Today marks the first Sunday of Advent. Many Christians all over the globe mark Advent as an important season to prepare for our celebration of the birth of Christ: Christmas. Preparing our hearts and minds to celebrate the first coming of Christ and to welcome His second coming is of primary importance. John the Baptist declared the arrival of kingdom come, and Jesus exhorted His disciples to remain alert and prepared for His return.
Even the most spiritual of believers can become distracted by the peripheral preparations for Christmas: gift lists and purchasing, party planning, baking and meal preparation. And in this COVID-saturated holiday season, we face stress and anxiety, frustration and fatigue, grief and loss. It seems to me, though, that we can take comfort and encouragement from Matthew’s account of Joseph as the time Jesus was born:
Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. 19 And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. 20 But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” 22 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel” (which means, God with us). 24 When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife, 25 but knew her not until she had given birth to a son. And he called his name Jesus. Matthew 1:18-25.
Joseph is a humble carpenter, looking forward to marriage and a predictable life in his Jewish community. And then he finds his world turned upside down! Joseph’s wife-to-be is expecting a child despite the fact that they are not yet married and have not been intimate. Matthew’s account is sparse, but it is easy to imagine the shock, grief, anger, and confusion filling Joseph’s heart and mind. But even as he decides to separate from Mary in the most gracious way possible, an angel interrupts his grief and upends this plan. Not only does a heavenly messenger appear to Joseph, but the angel addresses him as “Son of David,” reminding Joseph that he is descended from Israel’s greatest king. The very real struggles of Joseph’s personal life are suddenly eclipsed by the angel’s revelation of God’s greater purposes. Again, Matthew gives us few details. We are left to ponder Joseph’s departure from his “micro” personal life and his entry into a life that is intertwined with the fulfillment of God’s eternal purposes and promises. Matthew tells us that Joseph is a just man, a good Jew. Without doubt, he knows God’s Word and is waiting with all faithful Jews for the Messiah. As the angel reminds Joseph that he is a descendant of David, the Law and the Prophets converge, centuries of Jewish history come into sharp focus, and Joseph is confronted with the enormous reality that the LORD is using him to fulfill the LORD’s glorious and eternal purposes.
And so here we are. In some ways, at least, we are not unlike Joseph. We do our best to live by faith in our day-to-day lives. We are beset by the trials and troubles of life as fallen people in a fallen world. And we are sometimes blind-sided by unexpected interruptions in our plans if not by outright tragedy. Without minimizing in the least the significance of our trials, we can take Joseph’s story as an encouraging reminder that we are, in fact, part of the Lord’s larger, glorious, eternal plan. Even as we find ourselves reeling from life on this side of the kingdom, even as we continue to adjust to life in a pandemic, we can be comforted that the Messiah has come, and we can be confident that He is returning—to redeem us for all eternity. The season of Advent is an invitation to remember not only that Jesus came because He cares about our trials and troubles but also to remember that those trials and troubles are only a part of our story. Advent is our opportunity to prepare for redemption and to proclaim it. The kingdom of God is at hand!