Some of my fellow OSP contributors and I have written before about how we never expected to find ourselves single at this point in our lives. Life is full of unexpected events and circumstances. If we are not living by faith in God’s sovereignty and love, we tend to react to the unexpected with fear and doubt that God is still active and aware. Expectation is a common theme during the Christmas season, and rightly so. Prophets had predicted Jesus’s arrival for centuries, and the Jews were eagerly waiting for David’s son to deliver them from their enemies. He is our hope, and we now await his return. But the actual circumstances surrounding his birth compose a story of the gloriously unexpected. God has richly taught me about joyful submission to his plan, and his divine unraveling of my own plans, from these passages in Matthew and Luke.
Elizabeth did not expect to be barren, and she certainly never expected a post-menopausal pregnancy! Her husband, Zechariah, was so blown away by Gabriel’s announcement of John’s impending conception that he doubted and was struck dumb for the duration of his wife’s pregnancy. Despite their unusual circumstances, they rejoiced and marveled at God’s unfolding plan of redemption (Luke 1.5-25, 39-45, 57-80).
Mary probably anticipated an ordinary life as she and her family planned for her upcoming marriage, but God had special plans for her. Gabriel’s announcement came as a surprise, but she submitted her plans to God’s greater plan (Luke 1.26-38, 46-55). Joseph wasn’t expecting his virgin bride-to-be to bear anyone’s child except his and planned to quietly divorce her, but he surrendered to God’s plan, too (Matthew 1.18-25). I love that this couple were so bravely humble. The angel didn’t give either of them a detailed layout of God’s entire plan, but instead of questioning God’s wisdom or allowing the magnitude of their circumstances paralyze them, they trusted him.
The angelic army greeted the shepherds with an incomprehensibly amazing message, and they had the privilege of worshiping the newborn Christ (Luke 2.8-20). Herod, on the other hand, saw the magi’s unexpected news as a threat to his worldly position and responded with deadly rebellion against God (Matthew 2.1-12, 16-18). And so it went through Jesus’s earthly life. God the Son arrived in the flesh, born in a stable of all places, and traveled from town to town as an adult. His preaching marveled the crowds and enraged the Pharisees. His death shocked his disciples. His ascension stunned them again. Some responded with joy and humble submission to God’s redemption, like Elizabeth, Mary, Joseph, and the shepherds. Others responded in Herod’s fashion with disbelief, outrage, and murderous rebellion.
The pattern persists. God mercifully spoils our plans, and we respond to his unexpected ways with submission or rebellion, joy or fear. We all have unforeseen circumstances. Life hasn’t turned out like you planned, or maybe it is exactly what you planned, but the satisfaction you thought it would bring is elusive. Consider the good news of great joy that Christmas brings and rejoice as the shepherds did: “For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord…. And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God” (Luke 2.11, 20). Adopt Mary’s response, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word” (Luke 1.38), and like her, ponder in your heart the marvelous truth of the Word becoming flesh and the privilege of being a vessel bearing the gospel of Christ (Luke 2.19; John 1.14; 2 Corinthians 4.7-10). Though our prolonged season of singleness, or some other circumstance you’re facing, is not what we anticipated, Christmas proves that Jesus shows up gloriously in the unexpected. Watch for him. Rejoice in him. Adore him. Just when it may seem God has gone silent and inactive, Christmas reminds us that he is Immanuel, God with us.
Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
“God is not dead, nor doth he sleep;
The wrong shall fail, the right prevail,
With peace on earth, good will to men.”
– “Christmas Bells,” Henry Wadsworth Longfellow