Embrace God's Divine Disruptions This Christmas
Are you a planner, a list maker, a box checker? Do you like to have every detail of the Christmas season planned weeks in advance, gifts bought and wrapped by Thanksgiving, dinner reservations made, and show tickets picked up early? These are all good and noble goals.
But are you also the kind of planner who makes the holidays miserable for the rest of the family, because everything is about being at a certain place at a certain time, regardless of the family stress and conflict? Are you the type of planner who steals the fun out of Christmas morning, because the presents must be opened at this certain time and cleaned up by that certain time, so everything can be set and ready for guests who are arriving at such and such a time. And if they’re late to Christmas dinner . . . watch out!
The good news for all the planners out there is that God actually does want us to be organized. Planning and organization enables us to be efficient, effective and generally more successful in life.
“For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not sit down first and count the cost, whether he has enough to finish it” (Luke 14:28).
But as good as that is, what do we do when we encounter an unexpected “divine” disruption to our plans, and things go seemingly off the rails?
What better example do we have than Mary and Joseph, and how they handled the ultimate divine disruption to their wedding plans!
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A Wedding Interrupted by Christmas
Imagine with me, the scene…
Mary and Joseph were planning a dream wedding. They had gone to all the wedding halls in the area and tasted the food. They narrowed it down to the Nazareth Beach Club, reserved the date, and signed the contracts. They landed on a menu to include a seven-day cocktail hour with three carving stations (no ham!), three lentil stations, an olive bar, and kosher appetizers being passed around butler-style. They selected a highly recommended lute and harp combo, and booked an upscale painter from Jerusalem for portraits. Uncle Zach secured a great deal on stretch camels for the bridal party. They’d been through pre-Cana classes with Rabbi Schlomo and met all the requirements of the Temple authorities. Everyone was is excited. It was a match made in Heaven!
Of course, I am only joking! But presumably the engaged couple had indeed made a wedding plan, and everything was going according to that plan. Then suddenly and unexpectedly, God’s angel visited Mary with some news that changed everything in an instant.
“Rejoice, highly favored one, the Lord is with you; blessed are you among women!” (Luke 1:28).
What manner of salutation was this? The angel continued:
“Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son, and shall call His name Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Highest; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David. And He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end” (Luke 1:30-33).
Translation: Mary, there has been a slight change of plans. God has chosen you, above all the ladies on the earth, to give birth to the Messiah and Savior of the world. But Mary needed a bit of clarification regarding the execution of this new plan.
“Then Mary said to the angel, ‘How can this be, since I do not know a man?’ And the angel answered and said to her, ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you; therefore, also, that Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God.’ …Then Mary said, ‘Behold the maidservant of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your word.’ And the angel departed from her” (Luke 1:34-35, 38).
To her credit, we know Mary adapted quickly to the new plan and was resilient in dealing with God’s divine disruption to their wedding schedule. We planners can learn a few lessons from her!
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1. Rely on God’s Grace
I love what the angel says to Mary: “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.” Some translations use grace instead of favor. In fact, they are interchangeable here.
What strikes me most about this supernatural announcement is that God would not send angels to tell us things we already know. They are sent to reveal things that are hidden from us, or to confirm as true, things which appear otherwise.
By the way, the secret to seeing a promise from God come to pass in our lives is accepting that what God says about a matter is true, even when everything you see with your own eyes contradicts that. That’s what faith is all about!
The angel called her “blessed and highly favored.” But Mary knew she would have to count the cost of this divine disruption:
- “Blessed and highly favored” meant she would be pregnant before the wedding in a culture that stoned women for such things
- “Blessed and highly favored” meant trying to convince Joseph that she was innocent of wrongdoing
- “Blessed and highly favored” meant losing out on her dream wedding
- “Blessed and highly favored” meant being accused and shunned by friends and family
- “Blessed and highly favored” meant raising a baby that was not her husband’s
- “Blessed and highly favored” meant being ostracized from Temple life and “good” society
Mary would have to rely on God’ grace to make it through every challenge. Usually, our understanding of grace is narrowly defined as favor that brings us blessing and exempts us from pain, problems and disruptions to the nice and neat plans we lay out for our lives. But the longer a person lives and walks with God, the broader and better our definition of grace becomes.
We begin to understand, like Mary, that grace is God’s power working to fix what we can’t; that when life is disrupted and spinning out of control, God’s grace will step into the gap on our behalf.
You begin to understand that grace is more than just a power that brings blessing, but rather it’s also a sustaining strength that carries you when the disruptions of life threaten your ability to move forward.
How did Mary handle the sudden and unexpected change to her plans? Grace. How did she face her family and fiancé Joseph? Grace. How did she ride on the back of a donkey to Bethlehem as her water was ready to break? Grace. How did she give birth to the Savior in a drafty, dirty stable? She relied on God’s grace!
There is a supernatural strength that sustains us when we walk through moments of disruption, called grace. It’s how we keep moving when our plan is disrupted. It’s how we get up when the disruption knocks us off balance.
It’s how we keep worshipping and calling on God when we are confused. It’s how we have faith when we are filled with doubt. Grace.
Photo credit: ©Getty Images/Aaron Amat
2. Rethink Your Plans
“Let it be to me according to your word.”
Mary’s answer to the angel demonstrated her ability to be resilient and quickly rethink her plans. Like her, we need to be ready for inevitable interruptions. Interruptions are often God’s way of setting us up for His blessing and His will in our lives. Said another way, interruptions are often God’s slow-downs in our man-made plans, that set us up to receive His plan.
The Christmas season more than any other demonstrates how much we all need to slow down. We move through December so fast that many times we miss what’s most important: precious moments with family and friends, intimate fellowship with God and celebration of the awesome beauty of the Christmas story. The season goes by quickly as we check off boxes on our “to do” list, and we miss out on the pure joy of the journey – unless God disrupts us, that is.
No matter the nature of the disruption, I’ve learned that if God slows me down, it’s because I need something in the moment I don’t yet possess. That could be more character or integrity. Possibly assistance through meeting a divine connection. I might need to be in a certain place at a certain time, because God has something for me to do. I might need to be slowed down a bit, so that a storm meant to harm me, completely misses me.
When divine disruption hits, God is reminding us – I got this, trust Me. My slowdown is actually a set up. There is grace, favor and blessing in the future!
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3. Experience His Purpose
What if Mary, after hearing the angelic announcement, said – Thanks but, I think I’ll stick to my plan. I’m not canceling the wedding hall, calling off the caterers, cancelling the camels or giving up the wedding of my dreams!
What if she forged forward with the plan that she had created for her life? She would have had a magical wedding. Everyone would have been impressed with the food and music. It would probably have been the social event of the year. The couple would have had a nice, neat, orderly, everything “according to plan” kind of life.
And Mary would have missed out on experiencing the most significant reason for her existence, the very purpose for which God placed her on the planet.
Mary teaches us – don’t be such a planner that you miss out on God’s purpose in the moment.
“Many are the plans in a person’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails” (Proverbs 19:21).
We all make plans for the way our lives should proceed, but sometimes our plans have resulted in life-altering mistakes. Thankfully, God disrupts our plans so we can experience His purpose instead. His disruptions are not meant to harm us or humiliate us, but to help us get on the right track. We can see how He lovingly sent divine disruptions to many of our Bible heroes:
- He spoke to Moses from a burning bush, and turned him from a murderer hiding in shame in the desert, to be the leader and deliverer that God needed
- He appeared in a blinding light to Saul, a vicious persecutor of the Church, and turned him into the great apostle Paul that God needed
- He encouraged timid Gideon, hiding in fear behind a wine press, and transformed him into the mighty man of valor that God needed
- He moved the young, overlooked shepherd boy David into the line of battle with a giant, and into succession to be the next King of Israel that God needed
And to a virgin named Mary, preparing to wed a carpenter named Joseph, He sent an angel with an announcement. “You have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son, and shall call His name Jesus.” He turned her “everything according to plan” kind of life, into one that will be remembered throughout eternity.
The divine disruptions to our plans are bound to happen this Christmas, so remember to respond like Mary. Be aware of the grace available to you, remain resilient to changing plans, and receive the divine disruption as a means to experience the power of His purpose for us. Remember, when God sends a divine disruption, it’s a blessing to get us on track, propel us further than we planned, take us deeper than we intended, and could just be the set-up we need to experience our ultimate purpose on the planet!
Photo credit: ©Getty Images/Romolo Tavani
Frank Santora is Lead Pastor of Faith Church, a multi-site church with locations in Connecticut and New York. Pastor Frank hosts a weekly television show, “Destined to Win,” which airs weekly on the Hillsong Channel and TBN. He has authored thirteen books, including the most recent, Modern Day Psalms and Good Good Father. To learn more about Pastor Frank and this ministry, please visit www.franksantora.cc. Photo by Michele Roman.