(This article was originally published in Every Thought Captive, a weekly devotional from Park Cities Presbyterian Church.)
“Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When His mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.”…When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife, but knew her not until she had given birth to a son. And he called His name Jesus.” – Matthew 1:18-24
Joseph always seems a bit part in the Christmas pageant. A step up from the anonymous sheep and the extra star, to be sure, but his biggest scene is a nod of the head or, if he’s lucky, a line or two. But someone needs to hold the donkey, after all, and Mary cannot give birth alone in the stable. It is her first child, never mind the child being God, and she’ll need the support.
So, enter Joseph stage left with little fanfare, a kind and just man but also one not prone to drama. He wants to do things quietly. He does not possess the instant magnetism of Mary. He isn’t the pregnant virgin giving birth to God. He doesn’t get a magnificent song. No. He’s just Joe.
Joseph’s pizazz seems too ho-hum by comparison to Mary, which may explain why we gloss over his contribution so quickly, especially in pageants. Mary has Gabriel standing before her, announcing God’s favor. Wowzer! Joseph gets, after the fact, a dream. Mary cannot doubt God’s message. It presses down on her bladder and kicks her awake in the middle of the night. But Joseph, even while holding Jesus, must wonder if the dream and what Mary said were true, if he wasn’t in the end some cosmic cuckold.
In some ways, we all want to be Mary, unique and special, to have God send a special messenger to tell us one of the greatest mysteries of all time will happen within us. How warm and fuzzy we would feel about ourselves! Better still, the ease of assuaging our doubts by simply stroking our belly and waiting for the evidence inside to kick. How comforting! Yet, the thudding truth is that there can only ever be one Mary. So we must all be Joseph, sitting on the edge of the bed after a strange dream, tempted to just roll over and go back to sleep.
But that exact place¬—sitting on the edge of faith, waiting and wondering if we will get up and obey as if it were easy—that is right where Advent locates us. Not in a well-explained plan but in a call to wake up and do as told. For God begins to save His people in the confusion of life. Here is your pregnant virgin fiancée, Joseph, be still and believe. Here is very God of very God being born exactly like everyone before and after, vulnerable and weak, crying for air and milk, with a young mother praying He stays well. Joseph, see and believe. Here is the Word who created the world, needing to be carried to Egypt that He might not die before His time. Joseph, believe.
And here we sit, looking back on one Advent and anticipating another, and God continues to save us through frighteningly ordinary things. He speaks to us through His Word, by His people, in prayer, and sometimes, even still, in dreams. He tells us not to fear, that the Holy Spirit goes before us and within us. He says that Christ has died, has risen, and will come again, and thus Christ has saved and is saving us from sin.
So, Josephs, get up and believe. Walk in the light. Love your enemies. Be faithful to those whom God has given to you. Forgive. Put to death the sinful deeds of the flesh. Be joyful, gentle, kind, and patient. Control yourself. Drink this cup and eat this bread, and believe that Christ is with you always, even to the end of the age.
That sounds grand, but it isn’t. It comes in the confusion of the ordinary world. Forgiveness sometimes seems foolish, self-control impossible. Often gentleness takes too long, and patience doesn’t get things done. And in dark and lonely times, believing that Christ is with us feels nearly as ludicrous as believing your pregnant fiancée is still a virgin. But these are the ordinary moments of faith through which God saves us. He uses our obedience and trust to bring others into the fold and to heal a broken world, even if we don’t quite understand how. So go this Advent like Joseph. Hear from God, get up, and obey.