baby.
There’s no record of any other divine communication to Joseph after that initial visit from the angel. He’s had 9 months to second-guess himself, to doubt what God was doing, to consider how lousy his situation is, when all along he was doing the right thing. There was one thing that was undeniably real. There was a baby.
Our nativity scenes and Charlie Brown Christmas Specials really skew our understanding of that event. The multitude of heavenly host didn’t show up at the birth; from what we can read, there was no angelic presence at all at the manger. The shepherds got to hear the angels worshipping; all Joseph got that day was a visit from a bunch of smelly low-lifes who claimed to have seen angels. That was Joseph’s only confirmation that the promises were coming true.
Joseph’s “Christmas Story” wasn’t a “happy holiday.” But God was working. And even when we can’t see it, he can reassure us that we are on track, even by the least-likely of messengers, if we will listen.
“Merry Christmas” doesn’t always mean “Happy Christmas.” “Merry” would be better translated as “joyful” because joy isn’t dependent on feelings or emotions, or even circumstances. Joy is the reality of being in God’s will, doing what he made you to do. Joy is always available, even when you have no reason to be happy.
I truly hope your Christmas is happy, but I pray it is joyful.