I haven’t done much Christmas shopping yet this year. Have you?
I’ve never been one to get it all done in October. Maybe I’m disorganized, or maybe that doesn’t sound like much fun to me. But one thing is true. I love to give gifts at Christmas. Especially to people I love dearly. It’s fun to consider them and find something that will make them gasp and laugh with delight.
Life-gifts are a different matter. The greatest gifts in life always seem to come via trials or sacrifice or at the least, cooperation and commitment. Relationships are the real gift that keeps on giving, but we have to give of ourselves, too. It seems that our investment is at least proportional to our gain. Often life-gifts come in wrappings that are unappealing. That layoff. That miscarriage. Or the broken down car or the injury. Something shines in there, under the surface, and when we continue to look toward God, the giver of all good gifts, eventually the wrapping falls away and we are left with the blessing, the life-gift. And a heart full of gratitude. We shake our heads and smile and say, “That was really hard, a difficult season, but you know what? I wouldn’t change a thing. I wouldn’t have it any other way.”
Scripture: Matthew 1:18-21
This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit. Because Joseph her husband was a righteous man and did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.
But after he had considered this, and angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do no be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.
Inspiration: Truth of God for Us
It’s never what anyone plans. A pregnancy before marriage.
In a deeply religious culture where moral laws guide the society, a pregnancy before marriage comes with more than stigma, it’s dangerous, humiliating, blighting. This is what Joseph faced upon finding out that Mary was with child.
We don’t know their conversation. How did Mary try to explain her visit from Gabriel? We have no biblical clues. We can surmise from Joseph’s response in this passage that he cared for Mary and wanted to protect her from the moral police of the day, wanted to preserve her reputation (and probably his, too) and desired to quietly deal with dissolving the marriage bond between them.
We also know, from verses later in this chapter, that Joseph obeyed the instructions given to him in a dream, went through with the marriage and indeed named the child, Jesus.
The message in the dream essentially presents the greatest gift ever given, wrapped in a really difficult decision.
But Joseph knew enough about the God he worshipped to cooperate.
The book of Psalms is actually a Hebrew songbook. In a time when oral tradition constituted the majority of education, singing played a big part in teaching and passing on a people’s history and cultural values, their concepts of morality, creation, god. The Hebrew people did develop a written language, but the oral tradition continued. Everyone sang. There are psalms for all occasions. There were traveling psalms (Psalm 120-134) and sorrowful songs, praising songs and teaching psalms. Psalm 119, the longest chapter in the bible, was a meditation on the value of the word of God. It followed a poetic pattern. Each stanza corresponded with a letter of the Hebrew alphabet and each line of each stanza began with that letter. Painstakingly written, it’s served as a training tool and a valuable piece of cultural literature.
I think Joseph, although a humble carpenter, remembered the psalms, remembered the stories of how God remained faithful throughout the centuries. Maybe he recalled this:
When my heart was grieved and my spirit embittered, I was senseless and ignorant, a brute beast before you. Yet I am always with you, you old me by my right hand. You guide me with your counsel. (74:21-24b)
Hear my voice when I call, O Lord; be merciful to me and answer me. My heart says of you, “Seek his face!” Your face Lord, I will seek. Teach me your way, O Lord; lead me in a straight path because of my oppressors. I am confident of this: I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord. (27:7-8,11,3-14)
And he knew God would come through, because he knew this one, too,
“For the LORD is good and his love endures forever; his faithfulness continues through all generations.” (100:5)
“Hope is a gift, an undeserved gift of peace, but…is also a call to decision — the decision to trust.” — Brennan Manning
“Hope means that in Christ, by entrusting ourselves to him, we can courageously face evil, accept our own need for further conversion, the lovelessness of others and the whole legacy of sin around us and in our own history. We can then face death later on just we can face the mammoth task before us today, which, as Paul explains, “is putting to death our selfish desires.” — Bernard Haring
I believe Joseph knew waiting required obedience–active participation in the will and ways of God. And we are all the grandly grateful recipients because Joseph listened and obeyed and believed he would indeed “see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living”. That gift, that goodness lay in the rosy lips and rounded cheeks and bright, innocent eyes of the baby he would hold and give the name Jesus. It was because of Joseph’s commitment and parenting that Jesus learned the word, Abba, Daddy.
Joseph obeyed. Joseph stayed. Joseph: the unsung hero of our Christmas story. Just an average Joe. Extraordinary.
Love: In Action
Give a goat! Or a chicken!
There are many ways that we can extend love to others far away. By giving to the needs of others, we are committing our time and resources and literally changing lives. It’s easy and fun to do with the kids – what kid doesn’t like farm animals?
Yes, And Amen
God, you are as your word says, the Holy Pure Wind, the spirit that moved across the darkness, the nebulous and ancient firmament. You spoke order, peace and purpose into the chaos of darkness and breathed life into this planet, into us. Might we be willing to accept your life-giving holy wind. Blow the detritus of selfishness from the corners of our minds, clear out the clutter of doubt and disorder. Make way in us for your salvation, for the Jesus Christ, the Promised Salvation we need so badly. Help us to see beyond the clutter of today, beyond the mammoth tasks or perceived danger to the manger, the cradle of our hope. We need to Christmas in our hearts. We need to obey. We need to remember that you cannot fail us, and that our trust in you is always the best choice.