It takes the commitment of a kind of faith to believe that reality is only the material, measurable world, with all of its limitations, its irrational suffering and loss.
This verse is directed at Joseph, the espoused husband of Mary. The marriage had not yet taken place when Mary was found to be ‘with child’ through the Holy Spirit. Joseph, “since he was a righteous man, yet unwilling to expose her to shame, decided to divorce her quietly.” (verse 19) It is at this point that the angel of the Lord appears to Joseph in a dream. It is this same angel, Gabriel, who had visited Mary to ask her if she would be willing to be the mother of God. The angel tells Joseph, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife into your home. For it is through the Holy Spirit that this child had been conceived in her. 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.” (verses 20 & 21) Both Joseph and Mary descend from the ancestral “House of David,” which fulfills the prophecy that the savior would be born of the House of David. We also see here the power that is in the name, Jesus.
The modern skeptic hears these things and smirks at what he or she would call the ‘fairy tale’ aspects of these words. Because they believe in only those things that they can touch, those things that can be ‘proven’ by scientific evidence, they are not able to accept such ideas as real. For them, reality is limited to the tangible, the scientifically knowable. A Christian, though, knows that there are things that are beyond human intellectual knowing, that reality is not so limited as the material world. There is, of course, no point in arguing these points. Both positions are rooted in something called faith. It takes the commitment of a kind of faith to believe that reality is only the material, measurable world, with all of its limitations, its irrational suffering and loss. The faith that Christians have been given is open to, and accepting of, the fact that the things of God are greater than all the combined ‘wisdoms’ of human science and philosophy together. We are nothing in comparison with God. For a Christian, faith is, “confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.” (Hebrews 11:1) The former ‘faith’ position is one ultimately rooted in human pride. The latter is ultimately a recognition rooted in humility.
Suffice it to say that Mary’s faith was sufficient enough to give her humble fiat to the angel’s strange message, and Joseph’s was strong enough to accept the truth of the angel’s instructions to him in his dream. For Christians, the value here is not so much in the appearance of an angel, or the messages that are given. What is more important is the responses that were given. Because both Mary and Joseph responded in the affirmative, because they both said yes in faith, Christ could come among us as both fully God and fully Man. Because they said yes, Jesus was able to take on the clay of humanity from Mary. Joseph would be Jesus’ earthly father and mentor in his early years, protecting him, teaching him a carpenter’s skills, and being a role model for a life lived in faith, in ‘confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.’
Joseph appears so briefly in the Gospels, that his importance is often slighted. But his obedience to God, his love and devotion toward Mary and toward Jesus, which is supported by his absolute love for God, are prime examples to every Christian of what the Christian life can look like. If our faith becomes anything like Joseph’s we, too, will be able to endure all things out of love, just as he did. Joseph is the example we can look to to see what it means to be a righteous father, husband, and follower of Christ in this world.
Let us reflect on Joseph and his faith then. Let us reflect on what it took for him to accept the angel’s message and to humbly carry it out. He shows us what faith in action is. If our faith does not ultimately reveal itself in positive action it is nothing. Let us pray that we will have the courage to open ourselves to the gift of faith and then to live out of it in our daily lives. We pray, as always, in the power of that name given to this child, Jesus. Amen.
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