Other Plans

Do you know of the TV journalist Ted Koppel?  Many may not, these days. Ted Koppel is retired now, but for many years his 30-minute late night TV News show, Nightline, was watched by many. Ted Koppel’s life reads like an advertisement for the truth of the saying, “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.”

You see, Ted Koppel’s parents were Germans of Jewish background. His father, back in the 1930s, was a very successful businessman; he was in charge of a tire-making factory in Germany. But then Hitler and the Nazi Party began their rule, and Jews began to be persecuted. Suddenly, Mr. Koppel, looking for a new place to live, was invited to Lancashire, England and Mr. Koppel again ran a factory there. But then, as World War Two began, another surprise came. Whereas Ted’s dad was initially invited TO England, suddenly he was declared an “enemy alien” and jailed there. Ted, born in 1940, was raised alone in the war years by his mother as she scraped by. After the war, the Koppel family moved to America. Change and adaptation had become second nature to Ted and his family.

Years later, as Ted became a journalist and rose through the ranks at the TV network ABC, Ted had settled in to be a foreign correspondent for the rest of his career. Suddenly, in 1979, the American embassy was overrun in Iran and the Americans working there were taken as hostages. ABC started a nightly news program to tell America what was happening every day with the hostages, calling the program The Iran Crisis: America Held Hostage.Suddenly Ted had to change his life all over again; he became first the lead reporter and eventually the news anchor for that program, which eventually, after the crisis was over, became “Nightline,” a very popular late night TV news program which Koppel hosted for 25 more years.

There’s a term we like to use in our conversation once in a while that illustrates the changes that both Ted Koppel and most humans make – changes they didn’t PLAN on making – in their lives. The phrase is, “by force of circumstances.” Sometimes our lives are changed, and we had no knowledge that that change was coming – and, in fact, we had made “other plans”; but, by “force of circumstances,” changes had to be made. We see this in the year 2020 with COVID, and, in the past, with Ted Koppel – both while he grew up and in his professional life. Ted and his parents several times learned that “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.”

That’s what happened to Mary and Joseph. They had met in the little Galilean village of Nazareth and were engaged to be married. What WOULD have happened with their lives, one wonders, if this couple had been able to follow-through with their original plans?! Probably a staid, predictable life filled with work and children, home life, and worship in the local synagogue. But instead, well…we know what happened instead! An angel visits Mary; Mary consents to be pregnant with the Son of God; Joseph almost divorces Mary but an angel convinces him otherwise; and they remain betrothed. End of surprises, right? Nah!

I’ve noticed that some facts in one’s life only become important LATER in life. Joseph, you see, was not originally from the north, from Nazareth. He and his own family were originally from a little town ‘way down south, near the capital in Jerusalem – a little town called Bethlehem!  So, what happened next in the lives of Mary and Joseph is described in Luke, the second chapter – our Boost from the Bible for this week!

Luke writes: “In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. All went to their own towns to be registered. Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth, in Galilee, to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he as engaged and who was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. And she gave birth to her firstborn son….”

We may take these details for granted when, each Christmas, these words are read and proclaimed; but, when you think about it, it didn’t have to go this way. Joseph, perhaps surprised by the Roman Empire’s summons back to Bethlehem, could easily have left Mary back home to have the child there. It reminds me of when Diane was pregnant with our firstborn, Nathan. We were living in Illinois. There was a big family reunion planned many miles away that summer in Colorado; it was scheduled for just a few weeks before Nathan’s due date. We decided not to go out to Colorado from Illinois; we wanted Diane to be near our OB-GYN in case the birth happened early. Mary had family at home to help with the birth –unless they were still scandalized by her pregnancy!

In any case Joseph and Mary decided differently – to travel together to Bethlehem. Perhaps it was a way for God to make the best of it! After all, God had declared, through one of His prophets, that the Son of God, the Messiah, should be born in Bethlehem, as befits a “Son of David.” Strange – but not TOO strange, as we study God’s ways both in the Bible and in our lives – interesting, is it not, how God makes sure that His prophecies come true? As we read in Proverbs 16, verse 9, “The human mind plans the way, but the Lord directs the steps.” Ted Koppel might have been born a baby with a bright future – someone who might grow up  taking over and running his father’s tire-making factory in Germany – if not for the rise of Nazism there; instead, combined with the bad treatment his father received in England, Ted ended up in America, where he became one of our best TV journalists. You see, if we allow it, God always takes us where it is best for us to go.

But what about us RIGHT NOW?  As I’ve said a few weeks ago, no one could have predicted what has happened to us in this year 2020. And what has happened has influenced and changed the lives of so many people, all over the world – changed the world more than any other occurrence since World War Two. And we are not done with it yet; we are still deep in the middle of this crisis, and wondering how and when it will end. We are living, right now, the truth that “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.”

But where is God in all of this? I believe that what we see in this world and in the Holy Scriptures is neither A. a God that controls us like puppets nor B. a God who is “hands-off” – who lets us live our lives in our own way. Rather, I see God as C. The “Big Influencer” – God, not only saving us through Jesus Christ, but also putting His Spirit into us and near us, sending His thoughts our way…our God always working, working, working…always working and adjusting His plans to get beyond our misdeeds…our God continuing to work and work and work so that what we say in the Lord’s Prayer will indeed happen – that God’s kingdom comes and God’s will is done on earth as it already is in heaven.

Beyond our eternal salvation, let us make our trust that God and God’s love will prevail on earth be the most important element in our faith in Him. Mary and Joseph, in the midst of all the changes and challenges in their lives, put their trust in Him, and so should we. According to Ephesians 2:8, faith itself is a great gift from God, so let us continue to open up that gift of faith and apply the benefits of faith and trust in God to this challenging time. Let us look forward to God changing US in response to these challenges – knowing that, like Mary and Joseph when they returned to Nazareth – we will end up changed (and changed for the better) as we, like them, go where God is leading us, and where God is guiding us. It is said that Life happens while we are making other plans. May we make our plans only as God designs them, praying to God and listening for God’s ideas for our future – all the while knowing that those godly ideas are far better than the ideas we were planning to do before!  Amen!

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