December 11, 2016
In which we consider God’s call to Joseph (as in Joseph and Mary, not as in Joseph with the pretty coat). Preached at St. Peter’s Comox.
Have you ever seen an Insurance commercial? Pleasant sunny images of children, laughter and peace cover the screen. The music is always this slow soft set of chords-somehow relaxing and ominous at the same time. They seem to play on the things that we love and care for:the things we idealize in our way of life. These adverts call attention to a very human thing, that we have things we work hard to do the right things to have and care about, and that we fear losing them. They really play to that fear,that’s why we need insurance right? Protection from what we fear, security…I’ll get back to that.
There’s something about Joseph that I can really identify with. Joseph wanted so much to do the right thing. He had a sense of how his life was going to play out. He was going about living ‘the right way’ with determination and resolve. He had gained a skilled trade. He was engaged to a good Jewish girl and was building a home for the life he hoped to share with her. He was preparing for a life lived in righteousness before the God of his ancestors.
Work hard. Gain new skills. Marry a good wife. Treat her well. Worship God. Invest in a House. Do these things and all will go well right? That’s what you’re supposed to do and Joseph was all about what you’re supposed to do.
I wonder what it must have felt like for him when his world came tumbling down. Joseph was doing the right things so why weren’t they turning out the right way? Mary was with child. Pregnant. We all know how that happens and Joseph certainly was NOT the father. When he found out he must have felt totally betrayed. His way of life, the right way of life, was not turning out the way it was supposed to.
But even in that place Joseph sought to do the right thing. Joseph could have called Mary out in front of the town and had her stoned to death in vengeance for the betrayal he felt. He could have exposed her to disgrace. But instead he takes the option provided according to the Law and writes her a certificate of divorce. He quietly separates from a woman he no longer feels fits in to his way of life.
And so Joseph lay down his head to rest.
The fact of the matter is that sometimes the Lord our God calls us through our dreams. And here God spoke to Joseph in a dream. I find this incredibly powerful for two reasons. First it is powerful because it shows that God is at work even in our rest. God can take even our rest and make it holy, make it sacred. Second, because God shows himself in a very real way to be greater even than our own imaginations. You know how we say “more than we can possibly ask or imagine?” It’s true and we see it here. More wonderful than our wonder, more inconceivable than the most wild and experimental of our conceptions.
And so God speaks to Joseph in a dream through his messenger Gabriel. And Gabriel says “Do not be afraid!” What did those insurance companies play on again? “Do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife.
A lot comes into Joseph’s life when he takes Mary as his wife. Having to find her a safe place for Jesus’s birth in Bethlehem, wise men from the east and rough shepherds gathered in a manger, fleeing a king’s persecution and becoming a refugee in Egypt: I don’t know how any of this fit into Joseph’s image of what his life was supposed to be. This wasn’t his dream. This wasn’t the life he was preparing for. It was, however, the dream that God gave him. Perhaps doing the right thing was going to mean something else for Joseph.
I think often times we get caught up in our own plans. We get caught up in our expectations of what God wants from us. We get caught up in doing things the right way, in being “good enough.” If we are not careful we become slaves to our own sense of what our lives are supposed to be, out own way of life, our own expectations. When that happens we close ourselves off. When that happens we fail to be open to the extraordinary reality of who God is.
Do you see? Joseph’s life didn’t go according to his plan or will or whim. Instead something greater than even his dreams happened. He encountered God with us, Emmanuel. Not God according to our expectations, not God according to what people say about him or God according to the way he was supposed to encounter him. In a real, deep and intimate way Joseph encountered God with him, on God’s own terms. And that broke everything down. And that built everything up.
And so the Angel said “Do not be afraid” this child shall be called “God with us” and in that is our Hope, and in that is our Protection. Thanks be to God.