” . . . break the engagement . . .”

“This was how the birth of Jesus Christ took place. His mother Mary was engaged to Joseph, but before they were married, she found out that she was going to have a baby by the Holy Spirit. 19 Joseph was a man who always did what was right, but he did not want to disgrace Mary publicly; so he made plans to break the engagement privately.” (Matthew 1:18-19)

 I’ve parked next to this large oak tree for about a year now, when I visit a church in a neighborhood of Charleston, WV.  The tree stands on the corner of the parking lot, right next to the street.  I’ve never paid much attention to the tree, and never looked up – until a couple of days ago.  I was surprised to see the “thicket of chaos” formed by small branches entangled around the tree.  I’m guessing that because the tree stands by the street, the lower branches that would have by now turned into nice big climbing branches have been trimmed away over the years.  Looks like it’s been awhile since the last trimming, but not long enough for any large climbing branches to develop.  Instead, the tree has become a “thicket of chaos” formed by small branches as well as vines that scale the trunk of the tree.  When I was a young boy, a tree’s worth could often be measured by how it was shaped for climbing.  Trees that had large branches just far enough apart to allow for comfortable climbing and hanging out were highly valued.  This tree in the photo would have been passed by as in the way.

For some reason this Advent I’ve been drawn to Joseph’s “no.”  When Mary discovers she’s to be the mother of Jesus, she responds with, “My heart praises the Lord; my soul is glad because of God my Savior, for he has remembered me, his lowly servant!” (Luke 1:46)  When Joseph learns that Mary is pregnant, his response is, “No, not going there.  Not going down that road.”  Of course, the Gospel of Matthew says it this way, “Joseph was a man who always did what was right, but he did not want to disgrace Mary publicly; so he made plans to break the engagement privately.” (Matthew 1:19)  One way or another, whatever his reasoning, Joseph could not see a way through the chaos of the situation.  In his mind, all of his plans for the future had suddenly been upended, and severely complicated by possible shame and ridicule.  Then God intervened with an angel, and Joseph found peace for the new path through the chaos – God’s path, the birth of a savior who promised hope through love for God and one another.

It occurs to me that we’re living through an extra dose of chaos right now with an extra portion of anxiety.  The temptation is to panic or follow our bitterness, fear, hate, prejudice, etc. down rabbit holes into the chaos of darkness.  Advent is the time to be reminded that God’s light has come into the world to cut through our chaos and show us the path this child whose birth we soon will celebrate again has called us to follow – the path of hope through love of God and love for one another.

My downtown tree might not be good for climbing, but it’s a bright spot of green and life in the midst of a densely developed urban environment.  If we allow, God will cut through the chaos of our anxiety, and show us the path of hope, even if it’s not how we imagined.  I pray that God will keep me faithful to the path of this Child.  How about you?

Blessings and Peace,


Pastor, Cross Lanes United Methodist Church

Cross Lanes, West Virginia

Help save lives! For more information on my book, “A Relentless Hope: Surviving the Storm of Teen Depression,” visit

My other book, “Wednesday Wonderings: Spiritual Journaling Through a Lens” is available at and

Check out my video, “Teens Surviving the Storm”


~ by revgenelson on December 7, 2016.

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