How do you respond when life hits you with the unexpected — when circumstances turn your plans upside down?

The last time you went through a difficult transition, did it impact your faith? Did you find yourself grasping for ways to respond? And when the unexpected happens to a friend, do you want to help but don’t know how?

I think the story of Christmas has something to say about situations like these. Mary and Joseph experienced something so unexpected it turned both of their lives upside down.

Mary was engaged to Joseph. Like any bride to be, she was probably excited about her future. Then, out of nowhere, an angel appeared to her and pronounced a life-changing message: that she will conceive a child by the Holy Spirit and bring our Savior into the world.

Yet she was an unmarried virgin! Pregnancy was a problem for her. Yet her response was remarkably faith-filled:

And Mary said, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her. (Luke 1:38)

Joseph, as her fiancé, was excited to be married, too. Then he found out Mary was expecting a child that wasn’t his. I’m sure his jaw hit the floor with that news! He went from imagining a wonderful future with Mary to trying to decide how to end their relationship.

Though Joseph’s dream of marriage was over, an angel visited him, saying:

Do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. (Matthew 1:20b)

And how did Joseph respond to the news?

When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife, but knew her not until she had given birth to a son. And he called his name Jesus. (Matthew 1:24-25)

It’s amazing. They both said, “Okay, God,” and moved forward. They expressed their faith in God through their actions. We don’t control what happens to us in life, but we do control how we respond and what we do, our actions.

When life flips upside down, and we experience the associated grief, the typical temptation is to do absolutely nothing. Mope around. Be the victim. We spend time trying to look too far into the future and “figure things out.” We want to see what’s next … but we never can.

How does someone handle the holidays when an unexpected transition turns their world upside down?

I say, “Embrace the season! Enjoy it!” Be present and experience the holidays, even though you might not feel like it. Consider celebrating them wholeheartedly as an expression of your faith, responding as Mary and Joseph did.

If you’re uncertain how to enjoy the holidays this year, I encourage you to enjoy the same holiday traditions you always participate in.

Why? Our brains like certainty. Predictability makes us feel safer. Traditions allow us to look back at times when we felt safe, comfortable, and joyful. While we can’t live in the past, use this Christmas season to reminisce with careful intention. Use that feeling of safety as a springboard into forward motion.

What are your traditions? Some of mine are:

  • Putting ornaments on the Christmas tree. Every ornament is a memory.
  • Baking special cookies. Yes, there’s one only I know how to make. And I love the German butter cookies my wife makes. It’s my mother’s family recipe, and it always takes me back in time.
  • Christmas caroling. We still sing every year.
  • Christmas shopping. I enjoy the crowds, the hustle and bustle, and all the excitement.
  • Listening to Christmas music. My favorite Christmas song is “Hark the Herald Angels Sing”.

As you enjoy your holiday traditions, remember how God has been faithful to you throughout your life. Be assured that he will continue His faithfulness to you as you move forward.

In the comments below, will you do me the honor of letting me know what your favorite traditions are?

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