Thursday, December 10, 2009

Advent Reflections on Joseph: Plans

Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph . . . (Matt. 1:18).

It was a simple plan, well tested and widely practiced. Everyone knew how it went. It was life-changing but it wasn’t complicated. Joseph and Mary would become husband and wife. The plan had been in place for a while, blessed by both families. The process was clear and the anticipation was high. It was a good plan. This is what a young man and a young woman were supposed to do.

This plan had a way of creating momentum for other plans. The wedding would one day be followed by children. The children would require Joseph to invest himself in his trade and create a flourishing business. So many plans and all of them good.

And then, at the height of anticipation, the plan unraveled. As one plan caved, a chain reaction was unleashed in Joseph’s soul and he saw all of his plans shredded, every dream disintegrating like a lump of sugar in hot tea.

The undreamed of and the unimaginable shoved aside the imagined future. An unplanned pregnancy and all that comes with it: questions and speculation, shame and scorn.

And so Joseph devised another plan: a quiet divorce. Damage control. It was the best he could do. He would do what God’s law required while guarding Mary’s reputation as much as he could.

But while Joseph was grieving the death of his dreams and scurrying for an alternative plan, trying to make the best out of what couldn’t have been any worse, he was told that the whole mess was actually part of a much larger plan. This pregnancy was of the Holy Spirit, and through it God was working to save his people from their sin.

Joseph’s life wasn’t being lived according to his own plan; his life was part of a plan that he never dreamed of. The plan at the center of his life was God’s plan – and God’s plan was being worked out while Joseph’s plans were falling apart.


On the day that Mary and Joseph met, Jesus was already planned and the work of salvation through him was fully formed in God’s mind.

Go back further. On the day Joseph and Mary’s grandparents met, Jesus was already planned. The story Matthew tells us goes back as far as the prophet Isaiah to show us that Jesus was a well formed plan in God’s salvation story.

There is truth in this familiar Christmas story that serves to anchor us when our plans are falling apart – and at Christmas plans are especially vulnerable to falling apart. The big meal didn’t turn out right, the family gathering was awkward, the gifts didn’t fit or missed the mark in some other way, the flight was delayed or the trip was canceled altogether.

We picture the perfect Christmas, but rarely get it. And we picture the dream life but don’t see the dream become reality. Joseph’s story is our story, and it is retold day after day.

But the anchor is this: there is a plan bigger than the one you placed on your calendar. There’s a dream larger than the one you direct while also playing the starring role. God has a plan and this plan will not unravel. It is a plan to reclaim and restore a broken, messed up world. God is always carrying out his plans and purposes – and you are invited to be a part of that story.

God’s plans are being worked out, even when your plans are falling apart. What have you got planned for today? What might God have planned for you?

Gracious God, we wake up and enter every day with plans, both large and small. We dream of our future and schedule meetings. We interview for jobs and book flights. We spend our days planning. And when our plans fall apart the true source of our faith and hope is revealed. Help us to trust you with this day’s plans, and with all that we dream about for our lives. Include us in your story, we pray, and work out your plan for us in all that we do. Amen.

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