Think about it.
You’re born two thousand and some odd years ago in some backwater region of a great empire. Even in that backwater region, your town is small, tiny, insignificant, the “sticks” of the backwater. Still, you are raised to be strong and honest and good, to love God and serve Him humbly through your trade. Your father was a master builder, a genius with wood, and you joined him in that trade long ago.
After years of hard work, treating people with integrity, and being a loyal friend, you’ve developed a good reputation in your village. You’ve grown into a “good man”. You’ve recently become engaged to a lovely young girl, a hard worker from a simple, but well-respected family. When you have had the chance to speak with her, you talk with anticipation about the future. You have a good trade, well regarded by your friends, a solid future for a man like you.
Until the day she shows up pregnant. It’s hard for us in our dreadfully shame-free, tell-all culture to wrap our minds around what this would have meant. This was beyond embarrassment; this is worthy of death, shame for generations to this girl’s family and everyone around her; including you. You’re primary, collateral damage.
You hardly know this girl. She claims that an angel appeared to her, that she is carrying God’s child, not of man. The girl is either clearly deranged or the most outrageous liar you’ve ever heard. Your friends and your understanding of Holy Writ call for her death. Your whole world is falling apart. In the midst of your pain, however, you pity this girl. No matter how bad things are for you, they are nothing compared to her plight. And, what of the child within her? Does it deserve to die as well? You decide to try to de-escalate this situation as well as you can, just walk away, cut ties, and hope it will all die down….
….until the night the angel appeared to you, verifying the girl’s story. Until you shared your experience with her and she with you, joined together as confidantes in the greatest secret the world has ever known.
And so begins a life of hardship. The child is born under amazing, but humiliating, circumstances. You become fugitives, fleeing to a completely foreign land to escape the hand of a mad king and to protect the child’s life. When you are finally able to return to your town, you are viewed as something out of a William Faulkner novel. These people know who you are, who that child is. You adopt the child, but that doesn’t matter. People mutter “raca”-fool- as you walk by. At times you hear them refer to your child as a “bastard”. At times you think you hear them saying horrible things about your wife, perhaps even having to confront people more than once. How many times have you had to comfort a crying child or a disconsolate wife, providing solace and refuge from the meanness of life in a small town.
There is joy and peace, as well. You train up this young man and his brothers in your trade. You raise Him as your own. And, even though He is God, He is your son, too. You teach Him to use a hammer, to look a man in the eye and shake His hand firmly, In a strange way, you teach God how to be a man.
You strive and labor and suffer and serve and give and lay your life down. And, oh yeah, you die before the story really gets good, before this child is fully revealed as Messiah. How many times did you ask yourself: did I really see what I thought I saw that night? Was it really an angel, or just a coincidence? One thing was for certain: this was your child and your wife and your family and your God, and you were going to do right by all of them.
Do you feel sometimes as though God called you to something, then abandoned you? That you haven’t heard from Him lately? That all you have is a distant, fading sense of mission, a past experience when you were so sure God was speaking to you, telling you this was the way you should go? But now He’s far away, and you’re no longer sure.
How do you know that? How do you know His calling is not for you to work through that sense of distance, to toil daily in seeming obscurity, maybe even somewhat reviled, patiently laying a Spirit-breathed foundation for which generations to come will call you blessed? What if you are, today, an unlikely hero?