Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Advent Reflections on Joseph: Waiting and Wrestling

Because Joseph was a righteous man and did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly (Matt. 1:19).

Until I received the email from my son’s wrestling coach last week, I had no idea what I was in for. The world of middle school wrestling is uncharted territory for me. The email did us the favor of not sugar-coating what Saturday’s tournament would be like. “This will be the longest day of our season.”

I had to have my son on the team bus by 6:00 a.m. and myself in McDonough by 9:00 a.m. But the email couldn’t really prepare me for what I experienced this past Saturday. The place was loud and raucous and I knew immediately that I had been a fool for bringing a book along with me, although I wasn’t the only one (and I did see one dad with his laptop).

The tournament was double-elimination. The main gym at Union Grove High School in McDonough had six mats with matches happening simultaneously all day long; another area had two more mats for more advanced wrestlers.

My son lost his first match. At least one more to go. His next match was placed on the schedule and we had about an hour long wait. He won that time. The next match was placed on the schedule. More waiting. Then he won again. His next match was placed on the schedule followed by still more waiting. And then he won yet again. After more waiting he had his fifth match of the day – and that’s when it ended for him. But by that time it was almost 5:00 pm.

I learned plenty about wrestling on Saturday. I learned that a wrestling match can be over in a hurry. This is nothing like watching your kid play baseball. Even a match that lasts a good while is over in a matter of minutes. And I also learned that there are long stretches of waiting.

In a wrestling tournament, good wrestling and long waiting are a package deal.


The story of Joseph’s discovery of Mary’s pregnancy is a wrestling story. Matthew gives it to us in spare language. Mary is pledged to Joseph, the marital commitment in place without the full benefits and living arrangements of the marital relationship. This is when Joseph discovers that Mary is pregnant. And this is when the wrestling begins, unseen and yet strenuous. Joseph grappling with God, grappling with his own heart and mind.

Again, Matthew shows us none of this except to say that Joseph “considered” how he could divorce Mary quietly and thus protect her from public disgrace. But can such “considering” be anything less than anguish and pain? How long did he “consider?” How many sleepless nights, how many bitter questions hurled at heaven? How many tense conversations with his beloved? How many fake smiles at neighbors as if all was well?

And even once the Angel has appeared and Joseph has taken Mary as is wife, the difficulties are hardly over. Craig Keener notes that Joseph’s decision to go ahead with his marriage was a decision to sacrifice his own reputation. The wrestling surely didn’t stop. Wrestling mingled with waiting until the birth in the Bethlehem stable.

Many of us come to Advent wrestling and waiting; life has us in a head-lock and we’re trying desperately to find the right move that will loosen its grip. With the Psalmist we ask “How long must I wrestle with my thoughts?” (Ps. 13:2). Christmas doesn’t change the fact that we’re wrestling with decisions that need to be made, decisions we wish could make over again, afflicted bodies, conflicted relationships and competing expectations. We wrestle through one challenge only to face another.

But in the midst of the wrestling, Joseph’s and ours, there is this assurance: the Holy Spirit is at work. To see it may require waiting, long waiting and still more wrestling. But God is active in your wrestling story.

What opponent will you wrestle today?

Grant to us, O God, the patience to trust you in all things and the strength to wrestle long until we see your hand at work: show your hand in the difficult situations, the perplexing questions, the stubborn circumstances that refuse to budge. Be present with us in the struggles of this day, making us confident as we wrestle and wait in Jesus’ name. Amen.

1 comment:

Victoria said...

Don't we hate the "waiting" in between the "wrestling!"