By Anne Maxson
There are two paintings on the walls outside the doors of the Celestial Room in the Meridian Temple. As you look to the Celestial Room, the picture on the left is of Mary beside Joseph as he knocks on the closed door of the (full) inn. The picture on the right is of Peter and John exiting the open (and empty) tomb. The dichotomy of the closed and full inn versus the open and empty tomb has always given me pause. They are such pivotal moments in history, Christmas and Easter.
As I look at Joseph knocking on the door, I wonder about the disappointment that he felt as the innkeeper explained that there was no room for them. I would imagine that it would be difficult news to accept as a soon-to-be father and a husband. How many inns had they gone to? Did Joseph feel he was not fulfilling the expectation he had placed upon himself? Did he feel he was disappointing his wife and the Lord? How did it come about that they convinced the innkeeper to find a space – any space – for their family?
The scriptures do not discuss in detail how Joseph felt about the disappointment with the innkeeper. (I am certain he handled things better than I would have.) But, sometimes it is the unfulfilled self-imposed expectations that allow us to find the path that the Lord would have us take. When our intentions are good, but they don’t quite line up with God’s plan for us, those things don’t work out as we had hoped. It is in those moments that we must recognize the importance of having faith in the Savior, not faith in the expected or hoped-for outcome.
As we go through our mortal journey, there will be many instances where the metaphorical innkeeper can’t allow us to carry out our plan, but he can provide an alternative that allows the Lord to carry out His plan. Some of the best advice I’ve ever received is, “When your heart is in the right place, God will lead you down the right path if you ask it of Him through prayer.” Sometimes, that prayer comes after there is an unexpected detour in our plans. Then the prayer asks for reassurance that the detour is the correct one. As we strive to find the path the Lord would have us take, closed doors are just as important as open doors.
Now, let us consider the picture of the open and empty tomb. That Christmas night, did Joseph and Mary have a vision of that empty tomb? As parents, we imagine the experiences that our children will go through. We imagine what they will be like at future ages or what their career may be. As Joseph and Mary got settled in with their new baby, what did they consider? When Gabriel visits Joseph in the first chapter of Matthew, he references Isaiah 7:14, “Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call him name Immanuel.” That first Christmas night, did they consider other prophecies of Isaiah that speak of the death (Isaiah 53) and resurrection (Isaiah 25:8) of the Savior? Could they imagine what it will be like when he is condemned before Pilate?
There is a song by Mercy Me entitled “Joseph’s Lullaby” that is a prayer of a father to his son. It includes the lyrics, “Go to sleep my Son, This manger for your bed, You have a long road before You, Rest Your little head.” It is difficult to imagine the range of feelings of Joseph and Mary as they thought of what the future would hold for Jesus.
For me, it is a difficult lesson to learn that I can’t protect my children from everything. Even more difficult to accept is that by trying to protect them, I can prevent them from reaching their potential. As mentioned above, difficulties and trials are a necessary part of life. Mercy River sings a song entitled “Blessings” that says, “What if a thousand sleepless nights are what it takes to know You’re near. What if trials of this life are Your mercies in disguise.” Frequently, it is the adversity and roadblocks that we, and our children, encounter that help shape and mold us into the disciples the Lord needs us to be.
As we celebrate Christmas and think about its relationship to Easter, we can learn from Joseph and Mary. They demonstrated perseverance, patience, and faith when things did not work out as they had planned on that first Christmas night. Their conviction, humility, and selflessness helped them to look forward to what would become known as Easter and allow the Lord to fulfill His plan for all His children.