Do you remember December of 1989? News organizations broadcast live from the Berlin Wall as it came crashing down symbolizing the rapidly imploding collapse of communism in Eastern Europe and the coming breakup of the Soviet Union. Christmas for many would be a happy celebration for the free world and the United States in particular as the “Cold War” was about to end. Having grown-up under the constant threat of global nuclear war during the 50’s and 60’s, I normally would be elated.
But these were not normal times for me. My life came crashing down much like the Berlin Wall. 1989 would be my first Christmas as a divorced single parent with two young children. My credibility and confidence as pastor of a local church was understandably compromised. Didn’t the Bible say: “If someone cannot manage his own household, how can he take care of God’s church?” (1 Tim. 3:5)
Tom Riddle, a dear personal friend and former employer called immediately upon hearing the news and offered a lucrative job and an opportunity to quit the ministry and come back to business.
In the Gospel of Matthew: “Mary was engaged to be married to Joseph. But while she was still a virgin, she became pregnant by the Holy Spirit. Joseph, her fiancé, being a just man, decided to break the engagement quietly so as not to disgrace her publicly.” (Mat 1:18-19)
We know and accept that Mary was pregnant through God’s Holy Spirit, but all Joseph knew: “Mary is pregnant and he is not the father.” Brokenhearted, he strived to do the right thing in the midst of the shame and controversy surrounding their engagement. These were not normal times for Joseph. His life came crashing down much like the Berlin Wall.
The future looked bleak for Joseph, but toughtimes often kindle life-changing turning points if we make ourselves available to the voice of God. “An angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. ‘Do not be afraid to go ahead with your marriage to Mary. For the child within her has been conceived by the Holy Spirit and she will have a son and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.’” (Mat. 1:20-21)
Joseph changed dramatically. Rather than dumping Mary, he became her protector throughout the accusations and gossip that swirled around their relationship. After all, who would ever believe that a young girl could become pregnant by God? “What a lame excuse for teenage shenanigans! You would think she was carrying God’s Son, The Messiah!”
Joseph received God’s blessing of witnessing the birth of the Christ child: God’s Son, whose life, death and resurrection would transform the world.
For me, like Joseph: Tragedy 1989 became a dramatic turning point that would change my life forever.
I too heard the voice of God offering comfort and healing grace many times during those long, sleepless and lonely nights. Family and friends surrounded me with love and acts of kindness. The church I served went out of its way to demonstrate their love for me and their confidence in God’s hand on my ministry. My children needed me more than ever and I gradually regained self-assurance.
Over the next few months, like Joseph I heard God’s voice and decided not to quit but to change: I discovered an exciting new ministry offering God’s grace and hope to others experiencing divorce. I became a more compassionate minister disposed to share struggles as well as triumphs. I worked hard at being a good single parent for my children. I became more dependent upon God’s guidance.
I also met Mell just before Christmas. As she talked of her recent divorce, marital problems and mistreatment, I found myself sharing my own difficulties. We were soon talking as if we had known each other for years and I remember thinking, “I don’t want to counsel this wonderful woman. I want to marry her!” And we did marry, and we are still married today.
Christmas is not always a happy time, but it can be a meaningful time. God has a way of taking our tragedies and using them to become turning points toward better lives. If you are in the midst of a tragic Christmas? Look up! God is there, ready, willing and able to provide comfort, guidance and help so that Christmas becomes a dramatic turning point for Germany, for Joseph, for me and for you.