Matthew 1:18-21 (CEB)
Birth of Jesus
This is how the birth of Jesus Christ took place. When Mary his mother was engaged to Joseph, before they were married, she became pregnant by the Holy Spirit. Joseph her husband was a righteous man. Because he didn’t want to humiliate her, he decided to call off their engagement quietly. As he was thinking about this, an angel from the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, don’t be afraid to take Mary as your wife, because the child she carries was conceived by the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you will call him Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”
When Joseph woke up, he did just as an angel from God commanded and took Mary as his wife.
Oh – weird!!! It’s Christmas again! I guess this reading is set because it is the Feast Day of St. Joseph. (Not as widely or wildly celebrated as the Feast Day of St. Patrick – but, hey! them’s the breaks!)
Actually – it’s not true that the Feast Day of St Joseph is not marked, in some places it is a big day: Move over St. Patrick – St Joseph’s day is here!
It is kind of odd to be reading these verses in March, but also a little bit refreshing – allowing us to savour the words without the christmas trappings that can befuddle our tiny minds!
Here we have Joseph making a HUGE decision about the future of his life – to marry a woman whose reputation has been ruined and who drags a shadow of scandal around with her – a shadow that would surely also taint Joseph. he makes this decision based on a dream, though whether it is a dream as you or I know it is unclear.
The text says: “As he was thinking about this, an angel from the Lord appeared to him in a dream…” In other words, Joseph is not in a state of unconscious surrender to a night-time dream – he is in a state of contemplation and reflection on a decision he has to make. We think of dreams as something entirely beyond our conscious control that invade our sleep. I don’t think that’s what these verses are describing. Joseph is a conscious part of it. Times such as this – times when we need to make big life-changing decisions are rarely the times that are conducive to making good decisions! We are stressed and anxious, thoughts and ideas assail us from all angles (angels?!), we are bedevilled by conflicting advice and when we look for “signs” they point in opposite directions! How does Joseph manage this? I think his secret is this: that he is so used to listening for the voice of God on the ordinary days that he is able to hear and recognise the voice of God in the tumult of an extraordinary day. It sounds simple – it IS simple – but it is profound wisdom, I think. If the first time you call out to God is when life is falling apart – how can you possibly hope to recognise his answering voice? Get used to hearing God’s voice morning-by-morning, evening-by-evening, day-by-day, week-by-week. Then when the anxious chaos of an impossible decision arrives – you will recognise God’s voice in the storm, just as Joseph did.