18 Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah[a] took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. 19 Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly. 20 But just when he had resolved to do this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” 22 All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet:
23 “Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
and they shall name him Emmanuel,”
which means, “God is with us.” 24 When Joseph awoke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took her as his wife, 25 but had no marital relations with her until she had borne a son;[b] and he named him Jesus. (Matthew 1:18-25 NRSV)
A man, a woman and unborn baby. Not the usual ingredients for a world-changing event.
Joseph and Mary are as good as married. She hasn’t moved into his home, yet, so they haven’t consummated the marriage. Mary becomes pregnant. Only one way THAT can happen, right?
What’s a bride-groom to do? Cultural and religious pressure is all over this. He can “out” her and she and the child will be ostracized for life. He chooses to divorce her quietly. Perhaps she can go away to have the child.
I wonder why. Does he love her so much that he wants to protect her? Or does he want to keep his name out of it and hang onto to some shred of dignity and privacy? We don’t know.
What we know about Joseph we have to read between the lines to discover. He’s a just man. He’s sympathetic and kind, unwilling to expose Mary. He’s obedient to God’s will as delivered to him in a dream.
How many dreams do you remember when you awaken? Perhaps a few. And what they mean is often hard to interupt. Once in great while we have insight, but not often. This dream is different.
An angel appears and they have a talk.
“I know this isn’t what you expected, Joseph. But, don’t fear. It’s okay to take Mary as your wife. She’s been faithful to you and to God. The child was conceived by the Holy Spirit.” Joseph believes the angel. He trusts that this is God speaking to him. That’s what it’s like when you talk to God. The impossible becomes doable.
“Now, Joseph. I want you to be the child’s earthly father. You’ll have naming rights as the father and I have one all picked out: “YHWH saves. YHWH helps.”
Joseph trusted and listened. He chose to go against the cultural norms, believing that God was intervening in history to bring a savior into the world.
God intervened in history to smooth the way for this couple who could have a lot to answer for. God continues to intervene with us so that we don’t “drop the baby.” God won’t permit cultural mores and expectations to mess with God’s grace and goodness.
If we take this story out of the churchy, Christmasy norm and really look inside it, we discover a scary thing. Are we too comfortable to risk our wealth or status? Have we missed opportunities for God to use us in world changing ways? What is our trust level?
God calls us. We answer the call out of trust, not knowing where we’re going or how we’ll arrive. We trust that something wonderful is promised. Something surprising.
When a church enters into a new mission project, they answer the call with many questions. Do we have enough money? time? energy? people? What if something bad happens? What if something good comes out of it? What will we do next? It’s like standing on the edge of a cliff, unable to see the bottom.
Trust brings them into unexpected places in unexpected ways. Sometimes cultural expectations are set aside because “it’s the right thing to do.”
As we approach Christmas Day, I wonder what my readers are thinking and doing? What difficulties in our world concern, even worry you? What difficulties in your personal world concern you?
Do we still need a savior today? After all, we have life and auto and home and medical insurance. We live in the wealthiest nation in the world. Do we still need a savior today?
I say we do. I trust that God has been at work for thousands of years, bringing this world to something wonderful and awe-inspiring. I believe two thousand years ago, God stepped up this journey allowing us to have glimpse at what God is about. God in Christ showed us how to live.
So when we ponder the questions about our happiness and contentment in life and what we need to be truly happy, I wonder if we might divert those questions in a different way.
Ask, why are you here? What purpose does God have in mind for you? What is your understanding of where you’ll go when your earthly life ends? What is your life all about?
These are risky questions because they cause us to enter risky territory. Just like Joseph and Mary. Joseph had decisions to make. He could follow the cultural norms or he could trust a dream. He chose the latter, not knowing where it would take him, or what his life would be like as a result.
Joseph’s example points to really good news. When God interrupts or intervenes in our lives, we don’t have to “drop the baby.” We can accept and trust and move into this new plan knowing God doesn’t abandon.
It may mean setting aside cultural pressures and questions: What will people think? say? do? Our trust is shaken until God shows up and assures us that God is truly in charge. Interruptions and detours that are God-given invite us to embrace them and move into a deeper life of service to God.
Scripture is too rich to look at from only one dimension. Without Matthew, we would know very little about Joseph. His story is filled with courage and trust. He could have left Mary. He could have “dropped the baby.”
Instead, he believed God and the world has never been the same.
All glory and honor be to God.