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. And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. 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. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” 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). When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife, but knew her not until she had given birth to a son. And he called his name Jesus.
- Matthew 1:18 – 25
God’s timing for Joseph is terrible. I know you are not supposed to say that but I think it’s true.
Consider this for a moment. Joseph is engaged to be married. So why can’t God wait until after the wedding for Mary to conceive?
After all, as God, he can write the Christmas story any way he wants to. So he could have showed up to Mary and Joseph and told them to get married as soon as possible but not to consummate their love until Mary supernaturally conceived and gave birth to God’s son. In this story there would still be a virgin birth and there would be a lot less inconvenience, trouble and pain.
Sure, it would have pushed back the coming of Jesus a few months. But God had been waiting for thousands of years to send his salvation into our world. Why can’t he wait a few more months? Why turn this couple’s world upside down? Why make them face all the leering looks and hurtful questions? It all seems very inconvenient to me.
Additionally, it seems a bit rude not to send Gabriel to talk with Mary when Joseph is also present. They are engaged, for goodness sake. Joseph and Mary have plans for a new life together. God’s plans impact Joseph immensely, and if I have a plan that is going to turn all of your plans upside down, common courtesy says I should let you in on my plan as soon as possible.
But God doesn’t let Joseph in as soon as possible. Instead, he lets Joseph wrestle with doubt, anger, fear and disappointment. He waits until Joseph comes up with a plan to divorce Mary. Consider for a moment the unsettling emotions that went into formulating this plan. Why not just show up and tell Mary and Joseph at the same time? Why does God seem bent on making matters much more difficult for this young couple than they need to be?
I can think of only one reason. God’s inconvenient timing bids Joseph into deeper dependence. It places him in situations where his trust gets hardened. It calls him out upon the waters where his feet may fail but in the inconvenience his faith grows strong.
This, by the way, is exactly what happens to Joseph. Because of the way the Christmas story unfolds, Joseph is called to rely on God in extraordinary ways. He must now trust that God is at work in his world. That God will provide. That God will handle the ridicule that comes his way. And perhaps most of all, he must trust that even if the timing is terribly inconvenient for him, it is perfect for God.
The next words you read may be troubling. So read them slowly. I think they are true.
One of the messages of Christmas is this: At times, God’s timing for your life will be terribly inconvenient.
But in light of Joseph’s story, what also must be said is this: In the inconvenience, your faith will grow incredibly strong.
So this Christmas embrace God’s inconvenient timing. Let his holy disruptions interrupt your regularly scheduled programing. Let him inconvenience you all the way to a deeper life of dependence on him. Let his timing slow you down, or speed you up, or turn you around. Let his seemingly terrible plans bring order to your life – health to your soul – and faith to your heart.