December 18, 2022 at St Peter and St William Parishes in Naples, FL
Isaiah 7, 10-14 + Psalm 24 + Roman 1, 1-7 + Matthew 1, 18-24
Matthew gives us a great gift today, unique to this Gospel. The gift is Joseph. In Matthew’s Gospel, the central human character is not Mary. It is Joseph who receives a message from an angel. Matthew calls it a “dream.” I would call it a nightmare. I think when he woke up it was the worst day of his life. He had every reason to feel furious, betrayed, shamed, and devastated. He is caught between Moses and the commandments or the word of an angel in a dream. It is a risky decision. If he condoned or hid adultery, he was as guilty as the perpetrator. Following what the law required was maybe the best route. Yet, what about the Holy Spirit? He’s caught. Either choice could have been the wrong one. To our relief and, for that matter, for our salvation, he followed the angel’s orders. My guess is that he wondered where the dream came from. I’m afraid that if I had been Joseph, I would have gone back to bed. Sometimes we wake up and we’re not sure whether something really happened or if it was just a dream.
Matthew always has one eye on the Old Testament where there is another dreaming Joseph who ends up in Egypt. During a famine he saves his family. Life was rough for that first Joseph. His brothers betrayed him, threw him in a well and then sold him off to some men headed to Egypt.
Things get rough for this new Joseph too. Even if Joseph may have been happy about this news things did not work out very well. In fact, I think just about everything was botched up. Instead of security and comfort, they found themselves facing a treacherous journey during the last stage of Mary’s pregnancy. So much for the plans any father would want to make with no place to stay, no family around, and no friends. Then with the first ceremony in the Temple, there are is an ominous prediction from an old seer that his son would be rejected and his wife’s heart and soul would be pierced. Then they become refugees in Egypt. When they come back, the son gets lost and after a three-day search, the boy says that he has another “Father” who makes a greater claim on him.
Joseph must have died a thousand deaths caring for that woman and child, both of whom he accepted in faith as belonging finally to someone other than himself – to God just as every parent must someday realize that their child really belongs to God. In Matthew’s Gospel, the entire Christ event depends upon Joseph who puts aside his own plans and his own future in the midst of confusion open to God’s will and God’s plan which is not the same as his own.
I never like it that artists often depict Joseph as an old man. I think he was most likely young and vigorous, excited about a future with a woman he loved so much that he would not invoke a harsh law against supposed adultery, but still followed the law in a more compassionate way by putting her away quietly. Then he decides that as long as either choice would really be wrong, he follows the angel’s orders.
The worst day of his life turns out to be a day of unimaginable grace. God gambled on Joseph. In Luke’s Gospel God gambles on Mary. Today, God gambles on you and me. In return, our faith is a gamble that God’s love will lead us in times of confusion and disappointment.
Joseph never says a word in all the Gospels. There is not one quote ever recorded. But he stands before us, and his actions speak loudly with a simple message: worry less and pray more. God can and does work great wonders out of chaos, confusion, and disappointment. Fear has not place in the hearts of those open to the will of God. Lest we think that the Kingdom of God depends upon someone sinless or immaculate, there comes today Joseph to reminds us that without people like Joseph, people like us, God’s plan would never have a chance.