People were asked what words describe the holiday season and this is what they came up with:

  • Fights
  • Laughter
  • Busy
  • Peace
  • Sentimentality
  • Drunkenness
  • Presents
  • Annoying music
  • Joy
  • Love
  • Loss
  • Chocolate mint cookies
  • Weight gain

All of those thoughts tend to put our holidays into a “holidaze.”

How many of you when it comes to the holiday season, one of the words you feel is stress? If you’re holiday season is filled with joy and peace and presents, but also stress and fights and busy-ness and weight gain, then you are uniquely situated to understand the mess that was the first Christmas.  We tend to think of life with a hindsight bias which basically means that when we look back we only see the good.  We remember what we loved about the old house; we remember how cool our first car was; we remember the excitement of holding our new born.  We forget the creaky floors in the old house, we forget that the heater didn’t work in that Chevy and after the child is born the month with awful morning sickness is completely forgotten.  I’ve been told that the only reason women have more than one child is amnesia.  I think we have hindsight bias when it comes to Christmas too.  Here’s how we think of the Christmas story:

  • Jesus was born
  • Mary was blessed
  • Angels sang
  • Shepherds rejoiced
  • Magi brought gifts

That’s what we remember about Christmas, but folks, I have to tell you something, the first Christmas was a train wreck; it could not have gone less according to plan.  The first Christmas could not possibly have messed up Mary and Joseph’s life any more than it did.

Our Interrrupted Plans

So today we are going to look at interrupted plans from the perspective of Mary and Joseph.  Before we get into that story, lets talk about the interrupted plans in your life.

Some are simple:

  • You are heading home and you get an email that interrupts your plans.  Those emails seem to come to me at around 10:30 at night. I know; I should stop checking email right before bed.
  • Someone in your house gets the flu.  You know that whatever you do, regardless of how often you wash your hands and bathe in hand sanitizer, that you are going to get tit too. It’s just a matter of time. Am I the only one who when this happens thinks that I should just kiss the flu victim on the lips and get it over with?  Or just drink their pedialite out of their sippy cup and be done with it?
  • You get the call from a family member that as they were driving the engine light went off, could be a loose gas cap or you need a whole new engine.  Happy days.
  • Last year I had an interrupted plans moment two weeks before Christmas.  I was walking barefoot in the kitchen and the floor was warm.  Although I enjoyed the warmth on my feet, your floor shouldn’t be warm.  Can you guess what happened? A pipe burst under my slab.  Not good. Two weeks before Christmas.  Interrupted plans. Interrupted wallet.

Those interrupted plans are annoying but they are nothing compared to these interrupted plans:

  • Maybe your plans were interrupted by a health scare.
  • Maybe you have plans interrupted when you lost your job.
  • Maybe your plans were interrupted when you had to move for work.
  • Your parents may have interrupted your plans when they told you about the divorce.
  • Maybe like Mary and Joseph, your plans were interrupted by a baby.

The Ultimate Interrupted Plan

Our hindsight bias tells us that Mary and Joseph’s interrupted plans in the long run paid off. It was annoying in the moment for them, but at the end of the day the world was turned upside down and they had a front row seat to watch the savior of the world grow up.  Wouldn’t it be great if we knew in our heart that our interrupted plans would lead to the same place as it did for Mary and Joseph?  Wouldn’t it be amazing if we could live in this knowledge that this momentary inconvenience would ultimately lead to a front row seat as God changed your life for the good forever.

I honestly believe that is possible.  Not only is is possible that interrupted plans can turn out for good, but it is likely.  Sometimes they are just annoying. But I do think that God has a way of working in our lives and getting our attention when our schedules are messed up and life isn’t working out the way we planned.  Somehow in those moments God has a tendency to speak and be heard more than ever.

This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit.

19 Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly. 20 But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “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. 21 She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” 22 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: 23 “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”). 24 When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. 25 But he did not consummate their marriage until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus. Matthew 1: 19-25

We’ve all heard that story before. We probably read that in church every year. We’ve read it and heard it and watched it in movies so many times that it loses the emotion.  We just hear the story.  We don’t feel the pain and disappointment.  Mary and Joseph are pledged to be married…but that celebration never comes.

There aren’t a lot of similarities between an ancient Jewish wedding and a modern American wedding but there is one: the bride looks forward to it her whole life.  My daughter has been watching “Say Yes to the Dress” since she was 10. Unfortunately, I have been subjected to that show so much I can tell the difference between an A-line dress and a mermaid dress and I know who Penina Torneau is.

Mary had looked forward to her wedding her whole life too. She had seen these celebrations her whole life.  She had watched the processional march in front of her home time and time again.   She had eagerly anticipated that day her whole life and that anticipation built after her engagement.  God had a different plan:

  • Mary you’re pregnant.
  • Joseph, marry her anyway.
  • There will be no wedding.
  • There will be no feast.
  • There will be no celebration.
  • There will only be shame and embarrassment and ridicule.

Interrupted plans.

  • Mary you won’t pick out a dress to be married in.
  • There will be no bridal gift.
  • There will be no rings and wine and vows.

Interrupted plans.

It’s a devastating loss for Mary, but guys think of it from Joseph’s perspective:

  • God, what are you asking me?
  • To marry this person who is pregnant with someone else’s baby?
  • To not sleep with my wife until the baby is born which I’m pretty sure back them was the same as now…9 months?
  • To raise someone else’s child as my own?
  • To face all the ridicule and embarrassment of marrying this woman who is pregnant?

Can you imagine how Joseph must have felt? I mean there was no hiding this pregnancy; everyone would know.  This was a small town.  You’ve heard the song, right?  “O Little Town of Bethlehem.” Not only that but he’s going to be a father without the fun.  Trust me on this one, when a guy thinks about making baby’s, he’s excited about the making part, not necessarily the baby part. Probably shouldn’t admit that in a pastor’s blog, but it’s the truth.

Interrupted plans.

Plan A: Take Evasive Action

These two originally had a good plan.  Fall in love.  Get engaged.  Get married.  Party like it’s zero A.D. Then the Holy Spirit showed up.  I hate to tell you this, but this is what it looks like most of the time when the Holy Spirit shows up.  We’d like to think that when we invite God in everything goes our way, but that’s not what I read in this story or any other story in the Bible.

God tends to interrupt our plans.  It happens to all of us. So what should our response be?  There are two responses in this story that I think are pretty similar to how we respond when things don’t go our way.  One is pretty good, the other not so good.  Let’s start with the not so good:

18 Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit. 19 Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly. Matthew 1:18-19

Joseph’s first inclination when his plans got interrupted is often the same as our first inclination when our plans get interrupted.  Avoid it.  Delete the problem.  Stay away from the trouble. It was legally within Joseph’s rights to divorce Mary.  In fact, legally he could have had her stoned, but he was a gentleman and decided in his heart to divorce her quietly.  His first response was to avoid the problem.

This holiday season you will be tempted to do just that.  The holidays have a way of putting us in situations that we don’t like.

  • Maybe when you go home and see family you step into an old role.  You’ve changed over the years but no one bothers to notice the change.  They see you as who you were 20 years ago.
  • Some of you will step into an old hurt. An old home that reminds you of painful times you once had there.
  • Some of you walk into this holiday and there is someone who isn’t there anymore.  Someone who meant so much to you that won’t be there this year to share the Christmas joy.
  • Or maybe this Christmas there is a new person that wasn’t there before and you don’t really want them there now. It just feels awkward.

I’ve heard someone say this last week: “Family doesn’t just know how to push your buttons they installed your buttons.”

The holidays can bring up so much old pain and hurt and awkward feelings that sometimes you just want to avoid it.  We decide to separate from the situation.  Find peace away from the madness.  In psychology circles, this is called avoidance coping.

In an article in “Psychology Today” Alice Boyes put it like this.

“Avoidance coping creates stress and anxiety, and ravages self-confidence.  Here’s what it looks like in everyday life
1. You avoid taking actions that trigger painful memories from the past.
2. You try to stay under the radar.
3. You avoid reality testing your thoughts..
4. You try to avoid the potential for people being mad at you.
5. You avoid feeling awkward.
6. You avoid entering situations that may trigger thoughts like ‘I’m not the best. I’m not as good as other people.’”

[bctt tweet=”Painful honesty is better than comfortable avoidance.- John Ortberg ” username=”canyon_springs”]

Listen, when we face a difficult situation and we wimp out, courage dies inside of us.  But when we face a difficult situation and we don’t wimp out. We don’t avoid. We do what we know we need to do, then that courage grows in us.

Joseph’s first response was to avoid; it’s ours too.  But avoidance never leads to growth.  Fortunately, there is a second response:

Plan B: Embrace God’s Plan

So you made a plan.  It was a good plan.  It was a plan for a healthy family. It was a plan for a happy married life.  It was a strong business plan for a thriving new business.  You had a fitness plan.  It was a good plan.  Then all your plans got interrupted and you’re thinking, “God, where are you?”  Well folks, I have news for you: God’s plans are very rarely simple plans.  They very rarely run the way we think they should run. God’s plans are messy. God’s plans never lead to easy.

Jesus was Joseph’s interruption. Jesus was Joseph’s problem.  But he was God’s plan. This was no ordinary plan. This was a plan to save the world.

So Joseph changed his plans.  It was within his rights to divorce Mary, but it would not have been obedient.   He could have turned his back on Jesus.  Instead he adopted him.  Here’s how we know Joseph adopted Jesus.  In Jewish culture when you named a child, you adopted that child as your own. He declares who he is. Joseph actually does that twice.  Jesus is called Immanuel which means “God with us.” Then when the child is born he names him Jesus which means “savior.”

Listen folks, those aren’t just names, they are promises to us.  This is what God says he will do for us when we face the difficult, awkward, hard times in our life.  He will be Immanuel.  God will be with us.  He will walk the dark and lonely and painful road with us. He will hang out with us.  He will be Jesus. Savior.  He will save us from the dark and lonely times.

I think we need to understand that the very thing that brings you stress may be the very thing to bring you healing.  The very problem you are trying to avoid dealing with could be the very thing that will grow you the most.

We tend to think that our mess precludes God from showing up into your life, but it’s the opposite.  Your mess is the birthplace of the savior.

Joseph would have done anything to avoid this mess, but that mess led to the savior of the world.  In our difficult time we would do anything to get out of it.  If we could turn back the clock to avoid it altogether we would.  But out of our mess God can bring the healing we need and the maturity we long for.

  • When argument comes this holiday season.
  • When stress comes because of year-end projections.
  • When you face fighting and whining and complaining.
  • When you make great plans and those plans don’t turn out like you wanted them.

In those times remember:

  • This may be what you need to remind you to lean on God.
  • This may be the situation that gets you to deal with those old hurts.
  • This may be the season when you repair your relationship with your mom or dad or brother or sister or…

Your natural (and understandable) tendency is to avoid the conflict, but this year do the opposite. Go with Plan B; lean into it. If you do, God might just work a miracle in your life too.