Doing the right thing
There will be some people reading this who don’t enjoy the social whirl of the holidays. Nevertheless, they go to dances, ‘dos’ and New Year countdowns because of the expectations of others.
Even while conforming, many feel the awkwardness of ‘loneliness in a crowd’. But my biblical hero, Joseph, broke free of doing only what was expected of him.
Everyone must have assumed that he would disown pregnant Mary, mother-to-be of Jesus; the pressure to do so must have been immense. But he still cared for her deeply, even before he learned from the angel the unique and exonerating fact of her virginal conception.
Joseph’s love for Mary was already leading him away from vengeance, to the decided discretion of a quiet divorce. And after the angel’s visit, he was able to maintain his loyalty to Mary in the face of every sneer and whisper. He knew he was being true to his heart and obedient to God.
He could face fleeing as a refugee with Mary and Jesus to Egypt, and later on move to the obscurity of Nazareth.
There must have been other ongoing costs for Joseph, not least the snide comments that didn’t go away. Even when Jesus had grown up, he was known derogatorily as the ‘carpenter’s son’ (Matthew 13:55), probably an unsubtle sideswipe at Jesus’ legitimacy and upbringing.
But, just as Moses ‘regarded disgrace for the sake of Christ of greater value than the treasures of Egypt’ (Hebrews 11:26), so Joseph considered the easy route of succumbing to social pressure as nothing compared to the surpassing greatness of walking in God’s way.
What about you? The social pressure of today is to avoid too much commitment to anything to do with God. Have a bit of ‘spirituality’, of course, but ‘pick and mix’, cordon it off from the rest of your life, and, above all, keep it to yourself!
Yet to retreat like that is to fall so far short of what we were made by God to be. It is so much more human to know peace with God through the Lord Jesus Christ, and to be his follower. If you think that is just servility, you don’t know the privilege of being part of the greatest family, the greatest team, and the greatest kingdom of all.
Please go to church this Christmas. But go to engage with the Jesus of the Bible, not just out of convention. When God calls you to do the right thing, he means you to recognise his authority over your life, repent according to his command, and keep in step with his Holy Spirit.
This may sound strict and forbidding, but it will lead you to discover the most liberating love of your life. Joseph’s example shows us what an ordinary man from an ordinary background can be and do when he recognises the privilege of being a servant of the King.
Joseph didn’t need the approval or applause of his peers to be happy with his little family. For their sakes, he went through confusion, heartbreak and fear, because he walked humbly with his God, and found the Lord, who makes big promises, faithful.
Since Christ came the first Christmas to redeem us from bondage to sin, let’s not impose on ourselves the shackles of social expectations. Let’s live for God’s glory — and be free in him!