Wednesday, December 18, 2013
When the manger scene characters start showing up, we find ourselves encountering folks like you and me who worked through some incredible challenges to their faith. The challenge Joseph faced is different from Mary, the shepherds, or the men from the east in that his story starts out with a human witness instead of some supernatural experience. Mary had Gabriel, the shepherds had the heavenly host, and the men from the east had a great star. All Joseph had was the word of the woman he planned to marry. She told him this unlikely story about being pregnant that she expected him to believe. No angels were singing in that moment; instead, there must have a heaving chest, a dry mouth, and a flipping of everything inside his body. No moment of disappointment could have been greater.
So, Joseph's story as we read it in Matthew's gospel has a different starting point. Certainly, his dream life was invaded by an angel of the Lord, but only after he had decided that he and Mary had no future together. When he went to sleep, it was not with an intention to marry her, but to end what had been so full of promise and hope. What has always been obvious about Joseph is that he shows what happens when a man is in touch with his inner self, is unafraid to listen to that voice even though it goes against conventional and practical wisdom, and is able recognize the work of God. When we see where Joseph ends up, we see a model of faith that has few parallels in all of scripture. Here is certainly a man who chose not to act on the basis of his fears, but on the basis of his faith.
Anyone who sees the manger and fails to see that there is a huge amount of faith under its shelter has not really seen all that there is to see. In that place there are more than animals and a romantic story, but the presence of a life and death faith that persisted until the plan of God was fully accomplished. Oh, for that kind of faith in our hearts and in our church!