We sing of Mary, the Manger, and Bethlehem. We rightly focus on the baby Jesus. We talk about the visit of angels, shepherds and the gifts of the wisemen. Joseph, he is often the forgotten person of the Christmas story, shoved to the corner of the barn. In many regards he is relegated to the roll of the step father of Jesus. His story, not told by Mark, Luke or John, is only found in the first two chapters of Matthew.
Matthew wants us to know that Joseph is anything but irrelevant. He is essential. Joseph knows who he is. If Matthew knew his linage, Joseph knew it as well. He knew he was a descendent of David and the promised Messiah. Joseph knew the Word and he knew the Law. When he found out Mary was pregnant, he knew he had a right to divorce her. Joseph was a decent and thoughtful man as well. Though he could have made Mary a spectacle, his thoughts upon hearing the news of her pregnancy, were of sending her away secretly and quietly. We know that Joseph knew the Word and obeyed because we see that after Jesus’ birth, he was sure to get him to the Temple on the eighth day. Joseph knew God, he was righteous, and had a strong relationship with Him. How can I be so sure? God could trust him with His dreams.
When Mary became impregnated by the Holy Spirit Joseph had thoughts of divorce. I’m sure friends and family had told him to walk away and we know that he had those thoughts as well. But, on a restless night when life didn’t make sense, he couldn’t sleep, he was sensitive. He listened to God’s dream, was visited by an angel and yielded to what God shows him. God made him aware of His plan, and though he doesn’t understand, he listens, he trusts, and he most importantly, obeys. Soon after the dream, he and Mary, marry. It begs the question; can God trust us with His dreams? Will we surrender when it doesn’t make sense, when it embarrasses us, and brings us pain?
Doing the right thing often doesn’t make sense and it often doesn’t make things easier, in fact, it often gets more difficult. For Joseph, I’m sure stories were rampant, words were whispered, and glances were felt. The longer the pregnancy goes, the more difficult life becomes. On top of that, Herod has called for all to be taxed. In this moment we see Joseph’s integrity and morality. When it would have been more convenient to make an excuse, he made a trip. With a very pregnant wife, likely in the wet and cold season, they travel to Bethlehem to pay their tax. It’s here that Mary births Jesus, but it is here we once again see Joseph’s relationship with God.
It’s after Jesus’ birth that he has a second dream. He had to have been excited about the new baby, overwhelmed by angels, shepherds, and wisemen, and dazed by the response at Jesus’ dedication in the temple, yet Joseph, is once again sensitive to the spirit and another dream. It’s not a convenient dream, it’s just the opposite, it’s a troublesome and overwhelming dream. Death is going to visit Bethlehem; they must leave and leave now. Imagine explaining the dream to Mary, “Mary we have to pack tonight, were leaving, and, we’re not going home to Momma or Elizabeth, we’re leaving the country, we’re going to a foreign land, Egypt.” Not an easy conversation. Once again, I’m sure he doesn’t’ understand, but because Joseph knows his God, he listens, and he surrenders. What do we do when it doesn’t make sense? If we are like Joseph, we obey.
Egypt was no picnic in the park. A new land, new people, and new laws and customs. They had to find a home and he had to find work. Nevertheless, he navigates what God and life has dealt him. We hear of no complaints. We see no wavering. Joseph trusted God, not for a couple of weeks or months, but likely for two or more years. There are no promises, no expiration dates, only living by faith, day by day, hoping one day things might change. How do we react when God says wait, or worse, is silent?
Waiting is often real worship. It’s living one ordinary day after another, hoping. It’s the question that likely came every night, will there be a third dream. Only time will tell. What we do know is that Joseph never wavered. Had he wavered, he would have missed the moment. Joseph walked with God day by day, and because he did, when the dream came, He was ready. The dream does come, but it comes with difficultly. It means pulling up stakes once again, it means leaving comfort, and it means embracing the unknown. God’s dreams often move out of our comfort zones.
This dream will take Joseph and his family to Nazareth, and it appears that Joseph’s work is done. He fades into the unknown. We will see him one last time when Jesus turns twelve and he takes his family to Jerusalem, but beyond that, crickets. He is not seen or heard of during any of Jesus’ ministry. Jesus does not mention Him in any of His stories, and there is no mention of him at the cross. His work, though unappreciated by many, is finished. No accolades. No statues. No plaques. Joseph’s reward is knowing he listened to God’s dreams, obeyed, and made a difference for eternity.
Joseph story is the story of so many of people. They are the ones who are faithful. They walk with God. They aren’t in the limelight. They don’t get the accolades, yet God can trust them with His dreams. They serve. They give. They are always there. They are consistently reading God’s Word and listening for His voice. They find their knees often and are quick to respond, even when it doesn’t make sense and it may mean difficulties. They don’t waver. They don’t question. They do the little things that make a big difference for eternity. They are like Joseph. They are people God can trust His dreams with. Are we?