Wrestling and Waiting

Because Joseph was a righteous man and did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly (Matt. 1:19). 

My introduction to the world of middle school wrestling was a baptism by fire.

I’ve come to learn that here in the Lehigh Valley kids can start wrestling at an early age. In Georgia, wrestling programs at school didn’t begin until the sixth grade. My son was a new wrestler, and I was a new wrestling parent. My son’s first tournament was my first tournament too. The coach had sent an email to prepare the parents. “This will be the longest day of our season.”

I had to have my son on the team bus by 6:00 a.m. and myself in McDonough, GA by 9:00 a.m. The main gym at Union Grove High School in McDonough had six mats with matches happening simultaneously all day long; another area had two more mats for more advanced wrestlers. The tournament was double elimination.  

My son lost his first match. At least one more to go. His next match was placed on the schedule and we had about an hour of waiting. He won that time.

The next match was placed on the schedule. More waiting. Then he won again.

His next match was placed on the schedule followed by still more waiting. And then he won yet again.

After more waiting he had his fifth match of the day – and that’s when it ended for him. Not bad for a debut tournament.  I learned plenty about wrestling on that Saturday in December. I learned that a wrestling match is nothing like watching your kid play baseball. Even a match that lasts a good while is over in a matter of minutes.

And I also learned that there are long stretches of waiting. In a wrestling tournament, good wrestling and long waiting are a package deal.

Grappling with God

The story of Joseph’s discovery of Mary’s pregnancy is a wrestling story. Matthew gives it to us in spare language. Mary is pledged to Joseph, the marital commitment in place without the full benefits and living arrangements of the marital relationship. This is when Joseph discovers that Mary is pregnant. And this is when the wrestling begins, unseen and yet strenuous. Joseph grappling with God, grappling with his own heart and mind.

Again, Matthew shows us none of this except to say that Joseph “considered” how he could divorce Mary quietly and thus protect her from public disgrace. But can such “considering” be anything less than anguish and pain? How long did he “consider?” How many sleepless nights, how many bitter questions hurled at heaven? How many tense conversations with his beloved? How many fake smiles at neighbors as if all was well?

And even once the Angel has appeared and Joseph has taken Mary as is wife, the difficulties are hardly over. Craig Keener notes that Joseph’s decision to go ahead with his marriage was a decision to sacrifice his own reputation. The wrestling surely didn’t stop. Wrestling mingled with waiting until the birth in the Bethlehem stable.

Escaping the Headlock

Many of us come to Advent wrestling and waiting; life has us in a headlock and we’re trying desperately to find the right move that will loosen its grip. With the Psalmist we ask, “How long must I wrestle with my thoughts?” (Ps. 13:2). Christmas doesn’t change the fact that we’re wrestling with decisions that need to be made, decisions we wish could make over again, afflicted bodies, conflicted relationships and competing expectations. We wrestle through one challenge only to face another.

God sent a messenger to Joseph – an angel to coach him out of the tight spot in which he found himself. Let these words resonate deeply in your own soul today. Do not be afraid. God is at work to save. His purposes are not thwarted by what we never saw coming or what we cannot understand. Most importantly, in all things God is with us.   

In the midst of the wrestling, Joseph’s and ours, there is this assurance: The Holy Spirit is at work. To see it may require waiting, long waiting and still more wrestling. But God is active in your wrestling story.

What are you wrestling with today? Be patient in the struggle, confident in the good purposes and guidance of Emmanuel – “God with us.”


Grant to us, O God, the patience to trust you in all things and the strength to wrestle long until we see your hand at work. Show your hand in the difficult situations, the perplexing questions, the stubborn circumstances that refuse to budge. Be present with us in the struggles of this day, making us confident as we wrestle and wait in Jesus’ name. Amen.

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