When we read the Christmas stories found in the gospels of Luke and Matthew angels are everywhere. So far in this Advent journey, we’ve looked at Gabriel’s messages to Zechariah and Mary. Today, we turn to Matthew’s account of Joseph’s angelic dream found in Matthew 1:18-25.
At some point after Mary’s encounter with Gabriel Joseph became aware of her pregnancy. This created a crisis. What was Joseph to do about Mary? This unwed pregnancy was a huge problem that shamed Joseph’s honor and their engagement. Joseph could have publicly humiliated Mary for breaking the engagement vows, making her an outcast (or worse) in the small community. The text hints at Joseph’s turmoil as he settles in his heart to quietly break the engagement.
Matthew doesn’t record it but I wonder if Joseph decided to “sleep on it.” Perhaps you’ve done something similar when making a life-impacting decision. In his dreams, an angel appeared.
“Joseph, son of David,” the angel began, “do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife. For the child within her was conceived by the Holy Spirit.” We can image Mary telling Joseph about Gabriel’s visit and why this pregnancy is different. Perhaps Joseph scoffed at Mary’s excuse, but the angel’s message changed that.
The angel in Joseph’s dream announced, “and she will have a son.” Remember, this was long before sonograms and other medical advances which have made gender reveal parties possible. The dream also revealed the child’s name and destiny. “You are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” Matthew tells us that when Joseph awoke he did as the angel commanded and took Mary as his wife. But the honeymoon was delayed until after Jesus’ birth.
We often think of Joseph as some bit player in the Christmas story. He’s in the shadow of the bright light of Mary and Jesus. But without Joseph, there would be no need for Mary to travel from Nazareth to Bethlehem. Without Joseph everything changes.
In previous articles, we’ve seen Gabriel’s visit to Zechariah as an answer to prayer and the visit to Mary as an exercise of God’s grace. Joseph’s angelic dream is different still. Let’s call this God’s nudge to go the right way. Perhaps Joseph was praying about what do with Mary, but Matthew’s record indicates more thought than prayer.
I’ve been there, perhaps you have too. A point of crisis where your heart and mind struggle to agree on a course of action. Those times when our mind knows the reasonable, proper, expected and practical thing to do but our heart knows it is wrong. Our thoughts race to find another solution like a GPS searching for the best way to arrive at a destination.
In Joseph’s mind he found the middle ground, a third way which heart and mind agreed on. The problem is that Joseph’s conclusion was missing God’s input. It was a human decision which reached a humane yet totally wrong solution. I’m all for living in the middle ground between the poles of our polarized world. But Joseph’s angelic dream reminds us that the radical middle is only radical if God is in the center.
We all sometimes need a nudge from God to move us in the right direction, especially when we’ve worked out the answer to our problems. Let’s be open, perhaps even delay action, so God can change our plans and solutions towards His will and desires. In short, let’s tune our hearts and mind toward God. That could mean sleeping on it or talking to someone or even just quietly waiting for the nudge of the Holy Spirit.