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Will we Serve even when we do not understand?
The passages below are taken from Max Lucadoís book ďHe Still Moves Stones,Ē published in 1993.
THE WHITE SPACE between Bible verses is fertile soil for questions. One can hardly read Scripture without whispering, ďI wonder .. .ď
ďI wonder if Eve ever ate any more fruit?í
ďI wonder if Noah slept well during storms?í
ďI wonder if Jonah liked fish or if Jeremiah had friends.Ē
ďDid Moses avoid bushes? Did Jesus tell jokes? Did Peter ever try water-walking again?Ē
ďWould any woman have married Paul had he asked?Ē
The Bible is a fence full of knotholes through which we can peek but not see the whole picture. Itís a scrapbook of snapshots capturing people in encounters with God, but not always recording the result. So we wonder:
When the woman caught in adultery went home, what did she say to her husband?
After the demoniac was delivered, what did he do for a living? After Jairusís daughter was raised from the dead, did she ever regret it?
Knotholes and snapshots and ďI wonders.Ē Youíll find them in every chapter about every person. But nothing stirs so many questions as does the birth of Christ. Characters appear and disappear before we can ask them anything. The innkeeper too busy to welcome Godó--did he ever learn who he turned away? The shepherds--ódid they ever hum the song the angels sang? The wise men who followed the staró--what was it like to worship a toddler? And Joseph, especially Joseph. Iíve got questions for Joseph.
Did you and Jesus arm wrestle? Did he ever let you win?
Did you ever look up from your prayers and see Jesus listening?
How do you say ďJesusĒ in Egyptian?
What ever happened to the wise men?
What ever happened to you?
We donít know what happened to Joseph. His role in Act I is so crucial that we expect to see him the rest of the dramaó--but with the exception of a short scene with twelve-year-old Jesus in Jerusalem, he never reappears. The rest of his life is left to speculation, and we are left with our questions.
But of all my questions, my first would be about Bethlehem. Iíd like to know about the night in the stable. I can picture Joseph there. Moonlit pastures. Stars twinkle above. Bethlehem sparkles in the distance. There he is, pacing outside the stable.
What was he thinking while Jesus was being born? What was on his mind while Mary was giving birth? Heíd done all he could do--ó heated the water, prepared a place for Mary to lie. Heíd made Mary as comfortable as she could be in a barn and then he stepped out. Sheíd asked to be alone, and Joseph has never felt more so.
In that eternity between his wifeís dismissal and Jesusí arrival, what was he thinking? He walked into the night and looked into the stars. Did he pray?
For some reason, I donít see him silent; I see Joseph animated, pacing. Head shaking one minute, fist shaking the next. This isnít what he had in mind. I wonder what he said...
This isnít the way I planned it, God. Not at all. My child being born in a stable? This isnít the way I thought it would be. A cave with sheep and donkeys, hay and straw? My wife giving birth with only the stars to hear her pain?
This isnít at all what I imagined. No, I imagined family. I imagined grandmothers. I imagined neighbors clustered outside the door and friends standing at my side. I imagined the house erupting with the first cry of the infant. Slaps on the back. Loud laughter. Jubilation.
Thatís how I thought it would be.
The midwife would hand me my child and all the people would applaud. Mary would rest and we would celebrate. All of Nazareth would celebrate.
But now. Now look. Nazareth is five daysí journey away. And here we are in a. . . in a sheep pasture. Who will celebrate with us? The sheep? The shepherds? The stars?
This doesnít seem right. What kind of husband am I? I provide no midwife to aid my wife. No bed to rest her back. Her pillow is a blanket from my donkey. My house for her is a shed of hay and straw.
The smell is bad, the animals are loud. Why, I even smell like a shepherd myself.
Did I miss something? Did I, God?
When you sent the angel and spoke of the son being bornó--this isnít what I pictured. I envisioned Jerusalem, the temple, the priests, and the people gathered to watch. A pageant perhaps. A parade. A banquet at least. I mean, this is the Messiah!
Or, if not born in Jerusalem, how about Nazareth? Wouldnít Nazareth have been better? At least there I have my house and my business. Out here, what do I have? A weary mule, a stack of firewood, and a pot of warm water. This is not the way I wanted it to be! This is not the way I wanted my son.
Oh my, I did it again. I did it again didnít I, Father? I donít mean to do that; itís just that I forget. Heís not my son. . . heís yours.
The child is yours. The plan is yours. The idea is yours. And forgive me for asking but. . . is this how God enters the world? The coming of the angel, Iíve accepted. The questions people asked about the pregnancy. I can tolerate. The trip to Bethlehem, fine. But why a birth in a stable, God?
Any minute now Mary will give birth. Not to a child, but to the Messiah. Not to an infant, but to God. Thatís what the angel said. Thatís what Mary believes. And, God, my God, thatís what I want to believe. But surely you can understand; itís not easy. It seems so
so . . . so .. . bizarre.
Iím unaccustomed to such strangeness, God. Iím a carpenter. I make things fit. I square off the edges. I follow the plumb line. I measure twice before I cut once. Surprises are not the friend of a builder. I like to know the plan. I like to see the plan before I begin.
But this time Iím not the builder, am I? This time Iím a tool. A hammer in your grip. A nail between your fingers. A chisel in your hands. This project is yours, not mine.
I guess itís foolish of me to question you. Forgive my struggling. Trust doesnít come easy to me, God. But you never said it would be easy, did you?
One final thing, Father. The angel you sent? Any chance you could send another? If not an angel, maybe a person? I donít know anyone around here and some company would be nice. Maybe the innkeeper or a traveler? Even a shepherd would do.
I wonder. Did Joseph ever pray such a prayer? Perhaps he did. Perhaps he didnít.
But you probably have.
Youíve stood where Joseph stood. Caught between what God says and what makes sense. Youíve done what he told you to do only to wonder if it was him speaking in the first place. Youíve stared into a sky blackened with doubt. And youíve asked what Joseph asked.
Youíve asked if youíre still on the right road. Youíve asked if you were supposed to turn left when you turned right. And youíve asked if there is a plan behind this scheme. Things havenít turned out like you thought they would.
Each of us knows what itís like to search the night for light. Not outside a stable, but perhaps outside an emergency room. On the gravel of a roadside. On the manicured grass of a cemetery. Weíve asked our questions. We questioned Godís plan. And weíve wondered why God does what he does.
The Bethlehem sky is not the first to hear the pleadings of a confused pilgrim.
If you are asking what Joseph asked, let me urge you to do what Joseph did. Obey. Thatís what he did. He obeyed. He obeyed when the angel called. He obeyed when Mary explained. He obeyed when God sent.
He was obedient to God.
He was obedient when the sky was bright.
He was obedient when the sky was dark.
He didnít let his confusion disrupt his obedience. He didnít know everything. But he did what he knew. He shut down his business, packed up his family, and went to another country. Why? Because thatís what God said to do.
What about you? Just like Joseph, you canít see the whole picture. Just like Joseph your task is to see that Jesus is brought into your part of your world. And just like Joseph you have a choice: to obey or disobey. Because Joseph obeyed, God used him to change the world.
Can he do the same with you?
God still looks for Josephs today. Men and women who believe that God is not through with this world. Common people who serve an uncommon God.
Will you be that kind of person? Will you serve .. . even when you donít understand?
No, the Bethlehem sky is not the first to hear the pleadings of an honest heart, nor the last. And perhaps God didnít answer every question for Joseph. But he answered the most important one. ďAre you still with me, God?Ē And through the first cries of the God-child the answer came.
ďYes. Yes, Joseph. Iím with you.Ē
There are many questions about the Bible that we wonít be able to answer until we get home. Many knotholes and snapshots. Many times we will muse, ďI wonder. . .Ē
But in our wonderings, there is one question we never need to ask. Does God care? Do we matter to God? Does he still love his children?
Through the small face of the stable-born baby, he says yes.
Yes, your sins are forgiven.
Yes, your name is written in heaven.
Yes, death has been defeated.
And yes, God has entered your world.
Immanuel. God is with us.(165-170)
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