I have fond memories of my mom challenging my brothers and me to puzzle wars when we were growing up. These epic showdowns usually took place during summer or Christmas break, probably because my mom was tired of hearing her children say, “I’m bored!” over and over again. After my brothers and I exhausted all opportunities for fun (or maybe watched too many cartoons), my mom broke out all of our 100 piece puzzles and put our energy to profitable use. Brilliant idea if you ask me…little did we know she was tricking us into educational activities.
We would grab our favorite puzzles and eagerly await her signal. Only two rules applied: all pieces must be disconnected before we started and no sabotaging someone else’s puzzle. Once everyone was situated and ready, Mom said, “Go!” and we ferociously began the process of matching the small details on the puzzle pieces to assemble the big picture displayed on the box.
Now, I’ve heard rumors that a handful of people do puzzles without looking at the image on the box. Once the pieces are dumped, the big picture is off limits until the finished line is reached. And these people are doing 1000-piece puzzles, not the 100-piece puzzles I did as a child. Talk about frustrating! But, I admire their discipline and dedication. It takes a lot of patience to put all of those tiny pieces together with only a faint memory of the whole picture.
When the Big Picture is Blurry
Isn’t it funny how our lives are the same way? We’re holding all of the pieces trying to understand the big picture. Some of them make sense while others seem blurry, obscure, or out of place. We’re unsure how they all fit together, even a bit nervous because we don’t fully comprehend how they will contribute to the end goal. Or maybe, we get surprised by a piece that we never saw…one that fell off the table and completely shocked us when it was finally discovered. Either way, we’re navigating our lives moment by moment, piece by piece, knowing that a beautiful picture is on the horizon, but unsure of how long it will take to get there or what might come up along the way.
The good news is we are not alone. Mary and Joseph found themselves in the same boat. They were entrusted with the most important piece of the puzzle, the linchpin of our faith, Jesus. God asked them to raise His Son, a task unlike any other in the history of mankind. Imagine the sleepless nights and long conversations between them trying to grapple with this unexpected gift and responsibility that changed the trajectory of their lives.
And we know from the Christmas story that the birth of Jesus was far from perfect. Mary and Joseph probably felt like failures wondering how this could be the way that God’s Son would enter the world. These moments were confusing and disheartening, but they persevered and trusted God to redeem what seemed like defective, fragmented pieces of their lives.
When Hardship Arises
Fast forward to several years after Jesus’ birth when the Magi showed up and offered expensive gifts to honor Him. Mary and Joseph were settled in Bethlehem and probably felt pretty good about their circumstances. But, bad news was lurking around the corner.
Matthew 2:13-15 says,
When they [the Magi] had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. “Get up,” he said, “take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.”
So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt, where he stayed until the death of Herod. And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet: “Out of Egypt I called my son.”
Say what? As if raising the Son of God wasn’t hard enough, now someone was trying to kill Him? Joseph woke Mary up, threw some supplies together, and hit the road. Imagine the fear, exhaustion, and confusion they were experiencing. Any sense of normalcy was gone. Their only option was to trust the One who promised to protect them and go before them. I wonder if the stories of God’s faithfulness were echoing in their hearts, clinging to words like those found in Deuteronomy 1:29-31:
Then I said to you, “Do not be terrified; do not be afraid of them. The Lord your God, who is going before you, will fight for you, as he did for you in Egypt, before your very eyes, and in the wilderness. There you saw how the Lord your God carried you, as a father carries his son, all the way you went until you reached this place.”
It’s mind-blowing to think that Jesus, the child that Mary and Joseph were carrying, was actually the God of the universe who promised to carry them. God had a plan all along and it could not be thwarted. These shocking pieces of Mary and Joseph’s lives were confusing and unexpected, but they were certain God would use them to create a magnificent picture of His love and grace.
Fast forward to after Herod’s death. Matthew 2:19-21 tells us that the Lord indeed did go before them, protect them, and deliver them from evil.
After Herod died, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel, for those who were trying to take the child’s life are dead.”
So he got up, took the child and his mother and went to the land of Israel.
Even if Mary and Joseph did not understand how those difficult pieces fit into God’s big picture, they were certain that God was trustworthy. Through their obedience, Jesus’ life was spared and He would be the one to conquer sin and death once and for all. That’s huge, but there’s something else fascinating to see here.
Several Old Testament prophecies were fulfilled through the events in the early years of Jesus’ life. I don’t know if the prophets, such as Micah, Hosea, or Jeremiah, understood how their predictions would fit into God’s story, but I’m thankful for their obedience to write down exactly what God said. Their predictions, written hundreds of years before Jesus’ birth, validate our faith. They could not see the big picture, but their pieces were in the hands of a faithful God who knew how they would all work together for His glory and our salvation.
The Lord can do the same with the broken pieces of our lives. I am certain that He will create a picture that will bring honor and glory to His name and invite others to join His family.