December 18, 2023
This Advent season, the North American Baptist Conference is publishing a daily Advent devotional series. We invite you to follow along with this year’s series by signing up here to receive the devotionals via email each day.
Today, we are spotlighting one of last week’s devotionals – Gaps, Spaces, Silence, written by Joseph Thomas, the lead pastor at Neshaminy Valley Baptist Church in Bensalem, PA:
And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.” (Matthew 1:19–20 ESV)
Spaces of silence – long periods of nothing-happening time and inactivity – are sacred.
It could be easily missed or seen as unimportant because you are doing nothing: just waiting, reflecting, and resisting the itch to do something. We see it here in these verses, that space that exists between when Joseph had “resolved” what to do with Mary and “as he considered.”
Often, we take time to pray and discern, and once we’ve decided, we tie it up with a spiritual bow, stating to ourselves and others “the Lord has led me . . .” and shutter the process. I am suggesting that there might be a useful pause after a decision that still gives God room to work. Staying in that space with integrity requires self-denial, humility, openness, submission to God’s will – a willingness to look like a fool after you “resolved” what you thought was sure, only to find out it’s going to go a different way!
In 2017, God led me to rehab a historic building in Germantown, Philadelphia, to birth a community center and a church. In January 2021, I found myself at rock bottom – the original contractor cheated me out of money and vanished; COVID brought everything to a standstill. I was so tired and dejected and out of all ideas, I decided to do nothing for a few months. Unknown to me, God was independently and simultaneously working in the heart of Isaiah Jones – a contractor and lover of Jesus who was looking for an opportunity to serve the Lord. Prior to meeting Jesus, Isaiah was an alcoholic, in and out of prison, a homeless man who lost everything, including his pricey tools. But recently, Jesus turned his life radically around. We met by “happenstance,” and the rest is history! For the next one-and-a-half years, Isaiah singlehandedly worked daily with and for me and helped complete the project in February 2023. I couldn’t have found Isaiah on my own; God prepared and brought him to me at just the right time. I did nothing for it to happen!
In the birth narrative, as much as Mary is the principal character, we have others like Zechariah and Elizabeth, and here Mary’s fiancé, Joseph – they all are part of God’s orchestration, God’s community. How each one fits in and responds personally to God’s unfolding drama is what makes Jesus’s birth so fantastically complex and wonderful. Joseph giving himself that extra time to “consider these things” is the space in which the angel comes and reveals God’s plan.
This busy Advent season, consider paying more attention to waiting, silence, considering, and reconsidering, and do not fret about not being in control or why it’s delayed. He’s got it all figured out; it’s coming (Isaiah 65: 24).