Meditations on the Reality of Christmas: 11. Sovereign God, Responsible People
Mt 1:18 This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit.
There is one aspect or characteristic of the Christmas story that stands out to me and seems to prevail over all other things in the accounts. It is the balance between sovereign God and the ability of human beings to interact with Him and, when you think about this, it is perhaps one of the most important aspects of the whole Bible and, indeed, our daily lives.
On the one hand we have the sovereignty of God. God is all powerful and can do anything. Indeed we did read the angels words to Mary, “nothing is impossible with God.” (Lk 1:37) We see it specifically (in chronological order in the texts) with Zechariah being made dumb for nine months, with Elizabeth being enabled to conceive in old age, with Mary conceiving without the help of a man (and possibly putting the idea of a census in the mind of the emperor). In those we have a disciplinary act that brought dumbness, an act that changes either Zechariah’s or Elizabeth’s bodies to bring about conception, and to enable Mary to conceive. Those are all works of power by God whereby He, if we may put it like this, defies the laws of nature, and changes three people physically. The first two He just did and the third one He asked permission almost of Mary for it to happen, although it was more of a telling of what would happen.
But then the other side of the coin is human responsibility, the ability we have to choose to act in a particular way. Now Zechariah could have gone home and ignored what had happened but instead he communicated with Elizabeth and the end result was John the Baptist, as he eventually became known, the forerunner for Jesus.
There is also, of course, Joseph who, finding out Mary was pregnant, “was a righteous man and did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly,” (Mt 1:19) but then he has a dream in which an angel says, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” (Mt 1:20,21) So, “When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife.” (Mt 1:24) I always find Joseph an enigma is the Christmas story.
He is there as a support for Mary. To guard her, provide for her and protect her, but apart from that he is very much a figure in the background, an ordinary carpenter. It is his ordinariness that strikes me; nothing dramatic happens to him – except he keeps getting dreams that guide him, and he responds to them. They are God’s guidance that keep him with Mary (Mt 1:20-24), send them to Egypt to flee from Herod (Mt 2:13), then later to return to Israel (Mt 2:19,20) and finally to settle in Galilee (Mt 2:22). In some ways Joseph is the hero of the play though that rarely comes across in Nativity plays, because, purely on the basis of dreams he was there for this little family and provided its protection.
Joseph is the classic example, I would suggest, of a believer being led by God. The amazing thing is that God leaves His Son in the care of this simple carpenter who perfectly fulfils his role. An amazing example of faith. There will be others who similarly follow in his wake, but for the moment we’ll leave it with him. Will history record us as people of faith who simply did God’s bidding, even when it came so simply as the prodding of His Holy Spirit, or maybe even dreams?