This is the fifth in a set of six readings I prepared for a Christmas Eve service in 2013. I will be posting one each week until Christmas. Feel free to use them for family devotions, personal enjoyment, or for any future Christmas events of your own.
God keeps His promises even when we suffer. He keeps His promises even when we are disappointed. He keeps His promises even when it hurts.
Jesus’ friend Peter later wrote that all of our trials are “now” (you will only suffer now), all of our trials are “for a little while” (you will only suffer for a little while), and all of our trials are “if necessary” (you will only suffer if it’s necessary).
Mary and Joseph almost broke up. And it must have hurt. It must have hurt a lot. I wonder if Mary had her wedding dress. I wonder if she held it and cried. She hadn’t done anything wrong, and yet the person she loved most didn’t trust her anymore. She had obeyed God, and every other security had just fallen apart. She had replaced her dreams with God’s dreams, even if He never gave her own dreams back to her.
But it was only for a time, for a little while. God ended their suffering as quickly as He could. He always does. It sounds like the misunderstanding may have lasted for only one night.
Thinking about getting divorced could never be fun, and that’s what Joseph was thinking about that night. But God calls Joseph a righteous man because even in his own pain, he was thinking about how to protect Mary and hurt her as little as he possibly could. And God didn’t let him get too far with his own painful thoughts. “While he was still thinking about these things,” God interrupted. Somehow, eventually, he fell asleep, and God sent an angel to him in a dream. The angel begins, like all the angels in this story, by saying “Don’t be afraid.” But this time he isn’t saying, “Joseph, don’t be afraid of me.” This time he’s saying, “Joseph, don’t be afraid of Mary. Don’t be afraid of what’s happened to her. And don’t be afraid of what will happen to you. Don’t be afraid of your part in this story. Don’t be afraid of what God has done. Don’t be afraid to join Him. It was God, and it is God, and everything will be ok. Marry her. And don’t be afraid of this baby. Name Him Jesus, because He will save His people from their sins.”
The next morning Joseph must have run to find Mary with a twinkle in his eye. “Mary,” he says, “Did that angel you say spoke to you tell you what to name your baby?” She looks at him suspiciously. He didn’t believe her. “Yes,” she admits. “What was it?” he asks. She answers, “He told me to name the baby Jesus.” Joseph smiles big. “Mary, that’s exactly what he told me to name the baby too!”
And so God gave Joseph back to her.
And like our suffering, their suffering was not only just for now, and only for a little while, but it was also necessary. It provided supporting evidence for the identity of Jesus. Mary’s child either came from Joseph, from another man, or from God. If Joseph had married Mary without question, it would look like he thought it was his baby. If he had divorced her, it would look like he thought it was another man’s baby. But the fact that he wanted to divorce her but changed his mind shows that he knew it wasn’t his baby, yet came to believe it also was no other man’s baby. Joseph was convinced that Jesus was the Son of God. And Mary didn’t have to persuade him or convince him, because God keeps His promises, even when it has to hurt for a little while.
God keeps His promises even after we have failed.
God keeps His promises even when they take a long time.
God keeps His promises even when they are attacked by Satan.
God keeps His promises even when we are afraid.
God keeps His promises even when we suffer pain and disappointment.
God keeps His promises even after our hearts shut down.
The zeal of the Lord of Hosts will accomplish this.
Christmas comes because God wants it more than you do.