“And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame …”
While I was in college, I worked in a department store. One of my co-workers was a very attractive young lady and we began to develop a bit of a friendship. This friendship continued for over a year … late night phone calls, movies together, dinner with friends, inside jokes. She really was a great friend. All the while, though, my heart was longing for more. I was happy to be her “friend” but I wanted to be so much more than that. After a year, I began to talk to her about how I was really feeling and my desire for more than just friendship. She was reluctant. I was patient. Finally, one November evening she said “yes.” My charm and chiseled good looks had finally won her over and I thought great things were lying ahead for us …. until 4 months later on Valentine’s Day. Since this was going to be our first Valentine’s Day together, I really wanted to try to make a good first impression, so I purchased some special gifts, ordered some roses, and had it all delivered to her house. I could not wait for her reaction!
That night I received a phone call from her that went something like this: “Happy Valentine’s Day, Rich. Thanks so much for the gifts. That was so very nice … by the way … I don’t think we should date any more.” She called me up … broke up with me over the phone … on VALENTINE’S DAY!
I think that’s about as close I could come to possibly feeling what Joseph felt when Mary told him that she was expecting. They were engaged to be married. They had saved themselves for each other … or so Joseph thought. And, then, the next thing you know, Mary is telling him some story about an angel, the Holy Spirit, and a prophecy that says “and the virgin will conceive” … and, she just happened to be the virgin. I’m sure it was all a bit much for Joseph to believe and yet we are told that “Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly.” I’m amazed at his reaction. I’m sure he was hurt. I’m sure he was confused. I’m sure he felt like it was all a cruel joke. Yet, being a “just” man, he did not want to shame Mary in any way. This incredibly hurtful news and difficult circumstance didn’t simply create character in Joseph’s life … it revealed the character of Joseph’s life. He was a “just” man. God had been refining him for a long time, I’m sure.
I’m even more amazed at Joseph’s reaction when I compare it to my own reaction after my personal “Valentine’s Day Massacre” those many years ago. My heart was crushed. And, if I can be honest, I did not handle it well at all. I was hurt. I was angry. I was insulted. I was confused. How could something that seemed to be going so well end so poorly … so quickly … and so cruelly? My emotions began to get the best of me and I began to talk badly about her every chance I could get. I was more than happy to shame her publically. I would try to turn some of our mutual friends against her. I would talk to others about how awful and cruel she was. I would say very unkind things about her behind her back and THINK even more unkind things about her in the silence of my own mind.
The truth is, though, her actions against me never justified my actions against her. If anything, her actions against me revealed the true condition of my heart at the time. The cruel words I would say about her and the even more cruel thoughts I would think about her, the vindication I felt I deserved, the way I would try to get back at her, the way I wanted to shame here … I did those things because those things were lying dormant in my heart. Her treatment of me was simply the opportunity those things needed to rise to the surface.
We can think of our hearts like a snow globe. If one had never seen a snow globe before, one would not know that there is all of this flaky white stuff lying dormant on the bottom of the globe. We do not see what lies dormant until the globe is shaken. It’s then that we see all of the flakes swirling around. It’s the same with our hearts. We often do not know what is lying underneath until life begins to shake us a bit. When we do get shaken and when we do see the ugliness of sin that so often lies dormant underneath the surface, that is not God looking to condemn us, but rather God looking to refine us. The circumstances of our life are often God’s way of revealing what He longs to refine through his grace. Circumstances, people, events, longings unfulfilled, desires unmet … they’re all often used to bring to the surface what God longs to transform.
I’m pretty confident that the first time … probably even the second and third and fourth time Joseph faced a hurtful situation in his life, he didn’t respond the way he did with Mary. God had been working in him for many years. God had been revealing what He longed to refine because making us holy is God’s unwavering agenda for His children. Joseph was willing to partner with God in the process. May we do the same.