More than any other Bible event, the birth of Jesus bursts with prophetic destiny. The plan of the ages came to pass with the command of God as he enacted his divine strategy to save the world. The hope of the world would finally come to life in Bethlehem. Yet in our celebration of God’s redemptive plan we can often overlook the volitional role played by two everyday people who were ambushed by the grace of God.
What if Mary had said, “No, thank you” to the glad tidings delivered by Gabriel? What if Joseph followed through with his plan to divorce Mary and get on with his the rest of his life? Have we ever considered the possibility that either of them could’ve declined the honor? Most important: have we ever considered the risks endured by God Himself when he decided to use people in his plan?
Meditation is a path to understanding and insight. The creative and patient heart can discover the whispers of the Spirit just behind the inspired text. The what-if questions cannot be answered, but they are useful in reminding us that our choices matter. They matter before God calls us, when he calls us, and forever after we accept his call. Perhaps most of all, in Mary and Joseph we see the intersection of God’s sovereign will and human choice to embrace his plan.
Mary and Joseph were partners in the grace of God. They did not earn the positions to which they were called. Yet it’s still true that each of them embraced the everyday small choices that positioned them for the call of God. What if Mary had not stayed sexually pure? The sovereign plan of God would have been fulfilled, but in some other Jewish teenager. What if Joseph had decided not to listen to the angelic instruction and instead divorce Mary? The Father in Heaven would certainly have found a step-father before the birth of the Christ child. Or have we lulled ourselves into thinking that Mary and Joseph had no choice in God's great destiny for mankind?
Behind the text lay questions worth asking: How did Mary become the kind of person who could say yes with a whole heart? How did Joseph mature into a man who could make space and time to hear from God even in the face of his personal shock and pain? How could someone as deliberative as Joseph also be decisive when it came to protecting the Christ child from a murderous despot?
These questions are not about whether rule-keeping “qualified” or “disqualified” either of them, but rather what manner of life enabled them to discover and lay hold of God’s greatest design for them--and coincidentally, God’s greatest design for humanity. (There is a second lesson that we are who we are not only for ourselves, but for countless others unseen, but that’s for another day.)
While we can only speculate the answers such provocative questions, we can discover the deep truth that God does not treat human beings as mere puppets in the redemptive story. Any God gentle and caring enough to sacrifice his own son for a wicked world does not seem the type to force the hand of an unsuspecting couple in the tiny town of Nazareth. God the Father showed faith in them, and like all acts of faith, these divine choices were made at great risk. The sovereign God entrusted his son and his plan to very human agents. In you and me, he does so still today.