dream-of-st-josephHave you ever thought about your destiny before? Have you ever thought about what you were put on this earth to do? Typically, the word “destiny” is defined as “What’s meant to be, what’s written in the stars, our inescapable fate.” It’s the hidden power that is believed to control what will happen in the future.

Some refer to destiny as “God’s perfect plan for us.” This notion is comforting to them in times of tragedy and crisis. Others find this definition absurd because natural disasters, genocide, and the like, cannot possibly be a part of God’s perfect plan. Therefore, destiny needs to mean something else.

Personally, I think of destiny in the plural rather than in the singular. I believe we have many different destinies throughout our lifetimes. I define destiny as those moments when God fully utilizes our talents and abilities to do good in the world. These moments are not predetermined. They present themselves to us all the time. We have a choice as to whether we will say “yes” or “no” to them. If we view destiny in this way, it takes a lot of pressure off of us. We may miss fulfilling our destiny today, But there’s another opportunity to try again tomorrow!

This brings us to our readings for today, that testify to God’s ability to move us from desperation to destiny. The first reading sounds like an episode of Game of Thrones. Usually we hear a sanitized version of the Abraham and Sarah story that goes something like this: God makes a covenant with Abraham that he will be the father of a great nation. His descendants will be as numerous as the stars in the sky. When Sarah is unable to conceive, both of them begin to doubt this promise. Sarah then asks Abraham to have a child with her household slave, Hagar. After Hagar gives birth to Ishmael, three angels visit Abraham and Sarah. They tell them that Sarah is going to have a baby. Sarah laughs at the absurdity of it all, since she is 99 years old at the time. But God has the last laugh when Sarah gives birth to Isaac which means “son of laughter.”

It’s a sweet story but there are a few details missing. Did you know that after Hagar becomes pregnant Sarah is filled with contempt and jealousy? She treats Hagar so harshly that Hagar is forced to flee into the desert. While Hagar is there an angel meets her and tells her to return to her owners. The angel also promises Hagar that her descendants will be numerous. Then, after Hagar returns, and Sarah gives birth to Isaac, Sarah becomes paranoid and believes that Hagar’s son Ishmael is a threat to Isaac’s inheritance. In the end, Hagar and her son are forced to flee into the desert where they face the possibility of death by starvation and dehydration. It is there that Divine intervention happens a second time. Hagar and Ishmael survive. The end result is that both Isaac and Ishmael become the fathers of two rival nations. Game of Thrones, indeed!

With these extra details in place, suddenly the most interesting portion of the story is not Abraham and Sarah, but Hagar and Ishmael. Through Hagar’s eyes we see a woman who has no power because she is both female and a slave. In order to preserve her life, and the life of her child. She is forced to flee into the desert, not once but twice. Yet. in this place of desperation and vulnerability, where her very survival is at stake, God meets her there and places her life on a different path. She is able to provide for her son, Ishmael, who is considered to be the father of the Arab people, and the ancestor of the prophet Muhammad.

This powerful story reminds us that when we face times of desperation and vulnerability, where our very lives may be at take, we are not alone. God is with us and is working to move us from desperation to destiny; from barely surviving to being able to use our talents and abilities to their fullest potential. I am fairly certain that all of us have stories where we felt like God intervened and changed our lives for the better. Some of us were offered jobs that seemed to come out of nowhere. Others went through health crises that deepened our character and rearranged our priorities in life. Some of us had children we never expected. Others discovered new talents we didn’t know we had that lit a fire under our creativity and imagination.

Everyone has at least one story of how God changed their lives in surprising an unexpected ways. These angelic interventions moved us from places of desperation to places where God could use our talents and abilities to their fullest potential. This is why I find the story of Hagar so hopeful. It’s not a pretty story, but it is a hopeful story. I pray that it reminds us of God’s ability to move in our lives in powerful and unexpected ways. Angels don’t just appear in the Bible. As God’s emissaries, they are watching over us, and working in our lives in ways that are both seen and unseen.

The second story we need to look at this morning is that of Joseph who receives the news that his fiancé Mary is pregnant and he is NOT the Baby Daddy. Joseph is ready to head to divorce court when he has a vision from the angel Gabriel who tells him that this baby is destined for greatness. Joseph has a change of heart. He marries his fiancé and Joseph’s stepson Jesus changes the world forever.

This is another one of those stories we sanitize a bit. Just look at the figure of Joseph we have in our nativity scene on the altar. He has a calm serene look on his face as he gazes down blissfully at baby Jesus. It’s a beautiful portrayal but I find it hard to believe that Joseph wasn’t completely stressed out that night. Sure an angel visited him and told him that this child was conceived by the Holy Spirit, but I doubt that his relatives and neighbors believed such a story. As Mary carried Jesus in her womb, I am certain that he would have endured the taunts and stares of those around him. These taunts and stares would continue long after Jesus was born.

We also need to consider the stress of the journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem that he and his nine months pregnant fiancé made. It was certainly no picnic. Then, to add insult to injury, Joseph couldn’t properly provide for her when they reached Bethlehem. She was forced to give birth in a stable which, in all likelihood, was a cave. The feelings of self-doubt and failure Joseph felt on that night must have been overwhelming. We’ve sanitized the story quite a bit, but I cannot image that Joseph felt any other way. Yet, in that moment of desperation, in that moment when Joseph’s thoughts and emotions were all over the place, a baby was born. This baby changed Joseph’s life, as well as ours forever. While we don’t know anything about Jesus’ growing up years, I have not doubt that Joseph played an important role in his life. I have no doubt he helped Jesus to become the man he grew up to be.

But think of how different this beloved story would have played out, if Joseph had made another choice early on and divorced Mary. It would have been an easier road for him, but it wouldn’t have been the right road for him.

Joseph’s story reminds us that there will be times in our lives that are difficult and challenging. During these times we would do ANYTHING to find an easy way out. Yet, if Joseph’s story teaches us anything it’s that God works with our fears, our doubts and our desperation and uses them for good. God can help us to navigate difficult decisions and lead us to a place where we can use our talents and abilities to change our world for the better. Friends in Christ, I hope these two stories give us encouragement and hope this morning. Each of us has a destiny, or should I say destinies, to fulfill. Let’s have the faith that God is always working in our lives to change them for the better. AMEN.

Copyright ©2016 by David Eck