When the best-laid plans...
Well, so here we are. Epiphany has arrived and Christmas is over. We sang “We Three Kings” and together with the heavenly host we sang with angels “in the realms of glory.”
Time to shelve away Nativities and Christmas decorations. Christmas trees are to be thrown away and all lights taken down. And here in Church, we are ready to go back to the green colors of the season.
The beautiful images of the Holy Family with a spotless Baby Jesus are gone. Together with the Christmassy fragrances of pine, candy, and ginger-bread houses the joy of Emmanuel, our “God-with-us-God” is quickly fading away
Mind you; I love Christmas. For all the disconnects between our stylized Christmas and the reality of what the Holy Family went through, Christmas in so many ways is candy for weary souls. We need Christmas!
In many ways, Epiphany marks the time where we go back to “normal,” whatever “normal” may mean in our lives. Comfort and joy are quickly giving way to the stress, inconveniencies and the challenges of daily life. Christmas is over. It is time to go back to business.
In shelving away Christmas, with all its glitter, I am afraid that, without realizing it, we could end up throwing away one of the most significant lessons that Christmas offers. A lesson that may help us to navigate the challenges of the new year.
What am I talking about? What can we possible learn from Christmas that may help through the great multitasking challenges of the “real world?”
Let me suggest that what the story of Christmas teaches us is that in the midst of ruined plans, dislocations and inconveniences, uncertainties and unanswered questions, God is always present to bless and encourage us to not give up – and to look at Him in search for the guiding light that we all need.
Yes; It is the kind of light that not only brightened the way of the Wise Men, but beamed the warm and loving light of God’s unfailing love which is at the heart of the story of Christmas.
Let’s go back for a minute to the Christmas story
As you know, Mary, a young teenager bride to be is betrothed to a well-established, solid middle class cabinet maker. Even to this day, in many places it is not that just individuals are married; the families came together in mutual support. In some cultures, there are no “The In-laws.”
Before the actual wedding took place, delicate, often-protracted negotiations occurred between the families, especially regarding the dowry. No one was “buying” a bride. But the household would lose a valuable member who normally would take care of younger siblings, help with household chores or with taking care of goats, sheep, and other farm animals.
Weddings typically extended over a period of five to seven days with family and friends joining in the celebration. Autumn was the best time for marriage because the harvest was in, the vintage over, minds were free, and hearts were at rest.
Can you imagine what may have been going through Mary’s head during those days? The farthest thing from her mind were Angels, babies or travelling on a donkey’s back while being almost in her nineth month!
And yet, it was at that time when the Angel appeared to tell her to not be afraid even if her plans were to be changed as Mary may have never thought. And what did the angel say? “God is with you.”
And what about Joseph? He was going through all the traditional steps of negotiating a dowry. Of course, he would not have done it personally. He had to appoint friends to negotiate for him, and to get himself ready for “The big do.”
And through all this, dealing with his own family and the daily pressures of keeping the business afloat, I can’t believe that Joseph was in the mood to entertain any alterations to the well-set traditions.
Until he had a dream. In it, Joseph also heard the voice telling him to not “be afraid.” I can imagine the angelic voice, in the most caring and gentle way saying, “You see, Joseph. There is a slight change of plans, but nothing to be worried about…”
Now Jesus was God. Well, He is God. And I imagine that He could deal with the heavy stuff of life with his little finger. But, how about Mary? Or Joseph? Or any of us?
So, a wedding planned for at least a year ahead of time, had to be moved to just a couple of months, and not only in the Fall, but in the deep cold winter. And away from friends and from his workshop. And then the Census!
The Gospel tells us that through all the ordeal Mary sung. I wonder if Joseph was in the mood for singing. But, nevertheless, Joseph went through with it.
Fast forward until the visit of the Wise Men. How nice it would have been had the story of Christmas ended right then and there.
But no. As we know, they had to travel away from family, friends, and work to save the Holy Child. And an unplanned baby, I submit. Fifty miles through dangerous roads and facing the ever-present challenges of being robbed, to go and to live in a foreign land.
Archdeacon Paul Thomas, from the Diocese of Lichfield (UK), commenting on the story of Mary, Joseph, and Baby Jesus said that, “So, with traumatizing suddenness the lives of Joseph and Mary are turned upside down and they flee to Egypt.
As the specter of violence looms over them, they leave the security of their homeland with its familiar language and culture, the presence of their extended family, the fruits of a hard-earned career, and a circle of friends and acquaintances who make up the rich tapestry of their life. Instead, they become strangers in a foreign land, homeless, jobless, friendless and without any real sense of identity or continuity with the past.”
I wonder if Joseph could have been grumbling to himself, “God – you know – you brought your people out of Egypt and now you want us to go back there?”
Yet, through it all and even in spite of it all, Joseph and Mary remained faithful knowing that, indeed, their God was a “God-with-us-God.”
My friends. We all face challenges. Dislocations, discomforts, and disquiets. Quite often, our best laid plans go awry. Life happens to us all. A “Why, O why Lord?” prayer is never too far away from our lips.
But here is the lesson that I want you to keep fresh in your mind as you face the days ahead. Remember: God is always with you through it all. No; you still will need to pay bills, to change plans, and to deal with far too many things in too little time. Sooner or later, life will make clear that “Groundhog Day” it is not just a one day event.
Yet, keep fresh these words – “Do not be afraid, for God is with you.” Even if it a surprise to us, nothing that happens to us is a surprise to God. God in his providence, grace, mercy, and love will help us go through the fire. No; God may not quench the fire. But for sure, you will be fire-proofed.
It is interesting to note that there is not a single verse in Scripture that tells us that we are going to live angelic lives, away from the pains and sorrows of this world. But as the Psalmist says in verse 11, “God will give us strength and the blessings of peace.”
Not that God may or may not. Not that God could be good to you, but because you’ve been naughty, He is going to leave you in a bind. No. God will give you the strength to go through whatever you have to go and the peace to go through it all.
And like with Mary and Joseph, even in the midst of their challenges, God will show up with unexpected gifts. Gifts that will endure and will sustain you in your journey.
May these words be your song all through the year – and beyond!
Star of Wonder, Star of Night,
Star with Royal Beauty bright,
Guide us to Thy perfect Light.