Ordinary people in an extraordinary plan

We have a nativity display that we put in front of our house at Christmas, with plastic figures that light up. When I pulled them out of the garage last year and plugged in Jesus and Mary, they lit up beautifully. But when I plugged in Joseph, nothing happened.

“Of course!” I thought. “Why is it always Joseph?”

I think in many ways, Joseph is the unsung hero of the Christmas story. There are hardly any songs about him, and in our nativity scenes, he’s kind of set off to the side.

But just as surely as God chose Mary to be the mother of the son of God, he also chose Joseph to be the earthly father figure for Jesus.

I think that’s a big deal.

And who was Joseph? He was a carpenter. I envision him as a man’s man – a man of character, a man of principle, a man of integrity.

After all, Joseph had to put up with a lot of drama. His betrothed, Mary, was living in a place already known for immorality, and she was pregnant.

I can imagine the conversation going something like this: “Joseph, I know this looks bad, but I’m the fulfillment of what the prophet Isaiah spoke of. I’m that virgin who will conceive a child.”

“Uh-huh. Right. Yeah, the engagement is off, girl.”

But Joseph decided to break things off quietly, because he didn’t want any harm to come to her. He was troubled, however, because he loved Mary and knew how godly she was. He couldn’t understand how this could have happened.

Then, while he was sleeping, the Bible says that an angel of the Lord came to him in a dream: “Joseph, son of David,” the angel said, “do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife. For the child within her was conceived by the Holy Spirit. And she will have a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:20–21 NLT).

Even so, Joseph could have said, “No, thanks. I don’t want to go through life being thought of as a guy who married a girl who got pregnant before she was married.”

But he didn’t say that. Instead, he stood with Mary. And that’s why I think Joseph is the unsung hero of the Christmas story.

Each year we’ll display Joseph in our nativity sets along with Mary and the others, but there never will be another Joseph. There never will be another Mary, either. And it’s also true there never will be another you.

I doubt that any of the people in the Christmas story had any idea of the part they’d play in God’s big plan to save the world. I don’t think the thought ever crossed their minds. Yet God was preparing them.

Sometimes you may think that you’re living in obscurity, that no one cares, and that your life doesn’t matter. It matters a lot. And God is at work in your life.

However, there are things that happen in our lives that don’t make sense to us. We wonder, “What was the point of that?” It’s because God is preparing us. He’s preparing us for the plans that he has for us. In fact, he’s doing a work in our lives right now.

We can thwart that plan, however. We can sabotage it. But even if we mess things up, we can go to God and say, “I made a mistake, and I’m sorry.” God can redeem our lives.

Let’s remember that after Jesus was born, the angel didn’t announce the message to the court of Caesar or to the religious leaders. No, he announced the birth of Jesus to shepherds who were out in the fields watching over their flocks.

We’ve romanticized these shepherds in the Christmas story, but we have to understand where they were in the culture of the day. They occupied the bottom rung of the social ladder. They were despised so much, in fact, that the courts wouldn’t even allow the testimony of a shepherd.

So God effectively said, “OK, now I’m going to announce the most momentous news in all of human history. Who should I tell? … I know! These guys!”

They heard the news before anyone else.

And to whom did the star appear? The Magi. They were astrologers, steeped in the occult. They worshiped false gods, yet the Lord invaded their world and used the star to lead them to the place where Jesus was.

So we see God reaching out, even in this Christmas story, to people who were the lowest of the low, richly displaying his grace.

Some of us don’t come from very impressive families. We have some rogues in our gallery (and maybe we’re even one of those rogues). But the Christmas story shows us the focus is not on the family of Christ; it’s on Christ himself.

Some people say the reason they’re not Christians is there are too many hypocrites in the church. How I wish I could say that wasn’t true, that we have no hypocrites. A lot of times we’re not good representatives of Jesus Christ to our lost world today. I wish that we’d spend less time bickering over minutiae and spend more time loving one another.

But the Christmas story is about redemption. It’s about a second chance.

In the New Testament we find this verse, which tells us why Jesus came to this earth: “He is able, once and forever, to save those who come to God through him. He lives forever to intercede with God on their behalf” (Hebrews 7:25 NLT).

No matter how bad your situation, God can forgive you. Jesus will save you and, if necessary, give you another chance.

Jesus’s story is not about God helping perfect people; it’s about God saving lost people. He came to save us from our sin. He came to heal our broken lives and restore our shattered hopes.

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