Commentary by Walter Albritton


December 19, 2004


God Expects Us to Stay Ready for the Unexpected


Matthew 1:17-25


Key Verse: When Joseph awoke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took her as his wife. – Matthew 1:24


Genealogy was important to Matthew. He began his gospel by tracing Jesus’ ancestors from Abraham to Joseph, thus proving Jesus Christ to be both the Son of David and the Son of Abraham. As the son of Abraham, he is a Jew. As the son of David, he is the long awaited Messiah.  What the Old Testament promised has been fulfilled in the coming of Jesus.

Since this lesson invites us to examine the challenge of “the unexpected,” we should not miss Matthew’s “unexpected” inclusion of women, especially Gentile women, in his genealogy. He mentions Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, and Bathsheba. Perhaps Matthew wants us to understand that, in bringing salvation to the world, God has chosen women before, and now in a startling way, he has chosen Mary to be the mother of the Savior.

Nothing could have been more unexpected than the announcement that a virgin would give birth to a baby, and that the child would be the Messiah. Even more surprising was the news that Mary’s pregnancy was the work of the Holy Spirit.

No one, of course, was more shocked by the news than Joseph. All he wanted to do was marry a lovely young woman named Mary. Suddenly his plans were changed. Mary was already pregnant even though he had not yet slept with her. As he puzzled through this alarming news, an angel gave him guidance in a dream. Then, without arguing or doubting, he agrees to do as the angel directed. Such extraordinary obedience takes our breath away!

Thus did Joseph, a humble carpenter, become a remarkable role model in the art of handling the unexpected. He believed the angel. Putting his fears and questions aside, he did what he was told to do. Because Joseph was obedient, the plan of God worked perfectly.

It may be worth noting that Joseph never speaks. He listens; he obeys. Some of us,  who often talk too much, should observe, perhaps with a chuckle, that one may serve the Lord well sometimes without speaking.  Actions, deeds of love and mercy, do speak louder than words.

To live life well we must learn how to handle unexpected events. God has designed life so that the unexpected is actually normal. Life is simply like that; things keep happening that we had not planned on. We must learn how to handle interruptions even when we are doing our best to answer God’s call.

To express it another way, when life throws us a curve ball, we must adjust quickly so we can hit the ball anyway. When life dishes us a lemon, we must find a way to make lemonade. The key factor is trust. When our circumstances change, do we blame God or trust God?

Obviously God allows changes to occur, so the challenge is to trust God no matter what, confident that always and forever, God is with us, and always working for our good. Is that not what Jesus meant when he said, “I am with you always”? The disciples believed that was what he meant. We can too.

By the time I was 20 years old, I had answered God’s call to the ministry and married my childhood sweetheart, Dean. A year later we had a beautiful baby boy we named David. With college behind me, I entered seminary to prepare for pastoral work. Life was sweet. We had very little materially but yet enough to live a very comfortable life. Everything was going our way.

Then the bottom fell out. David, now two, was diagnosed with leukemia. There was no cure, the doctor said. “All we can do,” he said, “is to try to make David comfortable until the end.” When I asked how long he had to live, the doctor said, “From two months to two years.”

Our comfortable world fell apart. In seminary I was studying “the Man of Sorrows.” Now I was a man of sorrows. Overnight my life changed. One day I was an inquisitive student, eager to learn. The next day I was an angry student, desperately trying to believe that “God is love.”

Questions pounded my brain. If God loves me, why is he allowing my son to die? What has this innocent child done to deserve this suffering? How can I make my son understand why I allow the nurses and doctors to hurt him by giving him blood transfusions? I can still hear David begging me not to let them stick those needles in his arms. I had no way to make him understand that it was their way of trying to help him stay alive a little longer.

Somehow, by the grace of God, we kept the faith. Despite the tears, and the bewilderment, we trusted God, even though we did not understand what was going on. We learned that obedience is not easy. It never is. It was not easy for Joseph. It is not easy for any of us. After all, as the song says, God never promised us a rose garden.

Yet, after all these years, we know this – trusting God is always the right thing to do. Trusting God is never wrong. Ultimately, life only makes sense when we trust God. Sometimes we have to smile and remember when the manure of life is piled high around us, roses flourish in manure. Then, with God’s help, we can make roses grow in whatever garden we do have.

Joseph handled well the unexpected changes in his life. He responded with courage, trusting that God’s plans were better than his own. We can do that too, because we know that what Joseph believed, is true: God is with us. His name, after all, is Emmanuel.

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