“This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit. Because Joseph her husband was a righteous man and did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.” (Matt 1:18-19 NIV)
Imagine being Mary. You are betrothed to a man you love, but at the same time you are pregnant and the child is not his. How hard it would be to break this news to him. And it would be even stranger because your explanation seems a tiny bit far-fetched: “I am with child through the Holy Spirit.”
If I had been Joseph, I would have been quite upset. The one I loved had betrayed me and was making silly excuses. Just who does she take me for?
But Joseph was a righteous man, and although hurt by this, he didn’t want Mary to be exposed “to public disgrace”. Instead he broke his engagement with her quietly. What a man!
He still had to deal with unforgiveness, however, and that can be much harder to deal with!
In Belgium, there is a natural preserve near the North sea called “Het Zwine”. The Flemish word means pig, but it can also refer to the land between a dike and the sea. I will let you decide which version is the right one!
From time to time “Het Zwine” is completely covered with seawater from the North Sea. Vegetation has to be hardy and adaptable to saltwater, or it will not survive in such an environment. One of these adaptable flowers is called the sea lavender. It actually thrives in the environment at “Het Zwine”.
We, too, are prone to being wiped out if we are not adaptable enough to be able to forgive. The unforgiveness eats us up, rendering our lives miserable and bitter. Before we know it, we have placed ourselves in our very own prison of discontent and complaint. No blooms will ever result from this plant! Only misery and hatred for the one who has hurt us! Our lives like we have known them are just a memory of the past. We are literally destroying our quality of life!
In all truth, our anger hurts ourselves far more than the hurt caused by the one we consider to be our arch-enemy. Unforgiveness doesn’t resolve anything. Is it really worthy of our time?
Joseph was contemplating this as well. He thought he had been betrayed by the one he loved. Bitterness had started to creep into his mind, but he did the one thing that many of us often tend to neglect in such situations: he prayed. Only then could he really understand his circumstances.
“But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 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.” (Matt 1:20-21 NIV)
The message of Christmas is not only a message of peace, but also one of forgiveness. Jesus came to this planet to make this possible. Throughout His life on Earth He continuously broadcasted the message. After all, if God is willing to forgive us, why shouldn’t we forgive those who have hurt us? It may look like it is monumentally impossible to do so, but it can still be done by relying on God’s grace: “I can do everything through him who gives me strength.” (Phil 4:13 NIV)
“I forgive you.”
I can’t think of any present I’d rather give or receive! What about you?
(To access the entire “Christmas: A Message of Forgiveness” devotional series, please click here.)