Father: Resolute and God-Trusting
There is a legend about the life an Elizabeth of Hungary from the 13th century. I was reading this story to my children this week. The story goes like this. This royal princess in her own right marries another royal at the tender age of 14. While she had grown up as a person of faith, during this time, she is exposed to the teachings of the Franciscans. She is taken by the commitment to caring for those who are ill and feeding the hungry.
While her husband, Louis, seems generally quite supportive of living out her faith in these ways, his family, who own the castle and grounds where she lives are not. However, Elizabeth is resolved to live out a faith-filled life trusting God will take care of her. One particular day, Elizabeth takes all of the bread from the castle to feed those who are hungry. She rides her horse to distribute throughout the villages. When suddenly, she comes upon her mother in law, who demands for her to open her cloak and basket expecting to bread squirrelled away. As she opened her cloak and basket, roses poured out. The trust in that moment was ineffable. Elizabeth was silent for days after. God is with us. Emmanuel.
In Matthew’s version of the birth narrative, we do not begin with Mary. Rather, the Joseph is the main character of thescene. Joseph has the attention of the reader. In Luke, it is Mary. Here it is Joseph, the dreamer. Having come from Genesis, we remember another Joseph, who was a dreamer. However, this Joseph was up against it. The plan had changed, and he was caught figuring and seeking the gentle way out. Joseph, a man of dignity and righteousness, was seeking kindness and gentleness for Mary.
In the tradition, Joseph is considerably older than Mary. What we know about Joseph is that he considers quietly making the scandal as small as possible. Letting Mary off the hook. Joseph would extend his gravitas and respect to cover the scandal.
When the most seemingly unusual thing happened, Joseph falls asleep. (Sometimes, these things do just happen). Hopefully, not too often in the middle of sermons. In the center of these eight verses, Joseph sleeps. He sleeps for four verses. For many of us, sleeping seems like giving up and giving in. Sleeping seems passive.
I want to add another voice into your thinking, Matthew Walker, Director of the University of California Berkley’s Sleep and Neuroimaging Lab. He says this: “If we didn’t need eight hours of sleep and could survive on six, Mother Nature would have done away with 25 percent of our sleep time millions of years ago. Because when you think about it, sleep is an idiotic thing to do. If sleep does not provide a remarkable set of benefits, then it’s the biggest mistake the evolutionary process has ever made.” 1
But to the contrary. Sleep and dreaming changes the arc of this story. God uses those common medium. Mary is not quietly sent to the home for unwed mothers. Jesus is not adopted up town. Joseph hears these words from the angel of the Lord:
“‘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.’
Joseph says nothing. Throughout the whole episode, we never hear the voice of Joseph. Through the passage or the biblical witness, we do not ever hear Joseph, at all. No words attributed to him. Only actions. Actions supported and guided by the very words of God. He is a person of few words and meaningful action – resolve and trust – do we know people like? Are we people like this?
He does not quietly divorce Mary as he planned. Instead, he walks beside her to Bethlehem, registers their family, assists as he can with the birth of the baby, and begins again swinging the hammer and caring for his family. Then, when the God speaks to Joseph through an angel, Joseph responds as instructed. Quietly, with commitment and trust. Not because it all makes sense, necessarily. But because Joseph is willing to do it with it all making complete sense.
Joseph says nothing. God’s way was enough in Joseph’s life. God is with us. Joseph did a lot in his silence. Joseph let go of his fear. Joseph let go of his control. Joseph let go of his illusion that his marriage would go a certain way with Mary. Joseph had a lot of soul work to do in his silence. Work that no one else could do for him. He had to do it for himself. And it was the kind of work that you do after encountering an angel of the Lord. It was the kind of work you often do in silence, in solitude, but that you never seem to feel lonely about.
Joseph was building trust and resolve, like you and I might build a bookcase or a set of shelves. He was making space, in the way that Mary made space for God, Emmanuel, God with us. Here, the psalmist speaks to us. For God alone, my soul waits in silence. My hope is in God.
Once God has spoken, the power belongs to God and the love belongs to us. This Joseph knew. God had the power, and Joseph had the love. The love that Joseph offered again and again to Mary and then, to the Christ child. God routinely speaks through our dreams and invites us to trust God’s ways. God is with us. In the messiness of our lives, God is offering us ways to step into partial solutions and possibilities.
Where are you pretty sure you know the best way to handle what the world has handed you? Sleep on it. Joseph ultimately does something incredibly revolutionary – He agrees to a plan that is not his! I have never preached a sermon I have not slept on and dreamt about. I have my mom to thank for that. My mother, who always urged me as a child to sleep on it and finish in the morning. As we continue to look this Advent with new eyes, I pray that you sleep well. Knowing that there are plenty of reasons why we do not. the writer Rabelais joked. He said, “I never sleep comfortably except when I am at a sermon.”
The reason we sleep is to dream and to allow our bodies to use the swiss army knife of health, as I have now learned. We dream to allow God to speak to us. God appeared to Joseph. And guess what! God appeared to Mary, too! God has been showing up in the dreams and lives of people ever since! Dreamers through the Bible. Dreamers throughout history. Dreamers gathered here this morning! Dreamers who God has been speaking to, have we heard God?
When you and I wake up, we, too have some work to do. We empty ourselves of fear and control and illusions. The kind of work that no one else could do for us. We had to do it for ourselves. And it was the kind of work that you and I do after encountering an angel of the Lord. Work that no one else can do for us as we prepare for the coming of the Christ child. When we are still rubbing our eyes, wondering exactly what we have seen? It was the kind of work you often do in silence, in solitude, but that you never seem to feel lonely about.
Making space by emptying ourselves until we, too are filled with trust and resolution. This feels like Advent. The getting ready part. The part where we say, sometimes out loud and sometimes with our actions, yes, I choose God’s ways. I choose to trust God and be resolved to follow God’s ways. God is with us. That kind of trust is a gift. May this gift that was Joseph’s be yours this Advent season.
This is the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ, thanks be to God, Amen.
Old Testament Lesson: Psalm 62
For God alone my soul waits in silence;
from him comes my salvation.
2 He alone is my rock and my salvation,
my fortress; I shall never be shaken.
3 How long will you assail a person,
will you batter your victim, all of you,
as you would a leaning wall, a tottering fence?
4 Their only plan is to bring down a person of prominence.
They take pleasure in falsehood;
they bless with their mouths,
but inwardly they curse.Selah
5 For God alone my soul waits in silence,
for my hope is from him.
6 He alone is my rock and my salvation,
my fortress; I shall not be shaken.
7 On God rests my deliverance and my honor;
my mighty rock, my refuge is in God.
8 Trust in him at all times, O people;
pour out your heart before him;
God is a refuge for us.Selah
9 Those of low estate are but a breath,
those of high estate are a delusion;
in the balances they go up;
they are together lighter than a breath.
10 Put no confidence in extortion,
and set no vain hopes on robbery;
if riches increase, do not set your heart on them.
11 Once God has spoken;
twice have I heard this:
that power belongs to God,
12 and steadfast love belongs to you, O Lord.
For you repay to all
according to their work.
Gospel Lesson: Matthew 1:18-25
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, but had no marital relations with her until she had borne a son; and he named him Jesus.
Meditations For Your Week
Sunday, December 10th—Saturday, December 16th
Sunday: “For God alone my soul waits in silence; from him comes my salvation.” Psalm 62: 1. Prayerfully consider God’s ways.
Monday: “Trust in him at all times, O people; pour out your heart before him; God is a refuge for us.” Psalm 62: 8. Where do you need to trust in God by pouring out your heart?
Tuesday: “Once God has spoken; twice have I heard this: that power belongs to God,” Psalm 62: 11. Where do you hear God’s voice and see God’s power?
Wednesday: “Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly.” Matthew 1: 19. Joseph begins in our story as a person of integrity. His life has been lives in righteousness and dignity. Prayerfully seek to live in integrity and dignity.
Thursday: “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.’” Matthew 1: 20-21. God has a way of redirecting our good intentions. Make a time of quietude to hear.
Friday: “All this took place to fulfil what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet: which means, ‘God is with us.’ “Matthew 1: 22- 23. God speaks through those around us. Who is God speaking through today?
Saturday: “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: 24-25. Even in dreams, God can sometimes speak to us. Where do you need to prayerfully listen for the voice of God?