Even in a culture that is not very familiar with the Bible, the outline of the Christmas story is still known to many people.
Even those long disconnected from church recognise the Joseph – Mary – baby – donkey sequence (Even though the Bible doesn’t mention a donkey). And they might even remember that the baby was Jesus.
Of course, some of us know not only the historical detail but the spiritual significance of that detail and how it ties up with the prophecies made about Messiah by prophets like Isaiah and Jeremiah.
What we can easily miss, however, is the profound impact that these events had upon Joseph and Mary and how the entrance of God into the world turned their world upside down. It put their lives out of shape.
Firstly Mary was physically put “out of shape”.
It goes without saying that pregnancy affects a woman physically! Some of the changes can be seen. Others are unseen, but no less felt. Carrying a baby changes your body. It changes your world.
When we are “carrying” God’s presence and purpose it changes us. It changes us as individuals. It changes churches.
Secondly, Mary’s relationships with people were out of shape
Joseph didn’t greet Mary’s pregnancy with wonder and delight. It was rather a mixture of sadness and disappointment. And then a plan of action: divorce (Matthew 1.19).
You can hardly blame Joseph for thinking the worst. Put yourself in his shoes. Would you believe Mary’s explanation of her pregnancy? It was unprecedented.
Can you begin to imagine what the other people in her village thought when they found out that she was pregnant? Can you begin to imagine how Mary felt as the gossip spread?
Her whole personal and social world was descending into chaos.
Why? Because no-one understood what was really happening. Joseph eventually understood because an angel intervened.
The difficulty that Mary faced was that there was no precedent for what was going on in her life.
When God is at work in our lives, it can result in misunderstanding. Sometimes that misunderstanding is because people have no template for what God is doing. Some people eventually get it – because God intervenes. Some don’t.
It is hard to handle misunderstanding. Misunderstanding is frustrating, even hurtful.
But it’s part of the price we pay for “carrying” God’s purpose.
How do you handle misunderstanding?
1 Peter 2.23 says that when Jesus was misunderstood and rejected that He entrusted Himself to Him who judges justly.
Sometimes you just have to leave it with the Lord.
Mary’s prospects for the future were out of shape
We can’t in any way claim to know what Mary’s hopes and dreams for the future were. I think it is safe to say, however, that she probably didn’t envisage having a baby out of wedlock (Luke 1.31-35) miles away from home (Luke 2.4-5). Being treated like a criminal by Herod and end up in Egypt for two years as a refugee (Matthew 2.13-18).
When you are a vehicle for what God wants to do, you might be surprised at some of the places He drives you to!
Sometimes we talk about the future as if we have control over it when we don’t!
What’s your dream? What if God told you to abandon your dream? What if God’s priority is not for us to have a clear view of what He wants us to do in the future, but instead to carry His presence in the present – and let Him shape the future how He wants?
When God begins to do something new in our lives or wants to do something new in the world, the impact brings dislocation. Our lives are put out of shape. When that happens, we often find ourselves wondering if this really is God.
In Mary and Joseph’s case, it really was God at work.
And if God’s purpose pressed their lives out of shape, don’t be surprised if the work of His Spirit has the same impact on you.