Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Joseph's Story

A record of the genealogy of Jesus Christ the son of David, the son of Abraham: Abraham was the father of Isaac, Isaac the father of Jacob, Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers...and Jacob the father of Joseph, the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus, who is called Christ. (Matthew 1:1-2,6)

For Matthew, Christmas begins in the star-filled dreams of an old man. Forty-two generations before the birth of Christ, Abraham looked into the heavens and believed the word of God. A word, a promise that one day his descendants would number as the stars and would usher in a blessing that would be for all people. Such was the dreams of an as yet childless Father. But with the birth of Isaac -- the dream was alive. And so it continued...this dream, passed on from father to son, generation to generation, age to age. Matthew traces the dream in the lives of the famous and infamous, recording the names of both sinner and saint, known and unknown. Yet each a vital link in a golden chain. Each a single piece in a heavenly puzzle passed from parent to child. And with each piece the dream grows clearer and brighter. Yet the longer the chain stretches the more fragile it becomes...And now the chain is about to be broken. The dream of Abraham under a starry sky is coming to an end.

Joseph, betrothed of Mary, wants a divorce. Mary is with child. A child not his own. We are not told how much Joseph agonized over his decision. Angry or sad over Mary’s apparent infidelity we don’t know. We can speculate and postulate, but all we are told is that he was a righteous man and had in mind to divorce her. Quietly -- to perhaps spare her shame or to avoid the scandal, but divorce her nonetheless. A marriage entered into with hopes and dreams now to be reduced to smoke and ashes.

But it is not only the hopes and dreams of a young couple that hang in the balance. Generations of the faithful who have nurtured and passed on the dream of Abraham look on in fear as its fragile thread in plucked. A tapestry woven with the toil and tears, the laughter and the labor of all who have gone before slowly unravels as a tired Joseph puts his head upon the pillow to sleep.

Yet God will not let this dream die. This dream cannot disappear in the morning light. So he sends another dream to another man under another starry sky. An angelic messenger with an anxious plea. “Joseph,” the angel speaks his name. “Joseph, son of David.” A gentle reminder of all who have gone on before him. “Do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” Abraham’s dream is finally named. Jesus. Abraham’s night is illumined by the light of one bright star. The Savior. One grand and glorious name that will justify and sanctify all the names and all the generations that have gone before. A name that must be spoken by Joseph.

Forty -- two generations hold a collective breath as God comes in a night vision to ask a humble carpenter to make a place for his Son. A Son who will be Immanuel. God with us. But only, but only...if he is first a child with Joseph. The dream of the ages will only be realized if this man says yes. Yes - God - I will take your Son to be my son. My house will be his house. My name will be his name. Yes, I will save Mary the shame, so that he might save the world. Yes, I will make room in my life -- so that Immanuel might find room in the lives of others. The request is simple. “Will you allow the dream to live on in you?” The implications are staggering. God will come to his world -- but only if he might first come into Joseph’s.

For Matthew this is the drama of Christmas. The drama of Christ’s coming. It is a very human drama. There are no annunciations, no shepherds, no singing chorus of celestial beings, as of yet no wiseman. Save for an angelic voice in a troubled sleep, no assurances are offered to him. No guarantees. As Joseph turns upon his bed, there is only a question. And upon his answer will depend the generations to come.

Have you ever pondered the fact that Joseph never speaks in the Bible? Mary has
The Magnificat. Angels sing The Gloria. Even Zechariah the old priest has a voice. But no words pass the lips of Joseph. Someone has dubbed him “Joseph the Silent.” But if he speaks no words, his actions speak volumes. The Scripture says that he awoke determined to do what the angel had commanded him. I sometimes wonder if it was in the middle of the night when Joseph awoke? I wonder if he shook his head and took a walk outside under the heavens. And I wonder if on that very night from a field of stars -- one particularly star shone brighter that all the rest? Well we know the rest of the story... “and he took Mary as his wife. But he had no union with her until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus.”

For Matthew the Gospel rests upon the response of Joseph to the question of God. One question for one man. One question for every man. It is a question that is placed before each one of us this Advent Season. Amid the hustle and bustle, the hoopla and the hype of this holiday will we allow the dream to live in us? Dare we listen again to the angel’s admonition to not be afraid? To trust God as Joseph trusted? Will we make room in our lives for Immanuel? For God to be with us? Because of the faith of Joseph, Christ has come into his world...but has he come into yours?

No comments: