I love Christmastime. All of it. The lights, the music, the decorations, and I’ve even grown to love the cheesy Hallmark movies (I’m talking about you, Knight Before Christmas). But I especially love the peaceful, quiet moments on my own or with family, remembering when Emmanuel, God with us, arrived so long ago.
My thoughts this time of year often turn to Mary, the mother of Jesus. I so admire her faithfulness and trust in the Lord. As a mama, I can relate to how she treasured things in her heart, or how uncertain she must have felt when Jesus was little and she was learning how to be a mama for the first time.
But this year, as I read through the story of Jesus’ birth in the Bible, I noticed Joseph. While Mary has a whole song recorded in the Bible, we don’t have a single recorded word from Joseph. But his actions and character speak volumes and continually point toward faith and hope in the Prince of Peace.
In Matthew 1:18-25 we see the story unfold. Joseph, who was engaged to Mary, suddenly found himself at the center of a scandal. Mary was pregnant and the child was not his. While an angel had already revealed to Mary that what was happening was the miraculous work of the Holy Spirit, Joseph had not yet received any such reassurance.
In their time and culture, a person’s virtue and honor were paramount. If Joseph stayed with Mary, people would assume he was the father, bringing shame and dishonor to himself and his family. If he stated the truth that he is not the father, the blame lands squarely on Mary’s shoulders, and Joesph would have been within his legal right to have her put to death by stoning. For both Joseph and Mary, the stakes had never been higher.
It’s not hard to imagine the depth of grief Joseph must have felt. He thought he had chosen a woman of virtue, one who loved and followed God and would have brought honor and love, and beauty to his life. And now this? His entire world had just been turned upside down. And yet, Joseph was a thoughtful and just man, faithful to God’s law and dependent on Him for wisdom and direction.
As Joseph lay in bed, no doubt unable to sleep and agonizing about what to do, he decided that he would put Mary’s honor above his own and quietly divorce her. When he finally drifted off to sleep, an angel spoke to Joesph in a dream.
At just the right time, in just the right way, God reassured Joesph that the events unfolding would not bring tragedy, but triumph–the beginning of a holy, redemptive work that would save all of humanity.
God didn’t give Joseph a lot of detail, or promise that everything would be ok. But God did comfort Joseph telling him not to be afraid. Then God told Joseph exactly what he needed to know to step forward in faith. I can only imagine the wave of relief, peace, and total wonder that must have washed over Joseph after that dream. I bet he took a long exhale when he realized this was all a part of God’s plan.
As he tried to comprehend all that he had been told, I wonder if Joesph recalled Psalm 29:11 to mind: “The Lord gives strength to his people; the Lord blesses his people with peace.”
Joseph would need strength for the road ahead, strength to face the judgmental stares from friends and family who thought he had broken their marital laws, strength to love and care for Mary and baby Jesus, and strength to have faith that what the Lord said was all true. But Joseph would also need to lean into the peace that God promised as well.
The Hebrew word for peace is shalom and it means so much more than the mere absence of conflict. Shalom means to make whole, or complete. To take something that’s broken and complicated and restore it to order. Shalom can apply to damaged property being repaired, someone’s health returning after a season of illness, or a broken relationship being mended. To give shalom is to give wholeness, healing, and restoration.
As Joseph faithfully stepped into the role that God was calling him to, his trust in God’s ability to breathe order into chaos would have helped him to continue to be attentive to God’s instructions and to boldly protect, lead, and love his family well. Joseph took Mary as his wife, and just as the Lord had instructed, named the Baby Jesus.
And God was faithful. He continued to walk with Joseph and speak to him through dreams, giving him the next set of instructions, and then the next. All along the way, God continued to give Joseph strength and bless him with peace.
Maybe you are in the middle of a complicated situation that could use some healing and restoration, or maybe you are in a season that feels overwhelming and unpredictable and you need God to breathe order into your chaos. Maybe you aren’t sure how you are going to provide for yourself or your family and it’s hard to see how you’ll make it another week, let alone another month. Perhaps you feel called by God to step forward in faith to fill a role that feels impossibly hard and you wonder if you’re really the right person for the job.
I’m sure Joseph experienced all of these feelings and while God may not send angels to speak to us in dreams the way He did with Joseph, He will give you strength and bless you with peace that goes beyond anything our human minds can comprehend.
Because Jesus is the ultimate source of true “shalom”. He is the Prince of Peace. There is no limit to the wholeness and healing that He brings.
We will still be faced with difficult circumstances, but because of Jesus, our relationship with God has been restored and we are now called His children. We are heirs of an unshakable Kingdom that will never fall or fade. Because of Jesus, we can continue to put one foot in front of the other, following Him and leaning into His instructions, trusting in His ability to bring order to chaos, healing to what is broken, and wholeness where there is longing.
And as Christmas day approaches, may we remember and celebrate Jesus coming to earth to be our Prince of Peace, and look forward with eager anticipation to when he returns, and shalom will be complete.