Lessons from the Nativity: 6: God’s Confusing Will
Luke 2:4,5 So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child.
The problem, I believe, of going to Nativity plays at school each year, or watching Christmas films on TV is that we get soaked with sentimentality and lose the reality of the Christmas story. It is not a story of warm fuzzy feelings, it is a story of uncertainties, and in that respect is reflects how life really is, especially when it comes to God. If you come from a church background where all you hear are nice warm words of how wonderful the Christian life is, it is time to grow up and face reality. Consider what I am saying in the light of the nativity story.
First we’ve seen poor old Zechariah struggling and failing to cope with God’s arrival and God’s good news. It’s beyond his comprehension. Come on now, how many of us struggle with the wonder of God’s love for us and struggle to accept the good things said to us about His good desires for us? Then there is young Mary being invited into the world of impossibility and who knows where that will lead! Then we saw Joseph struggling to maintain his righteousness but submitting to grace and no doubt still left with a bunch of questions about the past and the future.
And then the great and mighty Roman emperor wades in: “In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world.” (Lk 2:1) Brilliant! That will mean upheaval for millions of people. Why not count them where they live, why insist they go back to their town of origin to be counted? ‘Augustus’ simply means ‘exalted one’ and was a title given to him by the Roman senate in 27 BC. Without doubt he was a great and might ruler who did much for Rome but at the moment he is doing no favours for this young couple we have been considering. Time has moved on and Mary is well advanced in her pregnancy – not the best time for travelling. There they are settling in to accept God’s will up there in Nazareth up in Galilee, but Joseph’s origins were in Bethlehem in the south in Judea, some eighty miles away. Eighty miles without modern public transport when you are nearly nine months pregnant is not fun! And this is the will of God?
Little did they realise there were big prophetic dynamics at work here. Long back Micah had prophesied, “But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times,” (Mic 5:2) but actually was Micah simply seeing how Augustus would act and what he would cause to come about? Or was there more about associating Bethlehem with king David so that this one, naturally descended at least from David would be known as the Son of David? There are spiritual interweavings here that are not clear, but that is so often how it is with the will of God. So often He speaks His will but it is unclear how it will work out; the end product is spoken out but the process has to be walked by faith.
And that is how it is for this young couple. They have both had angelic encounters and so both have had direction from heaven, but the way ahead was not spelled out; they have to live within the life circumstances that are being played out around them, and they are both inconvenient and confusing and, in the light of Mary’s state, worrying. Will she have the baby on the journey which may well take her a week to do? Where will they stay when they get there? How long will they have to stay there? Where will she be able to have her baby? These are all good and valid questions, questions which will not get answers until they happen!
If you complain about living in a day when so often it is morally questionable, where Satan so often seems to have the upper hand and the world seems to be going crazy, where possible world-wide terrorism has cast a shadow of fear, where climate change seems to have brought uncertainty and chaos for many people, then look again at this most important couple, heralding the Son of God into the world, and think again. Their uncertainties were different – they are in every age – but uncertainties there were because it is a Fallen World and things go wrong and people do nasty or inconvenient things; that’s just how it is.
But in the midst of this – and this IS the reality – God is sovereign and He is working. Yes, He has worked in Mary to enable her to conceive, He has worked in Joseph to get him to accept it, He is working in Wise Men who are probably just about starting out on their quest, He will work in the heart of an innkeeper to provide somewhere for them to stay, whether it was a back stable or a cave, whatever! He will be working with some shepherds to come and greet the new baby and he will work in the wise men of Jerusalem to guide the Magi to their destination, and He will work in Joseph to get him to escape with his little family to Egypt. Oh yes, it may be confusing, it may be chaotic, but hold on to this fundamental truth – God IS in the midst of it and He is there for you as He was for Mary and Joseph! Hallelujah!