GFC Devo: Day 1
Today’s churchwide devotional looks at the events preceding the birth of Jesus, as told in Matthew 1:18-25, and Luke 1:26-38. I’m glad both references are there, because we get to see the into the lives of both Mary and Joseph.
At first, Joseph doesn’t hear anything from God. When he discovers that Mary is pregnant, he does a very respectable thing, and decides to divorce her quietly. Unwed pregnancy was a shameful thing in those days, and he could have easily made a public spectacle of Mary. Clearly this was not what he had bargained for, but he was a righteous man, and obviously loved her enough to spare her the indignity.
He instinctively followed the normal societal protocol for situations like this, but he was still wrestling with it. Matthew 1:20 states that “…as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him” and told him what God was doing. This was enough for Joseph…he was obedient from that day on.
Luke’s account focuses on Mary’s experience. An angel came to her first, to let her know what was going to happen. Her initial response was, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?” Again, her mind was not prepared for such strange news. Once the angel explained that God was at work, she obeyed, and worshiped God.
Some thoughts emerge from this event:
- We read this story with a vantage point of knowing the whole story, but these two people only had their own experience to draw upon.
- Their knee-jerk reactions were based in that experience, and revealed a desire for things to remain as they were. Joseph, even though he had doubts, did not hesitate to follow the social code and pursue divorce. Mary’s first response was to state the obvious. Neither was really open to God doing something totally miraculous.
- We shouldn’t be too harsh on them, though. God had been silent for almost 400 years before this event. The miracles of the Fathers of Israel were distant realities in that age. Mary and Joseph had no categories for something like this. We sort of shrug off their obedience now, because we read the story from the vantage point of seeing how it all played out. We live in an age where the Holy Spirit’s power is regularly seen. They had to take it on purely blind faith.
- Consider that what we now know to be “good news” was probably “bad news” to Mary and Joseph. An unwed pregnancy was not on the radar for either of them. They had been good, law-keeping Jews up to that point…righteous in every way. They had saved themselves in purity, and then God came out of nowhere, and changed the course of their lives forever. God was going to ruin the purity and righteousness they had worked for their entire lives. How could he do this? Why would he do this?
- Mary’s Magnificat, her song to the Lord, in Luke 1:46-56, are an even greater testimony to her faith. She just heard that she was going to be an unwed mother in a culture that was hostile to sexual impurity, and yet, because God was doing it, she praised Him. This was truly a sacrifice of praise. Where did she get the strength to worship God in the midst of such an unexplainable and devastating event?
- Imagine if we were in their shoes. Joseph didn’t get any explanation from God until after he found out that Mary was pregnant. Even then, I’m sure his visit from the angel didn’t exactly clear things up. This had never happened before in the history of humankind. There was no simple explanation. It would take 33 years for God to finish what he started that day.
- What gave them the ability to obey with joy? How could they possibly respond rightly to such confusing news? Even though Mary and Joseph had no idea what was going on, and their lives were turned upside down in an instant, God was clearly at work. This fact is the only reason they could obey, with hope and joy. God did not simply commandeer or “rescue” this situation to suit his purposes. He caused it. He was actively bringing these life-altering changes, these unexplainable events into their lives.
Can we apply this to our lives right now? Are there things that happen to us, that are unexplainable, and run totally counter to the way our lives were going? Are we experiencing left turns that are totally not where our lives were heading? No one plans for the stock market to crash. No one plans for a loved one to die. No one plans for cancer, or job changes, or unplanned pregnancy.
Sometimes we think, “God couldn’t have done this, because it’s totally out of left field, and I didn’t see it coming.” If this is the case, and if God is truly bound to the whim of chance or the actions of men, then our only hope is to try and hold on to that life we were making for ourselves.
But there is great hope, in fact our only hope is in believing that God is actively working out his purposes in ways we cannot see yet. If we don’t believe this, then a verse like Romans 8:28 will lose all its meaning, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.”
Our response, just like Mary and Joseph, indicates whether or not we truly believe it. Do we respond by trying to hold on to “the way things are” or “the way we think they should be,” or can we believe in a big God who is doing big things according to his purpose and for our good? One way produces unbelief and fear…the other produces joy-filled obedience in hope.
God is not “responding” to unexplainable things that happen in our lives…he is “working.” I pray that we would take time to consider these things, as Joseph did. Be open to God’s visitation, however strange that comfort might be. Then, like Mary, we should turn our hearts to worship, and then be humbled that God would choose such a lowly servant to accomplish his good will.
And Mary said,
“My soul magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant.
For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
for he who is mighty has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.
And his mercy is for those who fear him
from generation to generation.
He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts;
he has brought down the mighty from their thrones
and exalted those of humble estate;
he has filled the hungry with good things,
and the rich he has sent away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel,
in remembrance of his mercy,
as he spoke to our fathers,
to Abraham and to his offspring forever.”