MARY WAS EXPECTING; she was “great with child.” Joseph was hoping the events precipitated upon him would not come to disaster. He knew he was not the father of the child. On the basis of a dream, he trusted Mary, being assured this expectation was a surprise to her as well. He should not doubt her love. Then came a decree from Caesar that he had to make a trip to Bethlehem, the city of his ancestry, to register for yet another tax, with the child pressing at the doors of Mary’s womb (Matthew 1:18–24).
Christmas brings expectations, usually understood in the positive sense, which is a good thing. The wise man rightly observed that “a hope delayed brings discouragement (literally a sick mind); a wish fulfilled is a tree of life” (Proverbs 13:12). When hope is lost, all is lost. As a boy, Christmas brought me great expectations. Christmas Eve required a trip to church in the back of a truck at -30 ⁰C to recite my lines, but no matter how lines were flubbed, there would be a bag of peanuts, an orange, and some candy.
Christmas Day was another trip to church, which was with even greater excitement, not to sing carols, but to come home to presents. I remember only one thing from one Christmas sermon. The pastor was elated because friends that morning had brought him freshly baked bread; when he got home, bread with butter would bring Christmas euphoria. I remember sitting in that pew thinking, “You pathetic old man.” Fresh bread with butter was a boring school lunch. I was expecting a hockey stick, believing I would no longer have to play with the willow branch I had chopped out of the slough. I am sure the pastor’s expectation was met; I can’t remember whether I got a hockey stick or socks.
According to Matthew, Joseph approached Mary’s expectation with hope. The angel in the dream told him that a prophetic promise was now being fulfilled. The child to be born would be wonderful in counsel, a Prince of peace, a King of great authority on the throne of David his father whose kingdom would be eternal (Isaiah 9:6–7). This Son would be “God with us” for salvation unlike the birth of Hezekiah, son of Ahaz, when “God with us” signaled disaster (Isaiah 7:15–17). An appropriate name for a Child of such hope would be ‘Yeshua’ (He will save). Joseph could not have given the child that name unless he genuinely had hope.
Joseph lived to know some of the enigmatic ways of his son, beginning at age 12 (Luke 2:48). His son said some mysterious things, such as “my kingdom is not of this world.” If the kingdom of this hope is some other kind of world, what is this peace of which he speaks? How does one get such peace or even know that one has it?
I hope my Christmas expectations will be fulfilled. One of them is fresh bread with butter. But more than that, I pray that I may live the hope of Joseph, a man who (I believe) did find peace. People all around me have abundance with no cause for conflict, but they have no peace. The hope of Christmas comes from the Prince of a kingdom present in this world but certainly not of this world. May His kingdom come within me and through me.
Dr. Gus Konkel is one of Providence’s Past Presidents. He served for 28 years – first as Professor of Old Testament in the Seminary (starting in 1984) and then as President from 2001 until 2012. He has maintained an active scholarly career of teaching, preaching and publication.