Not Your Average Joe

This time of year our focus is on the baby in the manger and rightly so. We also give special attention to His virginal mother, Mary. But what about the third part of that holy family?

You know who I’m talking about. That stand in the background out of the spotlight guy named Joseph.

Maybe he was an introvert by nature. Maybe not. I really don’t know a lot about Joseph simply because there isn’t much written about him in the scriptures.

When you really think about it, Joseph must have been a truly amazing guy for God to have picked him to be the earthly father of His only son, Jesus. God could have picked absolutely anyone for the job – a king, a statesman, a rabbi, a rich man.

But He didn’t.

He picked Joseph. And by all accounts he was just an ordinary, average Joe.

A carpenter. A man who worked with his hands.

What was so different about Joseph’s character that he was the one to make the cut above all the others?

In the first chapter of Matthew, the nineteenth verse we can gain a few clues to his character. Matthew writes that Joseph was as a righteous man.

To be righteous means to be in right standing with God. Joseph loved God and did what His law commanded. He could stand before God and say, “Everyday I’m doing my best to do what you’ve asked of me.”

Not really so ordinary, is it?

When I read further I find how he dealt with a problematic situation.

You see, his fiancé Mary had given him some troubling news.

She was pregnant.

And the baby wasn’t his.

But it got even stranger than that.

Not only was she pregnant, but she claimed that she was still a virgin and had been chosen to give birth to the very Son of God.

I can only imagine the look on Joseph’s face when she dropped that little bombshell. He must have thought she was slightly delusional. After all, hadn’t she been visiting her relative Elizabeth for the past three months? Had something happened to her there that she just couldn’t bring herself to admit?

You know that if this happened in our present day he might have suggested that she be psychologically evaluated or at the very least have insisted upon a DNA test to determine paternity. This had Jerry Springer written all over it.

But as I read on I see his reaction isn’t one of anger or betrayal. It is humility and love.

Yes, he’s going to break it off with her, but he’s going to do it quietly. In those days, under the law those who became pregnant outside of marriage could have been stoned to death. But for Joseph to marry her after she had revealed her pregnancy was to say that he was the responsible party in the matter.

But Joseph was a righteous man. He was in right standing with God. He followed the rules and would have never been intimate with his fiancé before marriage.

So what to do?

The scriptures say he considered what to do. He gave it some long, hard thought. He knew what he must do. Out of compassion he would let quietly her go.

However, all those hard, thought out plans changed in an instant when he got a visit from an angel of the Lord. Everything Mary had told him was validated by that angel. Joseph was to take Mary as his wife, raise the boy as his own and name Him Jesus.

Did you get that? He was to be the adoptive daddy to the Son of God.

Jesus, the Savior of the world.

My Savior. Your Savior.

Joseph’s Savior.

Definitely not your average Joe.

 

 

 

 

The Sweet Spot

A few nights ago as I was putting the finishing decorating touches on our Christmas tree a dear friend and her husband came by. Our house was full of extended family and as they all chatted I continued to wind garland around the tree. Each time I made a pass around the tree I had to squeeze into the corner to place the garland on the back branches. My friend’s husband watched for a few moments as I made my tight orbit around the trunk before he strode across the living room toward me.

“You need to move that tree out from the wall,” he said.

Before I could utter a word he grabbed hold of the tree and lifted it up. As he did so the top part of the tree disconnected from the base. Undaunted, he hastily shoved it back on. Then repositioning his hand for better grip he moved the tree about a foot away from the wall.

I didn’t know what to say, but I’m sure my face revealed more than I wanted it to. After all, he had no idea that I had spent the last twenty minutes partnering with my affable son-in-law in the pursuit of the Christmas tree “sweet spot”. He didn’t know that the tree had already made a 16-foot journey across the room leaving a trail of major furniture adjustments in its wake before landing beautifully in the corner of the room.

He was just trying to help.

But now in the span of about twenty seconds my tree had been shifted from its perfect perch, its ornaments shaken from their special spots.

He was attempting to solve a problem he thought I was having.

I appreciated the thought behind his action, but it made me stop to think how many times I may have done that very same thing to someone else.

Impulsively jumped in and try to solve a problem that I thought existed without ever stopping to ask the person if they needed or even wanted my help. I’ve tried to instantly make something better that needed time on its own to heal.

As a teacher and mother the temptation to step right in and do too much can be a big temptation for me. I think I know the best way, the right answer, the easy fix. And there are times when I try to make it better that I am actually robbing someone else of the satisfaction of figuring it out on their own.

Or even worse, I am trying to fix a problem that only exists in my eyes. Because if the truth be told the real problem is…gulp….me.

Me and my need to control the situation.

Sometimes the best help comes in the form of listening instead of doing.

In whispered prayers and waiting.

And the keen awareness that what I might perceive as a problem, might just be somebody else’s sweet spot.

 

Come to the party

For weeks my class had been working toward an ice cream sundae party. It was the reward for memorizing the addition facts to twenty. Every new fact family committed to memory garnered an ice cream scoop or topping. Everyone had earned at least a single scoop with some sort of topping. Everyone except one. And as much as I tried to help this particular student, it was clear that the effort was very one-sided. He just didn’t take it seriously. So while the rest of the class indulged in the delicious benefits of a job well done, he quietly made his way to the library to read a book.

It’s times like that I really hate being “bad cop”. Praise and encouragement are the teaching tools I reach for most often. But sometimes they’re just not enough to motivate every child, every time and it seriously bums me out. I know, I know – life isn’t all happy faces and rainbow stickers. You can learn a lot from failure and the pain it causes. That being said, no matter how justifiable, I still hate having to don the bad cop cap and badge to carry out a punishment.

In the real world there are always going to be rewards and punishments for our choices. And when we make the choice to put love into motion it changes the world for the better. And if we put forth unloving word and actions, well, the same principle applies. But when it comes to God’s kingdom the stakes are even higher. It’s not just about doing good or bad things, but believing in the One who is the only true source of goodness. Because God is love. 

And one day we will all stand before the throne of love and give an account of our lives. I’m not suggesting that we will get into heaven by our works. That is solely a work of amazing grace, poured out on the cross by Jesus Christ. But we will be rewarded according to our works. And I can only imagine that it will  be like the most fantastic and wonderful party we’ve ever attended. And here’s the thing. I don’t want anybody I love and care about not to be in attendance. We are all invited, but not everybody gets to come. It’s a sobering thought.

But where there is life, there is hope. As Christmas approaches I am keenly aware that even the season’s secular atmosphere seems to soften hearts and minds. And softened hearts and minds lend opportunities to tell the story. The story of a God whose love is so extravagant, that despite our unwillingness to come to Him, He sent His Son to come to us. Jesus came to proclaim His love and claim us for His own. He invites us to be a part of the family of God, to join the party and live with Him forever.

The invitation is there.

We just have to say yes.

The day after Christmas

For over a month it occupied the space normally taken by our enormously overgrown umbrella plant. The places underneath it now bare; presents it had guarded, opened and gone. The gold beaded garland which had been hung with so much care a few weeks before now hangs in drooping, careless cascades where little hands have pulled at it. 

As I take the ornaments from their posts I feel an overwhelming melancholy. The house is too quiet and all that remains to be done is to put away the decorations. I wonder what is there to look forward to now? Where is the unspeakable joy of Christmas Eve? What happened to the sweet song of the angels?

On Christmas Day in the midst of all the squealing laughter and happy chatter I had paused to kneel in the corner of my kitchen to give thanks for the blessings of my family. Now only days later I am wondering where my happiness lies. But as quickly as those thoughts are formed the Spirit whispers to me in the quiet of the house. And because of the silence I can hear Him plainly.  “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

Missing the faces of my family around me it is all too easy to slip into the nearsighted vision of the world. In reality, there is much to look forward to because God has a plan. A plan that is meant for me alone. Joy still abounds even in the days after the celebration. And it is because of the stillness I can clearly hear the continuous song of the angels. Glory to God in the highest!

I Wonder?

I’ve been thinking a lot about Mary lately. Wondering what was going through her tender teenaged mind. Knowing that many, if not most, of the people in her small town doubted her story. It wasn’t the first time that two people in love, pledged to be married had found themselves in this predicament. A baby on the way before the official ceremony, but the story she told, well it was ridiculous. Really it was more than that, it was completely unbelievable. After all, why would she above all other young women be chosen to carry the son of God? Was she able to hold her head high amid the gossip? Did her friends believe her story or did they nod in support only to secretly question her honesty?

In the last days of her pregnancy did she resist the urge to complain as she made the laborious journey to Bethlehem? When they arrived in the small city overflowing with people did panic begin to set in when she realized that she was going to be spending the night in a barn? And when the pain of labor overwhelmed her did she cry out for her mother as Joseph attempted to do the job for which he had not been trained? Was there ever a moment when she thought that surely God would have made a different provision for His son?

Sweet Mary, mother of God, when you held your beautiful son for the first time, did you know then what was in store for your baby Jesus? Did the barn’s beam cast a shadow of the cross over the manger where you laid him? Or in the Father’s great mercy, did God conceal this information?

Thirty years later as you stood at the foot of the cross did your mind flash back to the starlit stable where shepherds sought out the King? Did you wonder why the angels who had pronounced his birth did not fall out of heaven to rescue Him from death? Mary, most blessed among women, what a heavy burden you were called to carry. I thank you darling sister in Christ, for being faithful to God’s call; for believing the promise and yielding up your life to God’s holy plan. May I follow your example of selfless love.

For Unto to Us

“For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given.” Those words have been resonating in my mind since I was privileged to be in attendance as my daughter directed a 200 member choir singing the Hallelujah chorus from Handel’ s Messiah. It was remarkable to hear middle school aged children tackle such a difficult piece of classical music and I was brought to tears as their young voices sang out praise.

But it was more than their musicianship that touched my heart. It was the fact that God was once again using the voices of children to bring me into His presence. Nearly every day as I spend time with the children in my class I hear the voice of God speaking to me. Opportunities abound for me to practice patience and kindness, but there are also times when the kindness and love they show toward me far outshines my own efforts.

Today I am thankful for all of the children in my life, those who have been given to me to love and for the Holy Child given to the world so long ago to bring love to me. The Father’s most beautiful gift – and His name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Isaiah 9:6  Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah!