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12/24/06

Merry Christmas...

As I was thinking about Christmas recently, it occurred to me that Jesus' family was a foster-family, like ours is. Okay, maybe it was more like an adoptive family. But my point is that since Joseph was not the biological father of Jesus, he served the role of a foster/adoptive father, like I do. I want to be careful to say that I'm only comparing the roles that Joseph and I fill, not our characters. To do what Joseph did required measures of faith, love, and compassion that I can barely hope to one day possess. He must have been humble too. You don't hear a lot about, or from, Joseph. He doesn't seem like the kind of guy who would have published a blog.

There is something that Joseph and I share, however, that really all parents share, but which I think foster parents in particular share, and that is a tremendous uncertainty for the future. No parent knows what the future holds for his or her children, of course, but foster parents don't even know if their children will be their children. In many cases, it's only a matter of time before a foster-child's parent(s) reclaim rights to the child. I wonder if Joseph ever worried about that time, because I do.

Now, for any parent, the best thing to do with the worries we have for our children is to entrust them to God. Entrust our worries to God, yes, but especially our children. We are going to screw up in raising our children in so many ways that we'd call it a miracle that any child grows up halfway adjusted, if it didn't happen so often. So, we call it God's common grace. And thus we look to God for His help, encouragement, strength, guidance, and many other things in the day to day rearing of our children. But more than that, we entrust our children to God's calling on their life. For, we know that ultimately it would be an utter tragedy to raise our children to know a "good" life and yet not know Jesus their Savior. And furthermore, while the suffering of our children always brings barely-endurable heartache, we know that ultimately suffering for faith in Christ is blessed triumph.

Yet the problem is, we just never know what the future holds, for us or our children. We might even be tempted to think that if we just knew what was ahead, we would be able to handle it with more resolve or more patience or more faith or whatever. But consider Joseph: he was told what the future held for the child carried by Mary, his betrothed. Joseph was told that Mary would bear a son who would save his people from their sins. I don't know how much comfort that brought. In the Old Testament--the only Scripture that Joseph knew--any time God dealt with the sin of His people, there was a lot of suffering involved. I imagine that as Joseph went on to raise, care for, and love his foster-Son Jesus, he grew ever less inclined to allow Him to suffer. In Joseph's case, knowing the future was probably a tremendous burdon.

So Joseph, like me, and like all parents, must have had a tremendous uncertainty about the future (even if he knew something about it). Yet, God did something for Joseph, as He does for all of us, to help us have faith in the face of that uncertainty. You see, even though God could just flatly ask us and expect us to have faith in Him, that's not the way He operates. He condescends to our creaturely need for evidence. In the case of Joseph, the very event that precipitated his supposed (by us) uncertainty, was the same event that could give him cause to grow in his trust in God's provision. The birth of Jesus--the one who would save his people from their sins--was the assurance to Joseph and to all of us that God is and would be faithful. For it was the evidence of God making good on His promises.

Throughout the history of Israel, and throughout the record of that history in the Old Testament, God had repeatedly, by both implication and outright declaration, promised that He would completely save His people from their sins. It wasn't accomplished through the flood, and it wasn't accomplished through circumcision, nor was it accomplished through the exodus, the establishment of the monarchy, or even through exile. But it would be (and now has been) accomplished through Jesus. One of my favorite phrases in Scripture is from Galatians 4 when Paul says that the birth of Jesus happened "in the fullness of time." Like picking a piece of fruit off the tree at the peak of its ripeness, Jesus was born at just the right time.

It's true that atonement was not accomplished until Jesus died. But in sending His Son to be born in the fullness of time, God showed us that He is a God who fulfills His promises. He is not like a human father who makes promises and then forgets them or makes excuses to avoid them. Our God is a Father who provides for us perfectly and does everything just as He says He would.

So Joseph was told just the right thing when his foster-Son was about to be born. "Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins." (Matthew 1:20-21) It's pretty clear that Joseph was a man who trusted God. I would guess that he would have married Mary and raised Jesus if God had simply told him to do so, without explanation. But it's precisely because God is a God worth trusting in that He gave Joseph hope for the endeavor. His role would serve God's purpose to save His people, including Joseph, from their sins, just as God had promised.

As we celebrate Christmas, even in our uncertainty, God is likewise saying just the right thing to us. Suzanne and I do not know where our foster-daughter Gracie will be next Christmas. But, knowing what the future holds isn't what we need. We need to know that God is worthy to entrust our future to Him. And we can know that. We can know that God is One who fulfills His promises. And we can know that His provision for us is perfect, complete. Remembering the birth of Jesus at Christmas is essentially remembering that God not only cares for us, but He also takes care of us. He does for us what we need of Him, whatever the cost. And so the God who has shown Himself to be faithful over and over again in the past, is worthy of our trust in the present, and for whatever we, or our children, will face in the future.

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G.K. Chesterton...

"The Bible tells us to love our neighbors, and also to love our enemies; probably because they are generally the same people."