Caesar Augustus issued a decree...Luke 2:1-7
"What else could go wrong?" I can only imagine this might have been Joseph's thought upon hearing the news of a required census to be taken. Already his dream has been shattered. His world view has been turned upside-down. His faith is barely enough to get him through the day.
Joseph's dream of marriage to Mary has been shattered with the news that she is pregnant. His world view about how God works has been turned upside-down with an angelic visitation regarding Mary's pregnancy. His faith is left shaky but enough to questionably say, 'yes.' Now the oppressive government system is asking him to leave his income producing business and travel over difficult and uneasy terrain, with a pregnant wife, just so he can put his name on a piece of paper. Could the circumstances be any more tense and unpleasant?
I suppose they could, and I imagine if we dug a bit deeper we might be able to discover a few to add to the pile. But this is enough for me. Circumstances are things that happen to us. They can be good or difficult things, but usually I'm quicker to focus only on the difficult ones. These difficult circumstances are things I find myself crying out to God to either take away, fix, or simply whine about. And I could go on doing this for a really long time. It's kind of sad that I don't let the 'good' circumstance bring enjoyment and thanksgiving for as long a period of time.
Circumstances are things that happen to us, and they are one of the things God intends to use to transform us into the image of Christ. On our personal scale of, 'it's not fair,' difficult circumstances seem to only move us further away from how we think God works and thus miss the opportunity for transformation.
Things happen to us that are initiated by others. Most of the time they don't know the impact it is having on us. They usually are doing it to somehow keep themselves in power or control of life around them. I really don't think Caesar Augustus thought about how difficult it would be to execute a census, he only wanted data and information that would be helpful to him. He didn't decide to mandate this order knowing that it would force a young couple to fulfill God's intention. And frankly I'm pretty sure Joseph wasn't thinking, 'Oh goodie, finally an answer to my prayer. I was wondering how I was going to get Mary down to Bethlehem in order to fulfill the centuries old prophecy about the baby she is about to deliver." Yea...I don't think so.
Yet here it is, the episode that changes the world. Joseph says 'yes' to his mandated circumstance. His 'yes' went far beyond appeasing Caesar's whim. He was obedient to Caesar but he was obedient to God first... "Do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife..." (Matt. 1:20-21). Neither act of obedience was easy. But both was used to transform him.
What are the circumstances of your life these days? This is a season when we expect glory in heaven and peace on earth, but for many that's just a line in a song. Often during this season the pressures of year-end goals, expectations, relationships, or transitions seem to overshadow the meager faith we have because of the season. But in and through our circumstances God stands ready to reveal the intentions of His heart for us. He is bursting with hope and expectation that we will see the glory of Grace embrace us, just as we are, and let it wash away the residue of ego's battle to control.
Our present circumstances may indeed be the very thing God uses to explode before us Emmanuel, God with us. That's how spiritual formation works.