As I’ve thought, prayed, preached, and experienced another Christmas season I’ve been reminded that the story doesn’t exactly happen the way we would all expect. From Matthew’s perspective, this is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about, and then he shares the story. But when thinking through the birth of Jesus the Messiah we would expect it to turn out differently. This is the Messiah we are talking about. This is the coming king of David. This is the one who will set the world right, return worship to the true and living God, and inaugurate God’s kingdom. Since the Garden of Eden, all of history has been moving toward this moment. This is the moment that the prophets have spoken about for centuries. We would expect fanfare and celebrations. We would expect dignitaries from foreign nations offering congratulations. We would expect this announcement to be the number one trending topic on social media.
The story Mathew shares, however, is a different story. Matthew shares the story of an unwed mother and an average carpenter who are engaged, but are having difficulties. Joseph is furious that Mary is pregnant before they are married. He wants no part with this child, or his mother. She, and the child, are destined to a difficult life. Joseph is a righteous man, so he plans to end the engagement quietly, to keep Mary from further shame, but before he can act he has a dream that this child is from the Lord. He decides to go ahead and marry her, and a few months later the child is born. No fanfare, no dignitaries, no famous characters. In fact, it’s sort of anti-climatic. There’s some drama early in the narrative, but once the decision is made by Joseph not to send Mary away, the story just sort of ends. It’s not the way we would expect the story to take place, that this is how God would save the world.
We’re used to this however, because so much of our lives don’t turn out the way we expect them to go. We have dreams, both as children and especially as young adults, about the way we hope our lives will advance. Dreams of careers, families, success, and aquisitions. Dreams of what our future will become. Yet, as we look around us, many of those dreams are not reality. It doesn’t mean our lives are necessarily bad or that we are unhappy with what they have become. It’s just that life is hard. Life has a way of happening in ways we don’t expect, and we end up in different places from what we had originally dreamed. The story doesn’t always turn out the way we expected the story to go.
Yet, we are reminded that God often works in ways that are least expected. God has often chosen not to work through the big, flashy, and extravegant, but through the unexpected that become power servants. When Adam and Eve sin, we would expect God to strike them down or to take a mulligan and start over with a new set of humans. But God doesn’t do that. God sends them out of the Garden, but in the process God gives them adequate clothing to provide for them even in their broken state. When God begins the process to redeem and restore the world, God starts not on a massive scale, but with a seventy-five year old fatherless wandering shepherd and his seventy year old barren wife, and through them God will raise up a nation whose descendants are more numerous than the stars in the sky. Later, God allows the treasured possession to be taken into slavery so that God can teach them the story of redemption by delivering them from safety. God allows foreigners with no stature, such as Ruth or even Rahab the harlot, to be brought into the story and become ancestors of Jesus. Time and time again, God is doing the unexpected, and through the unexpected bringing about the salvation of the world.
And perhaps that’s one of the important reminders of Christmas; Christmas reminds us that God is working in the unexpected. In the moments that we think are lost or broken, God is working behind the scenes to bring about salvation. In the moments when we think our dreams are shattered, God is starting a new story that will be more than we had hoped or imagined. When all hope seems lost, God is making all things new.
We must remember Christmas. Not for it’s presents, decorations, or family gatherings, although all of those are wonderful. But because of it’s reminder of the way God works. That when we least expect it, God is bringing about our salvation. God is taking the unknown story and making it phenomenal. And God is even now saving, redeeming, and restoring us into the life we were created for, image bearers of God.