Have you ever woken from a dream that felt so real you were disoriented when you awoke? And that sense of dreaming reality stayed with you for a long while afterward? I wonder if that’s how Joseph felt when he awoke from his dream when they angel came to him?
The story from the opening chapter from the gospel of Matthew is often referred to as Jesus’ birth narrative. It does have the Jesus’ lineage, which, by itself, is an interesting study in family history. It also has some of what we’ve come to expect in birth stories. It even has aspects about how Jesus’ birth took place. Although that’s all part of the narrative, I find there’s something else that captures the true heart of this narrative.
I am more fascinated by Joseph. I think this narrative is more about Jospeh awakening to new possibilities. I think it’s about his eyes being opened to possibilities beyond what is offered by women and men. I think it’s about solutions that are God-sent.
Matthew tells us Joseph was a righteous man, which meant he knew and lived by the tenets of his Jewish faith. But it also seems that he was a good, thoughtful, kind and honorable man.
When Joseph found out that the woman he was betrothed, but not yet married to, was pregnant, he knew he was not that father of her child. He assumed she was unfaithful. This put him in a quandary. Unfaithfulness in a marriage back then really had only one option. Adultery was an act that ended the a marriage and could be punishable by death. Legally, when Joseph found Mary to be with child, he could have asked that she be stoned to death, or at the very least, punished in some publicly humiliating way. That was often the way things were done. It was his right as a righteous Jewish man.
Jospeh was in a quandary because he didn’t want to publicly humiliate Mary and expose her to public disgrace. Matthew tells us, he planned to cope with the situation as compassionately as he could and send her away quietly.
Then, one night after he decides what he’s going to do, he has a a strange and amazing dream! In his dream, and angel of the Lord comes to him and tells him to stand by Mary and not abandon her.
“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. She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”
As vivd and realistic as Joseph’s dream was, it was still a dream. What was so amazing about his dream is that it impacted him enough to let it influence him in his real life! Because of his dream, Joseph changed his mind about his decision. Because of his dream, he decided not to go through with his plan to end his relationship with Mary.
Joseph acted as if the dream wasn’t a dream. He didn’t just dismiss the message because it was a dream. No, he was awakened to a new way of acting. Instead of making choices out of honor or a cultural code, he chose to act out of faith. He acted out of his confident belief in the truth, trustworthiness, or value of what an angel told him in a dream.
We haven’t been counting down toward Christmas this Advent season because the birth of this baby Jesus is some dream or myth. Just as Joseph had his awakening story, we are also having our awakening story when we celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ into this world. It awakens us to possibilities beyond our own. It opens our eyes to what is possible with God. It is our chance to act as if this dream of God in the world, Emmanuel, is real—so real that it causes us to change our lives, move in a different direction, and transform the world into a place of peace, hope, faith, and love for all people.
We are in the final week of Advent. Let us awaken to the new reality to which it is leading us. And may we be bold enough to change our lives, move in a different direction and be a a part of transforming the world into a place of peace, hope, faith, and love … for all people.
Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah 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. Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly.
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. She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”
All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet:
“Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
and they shall name him Emmanuel,”
which means, “God is with us.”
When Joseph awoke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took her as his wife, but had no marital relations with her until she had borne a son; and he named him Jesus. ~ Matthew 1:18-25