Most good Christians have at some time in their life sang that famous Christmas song Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer. Of course, there is nothing specifically Christian about it, but it is famous. One recording sold twenty-five million copies. Up until the 1980’s it was the second best-selling record of all time.
The song was based on a story written by Robert L. May. The story is, as you might guess, about a misfit reindeer who saves Christmas with a glowing nose that turns out to be a better guide for Santa than any satnav.
In writing the story, May was drawing on his own childhood experiences of being teased because he was shy and small. Perhaps Rudolf was his revenge!
The nativity stories found in the New Testament, record the story of a man who really did fit in, but who was made to stand out. In some ways he is the unsung hero of Christmas. I am, of course, talking about Joseph.
According to some biblical scholars, Joseph was very likely a respected member of the community in Nazareth and was perhaps expert in the Torah, the law of God. It’s not hard to imagine then how he must have felt when he found that his wife to be was pregnant and explained her pregnancy as a “God thing”. It must have appeared to him that she was simply adding dishonesty to her infidelity. The whole thing was just a mess and divorce was, in Joseph’s eyes, the only option (you needed a divorce to end a betrothal in Jewish culture). Until, well, you know the story. An angel appears in a dream and gives Joseph a whole new take on his situation. What seemed like a huge mess, becomes a doorway to a great mission.
This Christmas you might be facing a set of painful circumstances that you had never chosen to bring about. And it is easy, like Joseph, to seek to bring closure in some way or other. However, what we think of as a mess can be the gateway to a mission.
How can we move from “mess” to “mission”?
Sometimes we have to push through our pain (Matthew 1.18-21). Joseph had to push through his pain. The pain of misunderstanding and apparent infidelity would give way to the social pain that he would feel because of questions raised about Jesus’ parentage. But in His pain, Joseph met with God.
Joseph also revised his perspective on God, Mary and himself (Matthew 1.24). As a man described as righteous, he was no doubt familiar with the word of God. Now he was about to learn the ways of God. The ways of God would take him to Bethlehem and then to Egypt for a couple of years and then back home. None of this was in his original plans! To see the shape of mission in the shapelessness of difficulty we need a fresh perspective. Consider this thought for a moment: what if you are where God means you to be?
And Joseph allowed God’s purpose to have priority over everything else in his life (Matthew 1.25). We are told that he did not consummate his marriage to Mary until after Jesus was born. He put a brake on his emotions and desires. Life didn’t revolve around him and his desires but around God and His desires.
This Christmas, like Joseph, God calls us into His mission – whether where we’re at is “messy” or not.