Possibly one of the best known and most powerful Christmas stories is that of the Christmas truce on the Western front in 1914. German troops singing Stille Nacht. British troops responding with the English version. The legendary football match on Christmas day. All combine in a way that seemed to capture something of the spirit of Christmas.
Whilst that never to be repeated incident from the first world war is etched on the memory because of its unusual character, its context is perhaps closer to that of the first Christmas than the “winter wonderland” notion that has grown up over the past century or so.
Jesus was born into a world in conflict. His own land was occupied by a foreign power. He was on a wanted list before He was a toddler. And He lived in Egypt as a refugee with His parents until it was safe to go home. Even then His parents had to choose carefully where they lived. Hardly material for a Perry Como album.
The pivotal figure in those days of Christ’s infancy was Joseph. As Mary’s husband he had the responsibility for making the major decisions about the young family’s future. He had to respond to a God inspired dream to go to Egypt. It is unlikely that up until that point he was unaware of the serious threat facing his family.
He had to lead his family on an unexpected and probably an unwanted journey into Egypt. Somehow he had to settle them into life in this foreign land for an indefinite period of time. Finally, he had to manage a trip back to Israel and perhaps manage the fears of his wife as well, as they sought to re-establish themselves in their own land.
We are not told whether they ever asked the question “Where is God in all of this?” You could hardly blame them if the thought at least momentarily crossed their minds. They are bringing Messiah into His own world and yet they are on the run from their own people!
Yet God was in every step that they took. The journey to and from Egypt was all part of His plan. Matthew sums up the flight into Egypt with reference to prophecy:
‘And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet: “Out of Egypt I called my son.”’ (Matthew 2.15)
What was unfolding in the lives of Jesus, Joseph and Mary, was unfolding in two worlds, parallel worlds. One world was that of the eternal purposes of God. Their actions were progressing God’s purpose in and for this world. The other world was a succession of difficult circumstances accompanied by difficult choices and mundane tasks.
All of the dislocation, discomfort and uncertainty was making a way for God to do something new and wonderful in His world.
That seems to be the way God works. It’s the way He works in our lives today. It might not look that way, but behind our uncertainties, unexpected circumstances, and unwanted destinations, God is still at work. Welcome to parallel living!