In his book Joy Starts Here Jim Wilder says that every child and hurting person needs a Gentle Protector. A Gentle Protector is someone who has power and uses it to defend and care for those in need. I realized recently that the Gentle Protector you need (and me too!) is hidden in the Christmas story.
He’s the unsung hero of Christmas. You hear about him every year but may not pay much attention to him. He gets lost in the background, like wall paper. But without him the birth of the Lord Jesus Christ on the first Christmas might not have happened. I’m talking about Joseph.
This Advent I’ve been meditating on Matthew’s account of how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about in Matthew 1:18-25 from The Message version. He emphasizes Joseph rather than Mary. Let me briefly re-tell the story to help you connect deeply with the grace of Christ. If you put yourself in the story, praying the Scripture, it’s a pathway to emotional healing.
The Gentle Protector of Christmas
Joseph and Mary are engaged. He’s preparing their new home, getting ready for their big celebration, and excited to consummate their marriage soon. But suddenly Mary leaves him and travels eighty miles (four days) into the hill country of Judea to visit her older cousin Elizabeth. She’s gone for over three months.
He doesn’t know that Mary is pregnant, much less that it’s by the Holy Spirit, nor why she left him in such a hurry (Luke 1:39). She was a very young woman and along with her parents he must have been quite upset about her insistence to make this dangerous trip. But the angel Gabriel told her that God had just done a miracle to cause barren Elizabeth to become pregnant in her old age! Mary needs to go and be with the only person on earth who could support her. Who else would believe her story?
Matthew writes, “Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be with child…” (Matt. 1:18) In other words, Mary hasn’t told Joseph about her Spirit-conceived pregnancy, the angel, or anything. She is surely confused, frightened, and embarrassed. Now she’s showing! She looks guilty! She’s acting like she’s guilty!
What is Joseph to do? We’d expect him be angry! He believes Mary has betrayed him. People think that either he is an adulterer or he’s chosen an immoral woman and so he’s publicly ridiculed and shamed. But he doesn’t react as we expect: “Chagrined but noble, [he] determined to take care of things quietly so Mary would not be disgraced” (Matt. 1:19).
That’s a Gentle Protector! Mary is in a vulnerable position. She feels alone in the world and she could be stoned to death as an adulteress! But Joseph uses his power to protect Mary and to be tender in response to her weakness. He does the same thing for Jesus, serving as a Gentle Protector for him even before he’s born.
Finally Mary and Joseph talk and she tells him the whole story. Naturally, he doesn’t believe it and is quite distressed. “When he was trying to figure a way out, he had a dream” (Matt. 1:20). We’ve all had dreams when we’re upset about something. Also, we’ve all had angels minister to us without realizing it (Hebrews 1:14, 13:2). Joseph puts the two together!
Then he uses his power to protect Mary and the baby Jesus: he marries her and gives baby Jesus his name, meaning he adopts him. Later he listens to another dream and takes Mary and little Jesus and flees to Egypt to protect them from King Herod who sends his armies to hunt and kill the newborn king.
The Gentle Protector of Your Heart
Jesus grew up and proved to be just like his heavenly Father and his earthly father. He showed himself to be a man of great power, knowledge, and ability and he used his resources to minister compassion to the needy and to deliver them from their sin and the sins of others against them. Always we see that Christ Jesus is a kind friend to those who are broken, struggling, poor, needy.
When you cry out in pain, confess a sin, or simply admit that you’re in need Jesus ministers the nonjudgmental grace of God to you. He is the perfect Gentle Protector!
To receive the tender protection of God you need to ask for it and be vulnerable. That means you stop haranguing yourself with judgment! You stop accepting the false idea that it’s bad to be emotional or have needs. Instead you put trust in Jesus and his Abba God, which requires that you also reach out to a safe person in the Body of Christ (2 Cor. 5:20). This is how God heals hurt, fear, addiction, aloneness, and shame.
As you come to trust the gentle protection of God then you’ll be better able to share this with the children and hurting people in your life.
Ask God to help you to be a Gentle Protector. Pray that you learn to never respond to someone’s vulnerability with impatience, unkindness, or irritability, but always to give grace where it’s needed!
Soul Shepherding’s Advent Resources
Devotionals and Prayer Cards for Advent include meditations with an Advent passage of Scripture, picture, reflection, and Breath Prayer from the Bible. This is designed for personal devotions or small groups. They will help you appreciate anew the coming of Christ!