by Krista Horn
Joseph is my favorite person in the Christmas story. He doesn’t get as much attention as other people (and, I would argue, not as much attention as he deserves), but Joseph offers something to the narrative that can impact us deeply if we let it. Joseph offers an example of how to respond when plans suddenly change and the future crumbles before our eyes. He offers an example of how to faithfully follow God when the way God is inviting us to go is uncomfortable and unfamiliar and downright hard. Joseph’s story has a lot to teach us at any time, but especially during seasons like we’ve all experienced this year in 2020.
So many expats have been forced to change course when all they wanted to do was stay on course. So many have had to face abrupt departures and say sudden goodbyes this year. So many have had to lament the lack of returning colleagues. So many have had to hold down the fort single-handedly when the fort was meant to be manned by several people. So many have been stuck in a holding pattern, not knowing when or if they will cross the ocean again. So many have made decisions they never imagined making, complicated by this life overseas and all its hoops like visas and passport expiration dates and a host of other factors.
So many expats have been blown by the winds of 2020, blown off course one way or another.
Which is why I am drawn back to the story of Joseph at the close of this year.
Joseph was a man completely thrown off course by the news that his fiancée was pregnant (and not by him) and he was forced to consider a way forward in light of such devastating and life-altering news. Joseph’s plans had suddenly changed and his future had crumbled. He was blindsided by grief and chose to quietly extricate himself from the situation. He chose to forego the wedding plans and the dreams of his life together with Mary.
An angel appeared. And got right to the point: “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 1:20). Joseph had barely wrapped his head around the fact that he wouldn’t have the future with Mary he’d hoped and prayed for, and now an angel basically tells him, “You thought your future just changed? You have no idea.”
It remained true that Joseph’s future had taken a drastic turn. But now he was back to courting the idea of a future with Mary, albeit a future entirely different than either of them could have imagined. God was offering an invitation to Joseph: he could still share a life with Mary, still love her till the day he died, and still honor God in doing so. But it would come with incredible hardships, incredible unknowns, and incredible sacrifice. Would he take the invitation God was offering, knowing only a fraction of what it would cost him?
“When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife” (Matthew 1:24).
Joseph said yes to God.
A devotional I read recently put it this way: “He accepts God’s word and He trusts God’s word and He relies upon God’s word and he reorients his life to conform to that word.”
I take heart in Joseph’s example. His plans had changed twice over, his future had crumbled and was put back together in a forever-altered way, and Joseph said yes to God’s vision for the future.
And the future was hard. It meant saying yes to the shunning from society that came with a baby born out of wedlock, saying yes to helping his wife give birth while traveling, saying yes to fleeing for their lives, saying yes to living in a foreign land in order to protect his family. Of course Joseph didn’t know all of that was coming, but his initial yes led to all the others because, I think, that initial yes was a firm decision to reorient his life to line up with whatever God had in store for him. He could have said “no thanks” to the angel and continued with the idea of walking away from Mary forever, but Joseph instead chose to reorient his life by saying yes to marrying Mary, yes to God.
Parts of Joseph’s story were thrown at him from this broken world while other parts were sovereignly orchestrated by God. All of it was seen and known by God, and none of it could thwart His good plan for Joseph and his family.
This broken world has thrown some nasty things at us this year too. And God has sovereignly orchestrated some very difficult things this year. But I take heart because all of it has been seen and known by God, and none of it has thwarted His good plan for us. Some of the failed plans this year have forever altered the future. Some of our foundations have crumbled around us with no promise of being rebuilt.
And we are faced with a choice: do we willingly reorient our lives to line up with whatever God is doing, even though we don’t understand it all and certainly don’t know what’s still to come? Do we willingly reorient our lives even when colleagues leave and don’t come back? Even when we’re forced to leave our home overseas? Even when our ministries stall for lack of a way forward? Even when visas are denied? Even when you make a hard decision based on the information you have, not knowing what the fallout will be?
My prayer as we continue celebrating this Christmas season and complete this difficult year is that we will say yes to reorienting our lives to whatever future God has in store for us, even though it may not be the future we had hoped and prayed for. My prayer is that we will trust God’s word, remember that He works for the good of those who love Him (Romans 8:28), and faithfully follow Him like Joseph did, even when the world has turned upside down.
Krista Horn met and married the man who once took her on a date to go tree climbing, which just about sealed the deal then and there. After her husband slogged through seven years of medical school and residency (with Krista doing quite a bit of slogging herself between work, grad school, and becoming a mom), they left for the mission field with three boys 3 and under. Now they live and work at a mission hospital in Kenya. While her husband is busy on the wards, she stays busy with all the details of motherhood on the mission field. When she’s not making meals from scratch or singing lullabies or chasing skinks out of the house, Krista loves to curl up with a book, bake chocolate chip cookies, and go to bed early. Krista blogs at www.storiesinmission.