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This past Wednesday, I was in the airport from 7:00 AM to 7:00 PM before my flight left. I arrived for a 9:00 AM flight that was full. In fact, I was taken on the plane because there was an empty seat, but when I got there, the steward was told that he counted wrong, and the person sitting in that seat was only in the bathroom. I was transferred to a later 2:30 PM flight that was equally full. The next flight was at 5:30 PM, which was delayed until 7:00 PM. In spite of all of these delays, I was glad to get on the last flight so I could visit my sisters and their families on the West Coast. I was so easily bumped from all these flights because I flew on a buddy pass given to me by a friend. I am so thankful to my friend, even when I find myself in situations like these.
As I waited in the airport, I had a chance to reflect on the plans of Mary and Joseph. Most of their plans did not go as they hoped they would.
Mary, like the majority of the Jewish girls, wanted to present herself to Joseph as a virgin bride who waited in the betrothal time. That is the reason she asked the angel, "How can this be, since I am a virgin?” Yet in that moment, her plans completely changed when she submitted to the message of the angel by saying, "Let it be done to me according to your word."
Joseph is introduced as a righteous man who is surprised that his betrothed (pledged to be married to him) is pregnant. His plans completely changed. As a righteous man, he decided that he will not make a scandal over this issue, and he will leave her quietly. Instead, he listened to the angel and took Mary in his house and thus becomes the one that gives the name Jesus to the Son that was conceived in Mary by the miraculous work of the Holy Spirit.
Then, Governor Quirinius comes with a new edict. All had to register in the town of their forefathers. This was the wrong time for Mary and Joseph to travel. Yet the punishment for forfeiting this census was so severe that they decided to travel to Bethlehem. The reception that they had in Bethlehem was not the best, and Jesus Christ was born in the manger.
When they planned to return home, another angel of the Lord told them that they had to change their plans again and this time leave the country completely and go to a foreign land. They traveled to Egypt and when they came back, their plans changed again as the angel told them that even though Herod has died, his son Archelaus reigned in his place and they should go to a different location.
I was thinking that if I did not receive a seat on that last flight, my only option would have been to return home instead of going to visit my sisters. I made my plans, but they seemed not to work for at least 12 hours as I was bumped from one flight to another.
I was thinking of other people whose plans completely changed this year. I was thinking of people whose plans changed drastically because of Hurricane Sandy. I was thinking of the changed plans for the families in the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown. All these people had plans in the morning, which by the end of the day completely changed and their lives will never be the same.
When the plans of life change drastically, said the famous theologian, Miroslav Volf, is it easier to be an atheist and talk about the merciless and cruel nature (or even call her mother nature), or talk about a personal God? The well-known American deists, Ralph Emerson and David Thoreau, would say that God is involved in many universal matters, but He is not involved in the plane ticket and travel plans of George Hancock-Stefan. They perhaps would say that God was somehow involved in the birth of Jesus Christ (even though they would deny his divinity), but not at all involved in such a devastating hurricane as Sandy.
Many Christians have Jeremiah 29:11 as one of their favorite verses. Jeremiah writes, "For I know the plans that I have for you, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future." However, when our plans seem to go in so many directions and they are no longer the plans that we hoped for, it gets more difficult to see how they are good.
For that reason, I have another verse that I have memorized. It is Psalm 55:22, “Cast your cares on the Lord and he will sustain you; he will never let the righteous fall." My trip was a planned ‘care’ - I wanted to arrive at a certain destination and towards the end of the day I was convinced that if the Lord wanted me to go to the West Coast, a seat will become available on the plane, but if that was not His will, I will take the train and go home.
This does not mean that I do not envision and I do not plan. In fact, I have already planned the titles and the texts of the sermons that I will preach for January-June 2013. I have about six trips planned for the same period. These trips are intensive lectures series, presentations of academic papers, and sermons in other churches. We have special events planned for our children. Rather, what I have learned to do is to plan and to entrust my plans in the hands of the Lord asking for His blessing and for him to bring them to glorious fruition.
I pray that your plans for next year will come to fruition and that you will rejoice greatly in seeing blessings abundant on your path. However, if you find yourself waiting in an airport, or if your plans have been delayed, postponed, or rerouted, remember that God is aware of those plans and He will lead you through. He is as involved and present in the plans that come to fruition as He is involved and present in the ones that are slowed down, rerouted, or postponed. With this in mind, I am looking forward to His plan for my return trip to New Jersey this Saturday.