I am a sucker for character development. When I used to play video games in junior high and high school, I didn’t look for games with the best game play or battle sequences or graphics or music. I looked for games that let me know the characters, learn their stories, and watch them develop, learn and grow. A character without a story to tell was too boring and static for me.
Although I’ve grown out of my video game days, this theme of loving character development has translated to the books I read, the movies I watch, and even the people whose company I keep. I enjoy people development; helping people grow into the best possible version of themselves and watching them blossom as their stories unfold.
For that reason, one of my favorite Christmas songs is “A Strange Way to Save the World” by 4Him. It’s a beautiful song, both musically and lyrically, that tells the Christmas Story from the perspective of Joseph, the betrothed of the Virgin Mary who gave birth to Jesus, the Son of God. So often, we forget the perspective of Joseph when we hear the Christmas story, but there is so much richness to his portion of the narrative.
Joseph and Mary were engaged before Mary became pregnant with Jesus by the Holy Spirit. When Joseph found out Mary was pregnant, he planned to quietly divorce her, because he was a good man and did not want to publicly disgrace her. Can you imagine finding out your fiancé was pregnant? What must Joseph have thought and experienced during this season?
But then an angel of God appeared to Joseph and told him that Mary was still a virgin, and that the child had been conceived by the power of God through the Holy Spirit. Joseph was instructed to wed Mary, as planned, and name the child Jesus, which means “the LORD saves”. So Joseph did as God commanded and took Mary as his wife, but “he did not have sexual relations with her until her son was born.” Woah. That’s some kind of self-discipline, Joseph. [Read more here.]
There is so much to discuss here. What must it have been like to be approached by an angel – an angel who assuaged your fears over your betrothed’s infidelity and affirmed your marriage? What kind of faith did it take to go ahead with marrying the impregnated Mary?
Why did the Son of God have to come to earth in the form of a vulnerable human infant? How did Joseph feel about being tasked with naming and raising the God-man Jesus, the long foretold Messiah?
For many of these questions, I can only guess at the answer, but at least for one of them, I have a firm foundation. Jesus, the second member of the Triune God, existed before the beginning of time but chose to come to earth, taking on the frail flesh of a man, because we as humanity needed a Savior.
We have a problem of sin. None of us can honestly say that we live up to our own standards; much less God’s standard of holy perfection. Because God is perfectly just, He cannot tolerate sin; there must be a punishment for sin. Our sin separates us from God, and none of us are “righteous enough” to earn our way back into a right standing with God.
But because God is also perfectly loving, He didn’t want to leave things that way. He wanted to be in relationship with us. So He met us where we are, in our brokenness and sinfulness. “While we were still sinners, Jesus died for us.” Jesus – the Son of God – descended from heaven to earth, taking on the fragility of a human infant, because only as a man could He suffer the punishment that we all deserve for our sinfulness.
And so Jesus grew up, setting a course for the crucifixion He always knew was coming. He humbled himself, even to the point of death, to take the punishment we deserve so that, through faith in His substitutionary atonement, we could be forgiven of our sins and put back into a right relationship with God. But Jesus didn’t stay dead. After three days, He rose from the grave and ascended back into heaven, defeating sin, death and the power of Satan.
This is the Christmas story. It’s a story of character development and an epic journey to conquer evil. It is a story of unwavering justice, unconditional love and unfathomable redemption that is a free gift available to anyone who believes.