He took the news like a punch in the gut, the breath shoved out of his lungs; his dream dying right before his eyes. How could she do this? He knew what the law demanded. But he couldn’t imagine being the one to abandon her to her certain fate: death beneath a heap of stones. He had to let her go. He had to avoid this scandal.
“The birth of Jesus took place like this. His mother, Mary, was engaged to be married to Joseph. Before they came to the marriage bed, Joseph discovered she was pregnant. (It was by the Holy Spirit, but he didn’t know that.) Joseph, chagrined but noble, determined to take care of things quietly so Mary would not be disgraced.” Matthew 1:18-19
The story has become so familiar that we can lose sight of the scandal through which Jesus entered this world. A simple girl in an unimportant town became pregnant before the wedding vows were exchanged. But, for the Israelites, that was enough to demand her death by stoning. What options did Joseph have? God couldn’t possibly be working through something so scandalous, could He?
This God, He’s not afraid of doing the unexpected.
This Jesus, scandal surrounded Him: the assumptions about his conception, his parents’ hasty marriage, the adulterers and murderers in his lineage, his tendency to join prostitutes and tax collectors for dinner, his declaration to be the Son of God. He didn’t come to be just one more person to bow down to legalism and religion. He came to be the open door for all the fallen to enter into a relationship with God. He came to make up that distance.
And now we sing Christmas carols about this scandal, melodic tunes and trills bring us to smiles and goosebumps. We put our conception of Christ in a pretty box and tie it with a bow. We think of the beauty, which is wonderful! Because it was beautiful. It still is.
But let’s also remember the God who steps in via the unexpected path, who never shies away from what may appear to be scandalous. He isn’t fearful of messy situations like we tend to be. And the miracles He does, those are inherently scandalous themselves, aren’t they?
Joseph, facing this scandalous miracle, had the choice to kill it, abandon it, or embrace it. The law allowed for death. His good sense would have left the scandal alone. But God entered in. And, seeing this scandal for the miracle it was, Joseph chose to embrace, to see God in the unexpected, right in the midst of the messy.
Is there something unexpected going on in your life right now? Is there a scandal of your own you’re facing?
He’s not intimidated by it. Whether He brought it about or something else did, God is there. Immanuel. God with us. God with us in our messes, in our uncertainties, in our unexpected situations, in our scandals. God, with us.
Merry Christmas. Merry Miracle!
Perhaps you can relate to this: waking up to the sound of monkey noises coming from the child who is both climbing on you and attempting to pull you out of bed simultaneously. The house is a wreck from the day before spent NOT doing any chores, the kitchen has no clean dishes, the children are claiming near-starvation, you need at least ten hours sleep more which apparently isn’t going to happen, and those monkey noises just will not stop! Maybe toss in a headache and a full to-do list and you can see how this sets the stage for a not-so-great morning with a less than stellar attitude.
In our home, when the kids get to arguing or make a poor choice, we give them an opportunity for a “re-do”…to do-over the action that they just did incorrectly and have the chance to make a better choice next time. Taking this time to stop and restart is like a reboot to the day, turning a frazzled, frustrating moment into a hopeful one where wisdom has been gained and hopefully a lesson has been learned.
There are those days (like the one I mentioned above) where things just get off on the wrong foot. For whatever variant reasons, I just don’t have the best attitude and tend to be short and snappy in my dialogue with my husband and children. My flesh wants to just push through and figure it out on my own, to conquer my own bad attitude, from my own strength.
Anyone care to guess how THAT goes??
Yep, not so much in the success department on that one! So, I’ve found that, just like my kiddos, sometimes I need a do-over as well, a chance to reboot my attitude and start the day with a fresh perspective. Great…sounds nice…but HOW?
For me, my best re-do’s come when I pull out my guitar and have some time spent in active worship. It requires me to stop in my tracks and intentionally do something else. It’s pretty difficult to snap at my kids with a nasty attitude while I sing praises to God. (It IS possible…but difficult…and most certainly convicting if it does happen!)
In a matter of minutes, my focus shifts from my frustrations to God. There is no better attitude adjustment than that!
And, yes, there have been times where I have worshipped with a toddler-tantrum in progress, with kids begging me to stop and get them a snack, with my phone ringing and my to-do list tempting me to go on the attack. But, the way I see it, I’m a more compassionate mom and more capable woman if I take ten minutes to worship my God than if I don’t and try to tough it out.
Our kids have learned over time that when I say it’s “music-time in the Cohen house”, I mean it and no amount of whining or distractions will deter me. There’s no telling how many days have been saved so far! How many terrible words have I avoided speaking? How much negativity has been kept from spewing everywhere?
Maybe you don’t play guitar, but I’m pretty sure you can turn on some music and sing like a fool for Jesus in the living room. It’s absolutely okay, and often necessary to say to God, “I need a do-over today!”
In my mind, our camping trip, and our entire vacation was going to be a time for contemplation and reflection…to be purposeful in examining areas that I need to take back to God. And then reality of what “vacation” means while having preschoolers hit me!
One-bedroom hotel rooms, an enclosed vehicle, and a shared tent don’t exactly offer the opportunity for quiet, thoughtful time. And, quite honestly, there were some very difficult moments and, yes, tears on my part. But, looking back on it, and trying to jot down a few highlights from each day, I can see that even amidst the chaos and my periodic emotional breakdowns, there is a lot about myself that came to the surface.
My daily routines are so incredibly helpful in keeping balance…but routines often are flung out the window on vacation. So, this planner-girl had to go with the flow, which is not a natural bent of mine. Again, the issue of impatience rose to the surface…as well as fear (of those bears and other such mysteries in the woods)…and especially my desire to be in control of the situation. (What is it about wanting to be in control that deceives me to think that peace will come?)
I also was reminded again of the influence of my personal perspective.
Through one lens, one particular incident would look like this: I woke up freezing cold in our tent and couldn’t feel my toes…hungry and the campfire was taking forever to get going…with hyper kids who wouldn’t stop asking for “Mommy”…finally sitting alone in the van with the heat on my tootsies.
But, through a God-lens, here’s what that exact, same scenario looks like: I woke up to a chilly morning with the combined sounds of a bubbling brook and a joyful 5 year old. My amazing husband started the campfire and handled all the cooking that morning for me. The kids were having a blast throwing pebbles into the brook and wanted to share their joy and discovery with me. When I mentioned the “toe-situation” Steve gave me some of his thicker socks and encouraged me to get in the van to warm up. A few minutes later, he brought me a plate of food that I didn’t have to make and he made sure I was doing fine while he took care of the kids.
The first perspective sounds awful!! But the second sounds almost blissful.
I’m sad to say that I chose in that moment to live in the first perspective, looking through a tainted lens. But now that I’m home, with a few moments to finally think through that and other experiences, I can see the difference. And I pray that I actually learn from it and choose next time (as in a few hours from now when I’m trying to get excited kiddos down for a nap) to intently look through the God-lens…see the blessing of my children, be thankful for the time I’ve had to myself, be kind and gentle to help them get ready for bed and live in a state of joy rather than exasperation.
Living with a chronic issue has required that I consider the power of perspective. Discover the God who heals in my latest book, Chronic Healing. Order your copy today!