Matthew 1:18-21. This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit. Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly. But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”
Several Christmases for me while growing up once involved playing games with two Italian plumbers. Their names were Mario and Luigi, and for hours, my brother and I would sit on the floor, controllers in hand, seeking to “beat” each level of the game (before switching over to a round of Duck Hunt, of course). In the original Super Mario Bros. game, our characters had to traverse a Mushroom Kingdom covered with blocks, coins, and sewer pipes, stomping out little Goombas and Koopas that were seemingly minding their own business. At the end of each level, if you were successful, your character would take down each world's flag from a pole and then sack the castle, raising a star-flag from inside. This flag-taking was a visual sign of the Mushroom folks’ surrender; Mario and Luigi had conquered their Kingdom.
Most of the time, our view of surrender depends on which side we find ourselves. When we are the ones surrendering, we usually think of it as a form of weakness, of not measuring up, of giving up. After all, the world tells us to fight to keep what’s ours, to battle for what we “deserve.” But surrender is a necessary part of what it means to have a relationship with God. Surrender is a necessary part of the Christian life.
Matthew’s gospel tells the story of Jesus’ birth more from the angle of Joseph's perspective, while Luke’s birth narrative tells the tale from the perspective of how things affected and were seen by Mary. For Joseph, we need to understand in that patriarchal culture, the birth of the first born son was all important and crucial to the family line, inheritance, and property transfer. Joseph’s world was crushed when he listened to the news of Mary’s pregnancy. And so, he developed a plan of his own—a respectful one. But before he could execute it, an angel in a dream gives him a new dream of what’s to come—if indeed he will surrender his own dreams to God. The fact Joseph obeys, surrendering the right to sire his own first born son and accepting and even naming Jesus says a lot about the character of Joseph. He surrenders— not because he is a weak man but because his faith is strong.
True surrender to God means yielding to Him, the One who does not leave you in the battle but instead begins to fight your battle for you. It means listening to that still, small voice or dream or nudge from the Holy Spirit that may mean your plans need to be put to the side. Surrender is not motivated by the personal benefits that may result-- for indeed, surrender may do just the opposite. Surrender rather takes things out of your hands and puts them into God’s—the best place for them to be.
But just like Joseph, surrendering means we first must listen.
Are you listening?