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 fulfil 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.
We are now just one week from our celebration of Christ’s Incarnation. As we look around us we might be forgiven if, in a distracted moment, we were tricked into believing that Christmas was already upon us. The retail sector is desperately trying to paper over the cracks opened up by this year’s financial uncertainties; there are endless calls to bedeck our lives with tinsel and lights as never before; there are interminable discussions about the ‘destruction’ of Christmas by Covid 19. But … it is not Christmas, and it will not be for another week. It is at this point in our journey towards Christmas that we need to pause and take stock of how our prayerful journey is going, particularly as so much is different this year.
From today our readings change gear. In recent days we have been considering the message of John the Baptist’s ministry. Today we turn our attention to other moments in the journey towards Christmas. John the Baptist was preparing the way for Jesus’ adult ministry, today we are going back about thirty years to consider the response of other protagonists in this great story. Today, we begin with Joseph.
We are told that Joseph was a righteous man, but we also know that he was a kind and loving man. Joseph was engaged to Mary who was suddenly confronting him with a tale of ‘unexpected pregnancy.’ Such a thing would have been a great scandal and would have resulted, according to Jewish law, in Mary being stoned to death. But Joseph did not want this to happen. Instead, he planned to dismiss her quietly. And then, in a dream, Joseph was made privy to God’s great plan.
I am sure we have all experienced one of those dreams that is so vivid that we are uncertain, if even for just a few moments, whether we have experienced fact or fantasy. It would have been so easy for Joseph to dismiss his dream as his fanciful imagination working overtime, but he didn’t! Instead, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him.
Today’s reading can be mistaken as ‘padding’, a necessary literary device to explain a weak point in the gospel narrative. But, I hope and pray that, like me, you see these few verses as having a much stronger message than that. None of us knows what God is going to call us to do, we just know that his call is always there. Sometimes we are happy to say ‘Yes’ to God because we don’t feel that the challenge is too great. But what about when we are faced with a challenge as great as that which confronted Joseph? Will we follow his example or dismiss it as just a dream?