The holidays are always a bittersweet time for me. Don’t get me wrong—I love twinkle lights, hot chocolate, and Christmas carols as much as anyone. Baking, gift-giving, and fireside chats bring joy to my soul. And on a much deeper level, my heart is stirred to worship as I reflect on the miracle of our savior, Jesus, taking on flesh that He might ultimately take away our sin. There is much to marvel at and much to be thankful for in the Christmas season.
Yet, somewhere deep down inside a familiar ache arises. I’m sure many can relate. The holiday season has a way of highlighting painful memories in our lives. It can shine a spotlight on broken pasts, missing loved ones, or unfulfilled longings. Old wounds seem to reopen as families gather, or as they choose not to. What is supposed to be the most wonderful time of the year can sometimes serve as a painful reminder that all is not as it should be.
So, for those of us feeling the weight of our brokenness this holiday season, where do we place our hope? Where do we find comfort as wounds which normally lie in the background of our lives rise to the forefront of our thoughts? It’s tempting to distract ourselves with the hustle and bustle of the season, to binge on feel-good Hallmark movies or eat our weight in Christmas treats. But there is a deeper comfort for our pain and a worthier hope for our brokenness than what can be found in romcoms and pumpkin pie. Our hope lies in the work and the word of God. There is hope offered to the hurting throughout books like the Psalms and Lamentations. Yet, I personally have found deep comfort and healing in the story of Joseph.
The Story of Joseph
Joseph was the most beloved of Jacob’s twelve sons. Though he was number eleven in the line-up, he was given privileges and honors typically reserved for the first-born. Joseph’s brothers fumed with jealousy and hatred for him, and when they saw their opportunity, they disposed of him. They stripped him, threw him in a pit, and eventually sold him to Midianite traders in route to Egypt.
The betrayal of his brothers led to further harm and suffering. In Egypt, Joseph became an honored member of Potiphar’s household. Yet, Potiphar’s wife grew angry when Joseph refused her advances, and she falsely accused him of sexual assault. Potiphar believed his wife and threw Joseph into prison for a crime he did not commit. Joseph later helped out a fellow prisoner, the former cupbearer to Pharaoh, and asked that he help him in return when he was set free. Yet, when the cupbearer was released, he rejoined the house of Pharaoh and completely forgot about Joseph.
Joseph was abused and neglected by his own flesh and blood—those who should have cared for and protected him. He was slandered, falsely imprisoned, and forgotten by people he had helped—those who should have honored and supported him. Joseph was a man deeply wounded.
Eventually, God orchestrated Joseph’s release from prison and brought him to the house of Pharaoh where he became second in command over all of Egypt. A famine in his homeland of Canaan led his family to Egypt for food, and it was there, over twenty years after they had sold him into slavery, that Joseph was reunited with his brothers.
Joseph’s brothers were afraid to approach him. They had hated him growing up, and when they found themselves in a position of power over him, they used it for evil. They intentionally and callously brought harm upon him. Now, years later, here was Joseph, second in command in the house of a king and keeper of the storehouse of food during a famine. The tables had turned, and they found themselves at the mercy of the one they had mistreated. They were afraid Joseph would repay them for their actions, and no one would have blamed him for doing so.
God’s Will and Man’s Intentions
I will always remember the first time I heard someone preach on the story of Joseph. I was a college student at the University of Arkansas, and I was back home in Dallas for the weekend. I went to church with some friends that Sunday morning, completely unprepared for what the Lord was about to do in my heart. I sat captivated as the pastor spoke of Joseph’s trials. It felt as though he was speaking about my own life. As a child, I too had been abused and neglected by those entrusted to care for me. In my middle and high school years, I too had been slandered with hateful rumors and painful lies. Though my circumstances were different than those of Joseph, I too was deeply wounded.
The moment the pastor read Joseph’s words to his brothers in Genesis 50, I began to weep right there in the sanctuary. Joseph’s response was shocking. He looked in the eyes of those who had horribly mistreated him and said, “Do not be afraid. . . . You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives” (Gen. 50:20).
Joseph not only forgave his brothers, he provided for them abundantly. He made provisions for all of them to move to Egypt, where they were given the best of the land and the choicest of food. He spoke kindly to them and lavished blessings upon them. How could Joseph respond in such a way? He didn’t shrug off what they had done as if it were no big deal. He acknowledged that they had sinned against him, intentionally bringing him harm. It wasn’t even because they finally felt enough remorse for their sin against him. No, Joseph was able to move forward without bitterness because of his confidence in the sovereignty of God. Joseph knew that even though his brothers had horribly mistreated him, God had never abandoned him. God was still in control of all things, and he was using all things, even Joseph’s wounds, to accomplish His good and holy purposes.
That morning, God applied balm to my open wounds. I already believed that God worked everything together for the good of those who love him (Romans 8:28), but seeing this concept so clearly in Joseph’s life brought a new level of healing to my soul. Even when others intentionally sinned against me, whether they aimed for my detriment or were simply indifferent to my well-being, they could not thwart God’s plan. He was still sovereign, and He would ultimately redeem all things for good.
Walk by Faith, Not by Sight
It’s sometimes difficult to see how God could possibly be using our suffering for good. Joseph had the advantage of hindsight. He could look back and see how God had used all of his circumstances to bring him to a position where he could help and serve many. We’re not all in a place where we can look back and connect the dots. We may not ever have that insight this side of Heaven. But as we walk by faith, rather than sight, we hold fast to the promise that God truly is in control of all things, and He truly does work them together for good—not always for our health, wealth, or temporary happiness—but always to conform us more into the image of His Son Jesus, for a joy that will carry into eternity.
So as you enter into this holiday season and that familiar ache arises once again, may you be comforted by the truth that our present sufferings pale in comparison to the glory that is to come (Romans 8:18). And may you, like Joseph, find hope in the glorious reality of the sovereignty of God.
Suggested Reading: Genesis 45 & 50; Romans 8
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