Joseph is the forgotten member of Jesus’s family. He doesn’t get any lines in all of Scripture. And there’s just not very much we know about him. He’s not a major part of any of our favorite Christmas stories, except as maybe a background character. And he is a major part of most of the stories related to Christ’s birth that we don’t like to think or talk about. For instance, that time Joseph was ready to divorce Mary and walk away from being Jesus’s father.
Have you read that story lately? We all notice how Joseph makes up his mind before he changes it, right? That strikes me as a pretty big deal.
He examines the evidence, rolls it over a million times, and opts for Door B. All this before he, like his namesake Joseph son of Judah, falls asleep and dreams. Then Joseph changes his mind. Because God speaks to him in a dream.
We know from Luke that Mary’s already had her God-moment, when she hears from God’s messenger and discerns God’s will for her life. But Joseph is not ready to receive it or believe it or accept Mary’s word on faith until he has his own God-moment. Which he does. And it’s a dream. And he believes it!
Joseph discovers that sometimes the spiritual maturation process feels a little like maturing in reverse. Joseph goes from a righteous and thoughtful person to a person who is just a little bit reckless and wild and who starts chasing after dreams.
In fact, every major move Joseph makes from here on out is based on a dream.
If Joseph ever hoped for a quiet and simple life – to go back and laugh with his friends at the Bethlehem High School 30th reunion and talk about his carpentry business – he can forget it! Once Jesus comes on the scene, Joseph’s dreams get more and more dark and disturbing. He’s going to escape in the middle of the night to get away from a homicidal king. He’s going to resettle in Nazareth because political pressure is just a little too high down south right now.
But here’s the thing: Jesus Christ, Lord of lords, King of kings, God Incarnate needs a dad! And Joseph signs on for the job. And in the process, discovers that sometimes part of true righteousness, wisdom, and living in the Spirit, means knowing when to toss out the playbook and do something a little reckless and wild.
How are you and your dreams getting along these days? Not just nighttime dreams, but day dreams? Hopes and wishes? Longings? Desires?
Have you outgrown them? Do they seem silly? Do you still cherish them and hold them close? Do they move you to action or only frustration? Are you holding on to some past their prime? Are you embarrassed to share them with others?
A part of our congregation’s mission statement is “Experiencing God.” But I sometimes wonder if that’s what we really want or even believe that it’s possible. Most people in Scripture who have a genuine God experience … well, it pretty well rocks their world upside-down. Just ask Joseph!
But I also love that it’s a part of our mission. I love that we believe God is not a distant object “out there” or an impersonal creative or destructive force to whom we need to pray in order to leverage God’s power to fit our will. God is the creator, sustainer, and redeemer of all creation. God is the primary actor in history, and we are the ones who are being acted upon. We can experience God in the midst of our lives.
What’s often needed for us to experience God in the midst of our lives is simply to learn how to pay attention. Which is hard. Because distraction is a multi-billion dollar industry these days. But Advent can help. Advent is a season all about paying attention. Watching. Waiting. Expecting. Dreaming.
Not everyone is a dreamer, and that’s okay. So maybe it’s not your dreams, but I wonder – what is God inviting you to pay attention to this Advent season? What delights you? What disturbs you? What’s got your attention? What are you ignoring with all the power you can summon?
Jesus needs dreamers in his life. Always has. His dad is dreamer. Both of them, actually! Jesus needs people who are willing to imagine a different future, accept their limited perceptions of things, and step out on faith – trusting that what God has for us is better than whatever we have in mind.
This Advent we may find ourselves waiting for the end of it all – Come, Lord Jesus! Make it all right! Fix it! Or we may find ourselves swept up in a nostalgia for Christmases past, when things felt easier, better, or more comprehensible in some way.
It’s good to long for God’s future, and it’s even good to remember God’s involvement in times past.
But this Advent we are here and we are now. Let’s pay attention to our dreams. Let’s dream big dreams. Let’s open ourselves to God’s dreams. And let’s allow our dreams move us to action.