What does it mean to trust God? Wait until you have a trial in your life and you will find out. One important aspect of faith is to believe in God’s goodness and sovereignty in the face of difficulty. And though Christmas is a time for jolliness, difficulty always finds us. The first Christmas was one marked by difficulty, by uncertainty, and yet also by faith. Joseph models well for us what it looks like to trust God in the face of difficulties that we do not understand.
Not all difficulties are equal. They may all challenge us to some degree, but those trials we face that do not make sense, those are a special kind of hardship. The loss of a loved one. Betrayal by a close friend or a spouse. Haunting violations of our personhood. These are the kinds of traumas that can shake our faith. Joseph knows something of this challenge. The Gospel account of Jesus birth found in Matthew begins with Joseph, and with the discovery that his betrothed is pregnant. The text reads:
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. (Matthew 1:18)
Though the child she carries is conceived by the Holy Spirit, Joseph does not know that. C.S. Lewis once wryly stated that Joseph’s concern over Mary’s pregnancy was not due to the fact that he was unaware of how babies were made. No, rather it was precisely because he knew how they were conceived that he is distressed. Joseph is not some unscientific fool who can just gloss over this pregnancy. It is a big deal. It was perceived as a betrayal, a violation of the covenant he and Mary were making, it was a scandal.
Joseph knows something of hardship and difficulty. The woman he loved was pregnant, the woman he was going to marry was having a child, and that child was not his! So, the text tells us what his intentions were. We read:
And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. (v. 19)
Joseph had every right to divorce Mary. Logic and reason were on his side. Emotion was on his side. The law was even on his side. He felt shame and betrayal, and though he loved Mary, he would do what was necessary in this case. And that’s when the story takes a twist. For God was up to something important and He was about to ask Joseph to do a hard thing: take Mary as his wife. The text reads:
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. 21 She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” (v. 20-21)
Joseph is informed of what is going on, instructed to go through with the wedding, and he does (v. 24). Despite all that this would have meant for him, surely people would have chattered about Mary’s pregnancy and speculated on the cause. Many would have look at Joseph with shame, there’s no easy way to explain virgin conception. But, nonetheless Joseph believes the word of the Lord and obeys.
Now, we may grant that an angelic pronouncement is a pretty impressive argument for obedience. Were all our own hardships accompanied by angelic appearances and explanations we might be more inclined to obey too. We are only deluding ourselves, however, if we think this is true. Paul reminds the Corinthians that though many of the Israelites witnessed the great and might acts of God in their redemption, they did not please God. We read:
For I do not want you to be unaware, brothers, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, 2 and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, 3 and all ate the same spiritual food, 4 and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ. 5 Nevertheless, with most of them God was not pleased, for they were overthrown in the wilderness. (1 Cor. 10:1-4)
Add to this statement the bold declaration of Peter in 2 Peter 1, that though he was an eyewitness to the Christ, and particularly to His transfiguration, he states:
And we have the prophetic word more fully confirmed, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts. (2 Peter 1:19)
God’s Word is a trustworthy source for the promises of God. Yet, many of us do not believe this word when we are tested and tried.
Matthew tells us that Joseph was a “righteous” man (v. 19). The phrase in Matthew refers to one who is a faithful observant of the Torah. Joseph believed the Word of God and sought to live by it. So, “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” (v. 24-25). He obeyed because He believed the Word of God.
Here is the hard truth we must come to terms with: God’s Word, its truths, expectations, and promises, do not change because our circumstances have changed. No disease, no betrayal, no government, no relationship can alter the truth of God. Faith clings to what is true even when our circumstances tell us differently. Christmas faith is the kind of faith that trusts God even when the circumstances don’t make sense, even when virgins conceive. Is your faith bound to the Word of God? Is your faith like that of Joseph’s? Is your faith a Christmas faith?