Birth of the UnexpectedAdvent
On the first week of Advent, we wondered what do we do in our waiting? I offered two choices: to live in the anxiety of the future or to choose to trust the unknown future and lived in the light of God. In the second week, Isaiah’s prophecy encouraged us to look beyond the facts and look for newness, despite the limitations and fears of our present life. Last week, we concluded that our waiting may not have produced the results we expected but God is present with us. Jesus calls us to go beyond our expectations and see and hear what is happening now. Isaiah calls us to expectant hope and to wait patiently for what will happen in due time.
This week, we visit the story of Joseph. How did Joseph live in his own waiting?
Joseph was a descendant of King David, a carpenter, and perhaps even middle-aged when he became engaged to a young Mary. The engagement period was generally a joyful time of anticipation and waiting. The groom might go away and prepare their future home and establish a career. The time period was unpredictable.
We know this familiar story of how the birth of Jesus, the Messiah, took place. “When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit.” This devastating news caused Joseph to wonder if his best-laid plans were now null and void. This story speaks to those who may have done everything strictly by the rules but whose life falls apart anyway.
We aren’t privy to the private conversations between Joseph and Mary—perhaps crying fits, angry outbursts, or attempts to explain what cannot be understood or explained. All we know is Joseph made the decision to divorce Mary quietly.
Verse 19 explains that Joseph was a righteous man. He lived his life according to Jewish law that dictated that a woman unfaithful to her husband or fiancée was to be stoned. And that is why Joseph had a dilemma on his hands.
A righteous man was committed to obeying the law of God. Joseph knew God’s law and the law was very clear about what to do if his wife committed adultery. Joseph’s understanding of what it means to act right, live right, and be right was now being challenged in a very public way. Joseph was wrestling, not with the law of God, but with the love of God.
Joseph chose unmerited compassion. For Joseph, the “just” thing to do was not to stigmatize Mary but to divorce her quietly. Compassion can be awfully difficult to come by in our world, especially when we feel the “guilty party” deserves to be punished.
Joseph’s response was just and compassionate. What Joseph did in this time of waiting to protect Mary would set a pattern of choosing compassion over judgment. Years later, a woman caught in the act of adultery, an open and shut case, would be pushed into Jesus’ presence. Perhaps Joseph’s decision led to Jesus handling the situation in that circle of accusers in the compassionate way that he did. Compassion is not always easy to come by or not always merited, but sometimes in our wait, we finally get a glimpse of how choices we make during our waiting set a pattern for faithful living.
During his wait, Joseph is opened to incredible possibilities. As he moved to file the divorce, Mary, undoubtedly, shared her visit from the angel and the baffling information she’d been dealt. Her life, too, had been turned upside down. Joseph must have tossed and turned that night, ready to file for divorce but Mary seemed so assured, so persuasive.
Joseph continued to give his decision serious thought. He weighed law and love, grace and justice and God intervened and opened Joseph to a new possibility. Verse 20 says, “But just when he had resolved to do this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.” It takes courage to see beyond our own limited vision.
Joseph showed incredible courage to do the right thing for the right reason. He had the courage to believe God when his wait made no sense. By the time Joseph hears the news of Mary’s pregnancy, there seemed to be few options. The important decision has been revealed: the conception is the work of the Spirit, it is a boy, and his name has already been chosen. The very fact that Joseph was willing to “sleep on it” reveals his compassionate nature and openness to incredible possibilities.
Only a person with the courage to choose compassion over judgment with that kind of openness could have entertained, much less accepted, such preposterous odds. Joseph had the courage to act on the faith that led him beyond his own vision of compassionate boundaries and to be willing to embrace incredible possibilities.
What is our capacity to wait when the odds seem insurmountable? Where is God in our waiting?
In the words of poet John O’Donohue: May we have the courage to take the next step into the unknown that beckons us… Feel the deeper knowing in us, sure of all that is about to be born beyond the pale frames where we stay confined.