A perspective on Christmas 2020
by Kevin Finkenbinder
DEWITT, MI – As 2020 has progressed, there have been a lot of frustrations. Some have been vexed by the health crisis, others by the social milieu. Most of us have been sickened by the political controversies. 2020 has become a synonym of Murphy’s law. We have been hit with so many frustrations that we have failed to see the presents God has placed before us. We fail to see the blessings in the midst of the storm.
Something tells me that Joseph may have had a similar year sometime around 2 A.D. (I know, we don’t know the exact year of Jesus’ birth, but after 2000+ years, I hope a ±¼% error is acceptable.) Joseph probably started the Jewish new year on the 1st of Tishrei (late September) with hope and expectation. This was going to be the year that he married his betrothed bride Mary, and the year that his carpenter shop would make a profit. But then there were some crushing blows.
Joseph was working in his shop when there was an uproar from the community. The Romans were requiring every Jew to return to their ancestral homes. This meant he had to make plans to travel to Bethlehem, and while he was away he would probably lose business to Isaac who had the carpenter shop on the next street. He could lose his business because of a political decision.
The year got worse. A few months later, in the month of Sh’vat (early January), Joseph notices that Mary has a baby bump. Since she is betrothed to him and he hasn’t touched her, he can only assume she was unfaithful. But being a good, compassionate man, he decides just to divorce her quietly instead of publicly shaming her, or even having her stoned. But still, his heart was broken.
Then the angel appeared and told him to take Mary as his wife, he was relieved that she had not been unfaithful, but had so many questions…so much he didn’t understand. He needed to have a long conversation with Mary, but just when his thoughts had settled enough to talk, she traveled to visit her cousin Elizabeth whose husband Zechariah had been struck mute. While Joseph had compassion for Zechariah and his family in this weird year, he still had no way to talk to Mary until she returned in Nisan (early April) shortly after the birth of Elizabeth’s baby.
A few months after Mary returns, in early Av (mid-July), Joseph and Mary travel to Bethlehem for the census. The travel is difficult, especially with Mary about to give birth, but eventually they make it to Bethlehem to register for the census. And then the bad year continues, there is nowhere available for them to sleep. The inn is full and the labor pains are starting. In desperation he looks around and finds someone that will let them sleep in their stables, actually more of an old cave that the animals use to find shelter, but better than nothing.
Joseph had a terrible year, if anything could go wrong it did…or did it? Joseph could count his blessings. Mary had been faithful, she had traveled to and from Judea, while pregnant, without troubles. They had made their way to Bethlehem, the stables were not only less crowded than the inn (most inns slept everyone in a common room), but actually similarly clean to the inn. And best of all, the baby Jesus.
The weirdness didn’t end. Within 2 years, they were visited by Magi bringing them gifts, but also putting them in danger of death from Herod. They had to flee to Egypt, but again God had provided. The gifts from the Magi likely paid for their traveling expenses and gave them money to live in Egypt, at least long enough to get some carpentry jobs.
We don’t know what eventually became of Joseph. After Jesus was 12, we have no biblical mention of Joseph. We don’t know if he ever truly understood the significance of the baby that was born. The angel had said “She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins,” and he had done his part, but did he ever know what it meant for the baby to save the people from their sins? And if he did somehow understand, was his heart broken to see his adopted son suffering on behalf of people who didn’t even know Him?
In this Christmas season, as we think about the birth of Jesus, don’t just contrast it with the crazy year 2020. Instead, consider what Joseph went through…a very crazy year. Though Joseph didn’t know what was happening and had to be frustrated, God had a much greater plan. We don’t know what God is doing through 2020, but we know it is in His plans. Instead of being relieved that 2020 is over, maybe we should view 2020 and embrace it as a gift from God. He is doing great things, great for His glory, great for His redemption plan and great for the lives of those who have salvation through His Son. Like Joseph, we may not see how it is great, but we can still rejoice and thank God for both the present of His Son and the present, mysterious as it has been, of 2020.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Kevin Finkenbinder has been in bi-vocational ministry for nearly 30 years,
nearly 15 years in Michigan. In July 2020 he became pastor of First Baptist
Church of DeWitt, Michigan. He shares his passion for ministry and caring
for people with his wife, Amy, and their three kids.