What was it like to be Joseph?

Joseph

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This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit. Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.

But after he had considered 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 home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 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.”

All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”).

When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. But he did not consummate their marriage until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus. –Matthew 1:18-25

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Joseph has such an under-recognized role in the Christmas story. His faith astounds me. I see it from the beginning, in his first response to Mary. He shows compassion, not wanting to shame her, even when it would have been his right to do so.

Then, the story shifts, as he gets his experience with an angel. But I wonder, why a dream? Why not a wide awake experience with an angel, like was given to Zechariah and Mary? Why was he left to wake up, rub his eyes, and wonder if it was all true or just something he ate?

Was it because he had enough faith to hear the message in this way?

Joseph had so much to accept. Mary might have doubted her visit with the angel, but she would have known with 100% certainty that she had never had sex with a man. As she watched her growing belly and felt the increasing movement from within her womb, she would have had continual confirmation that something beyond her imagination was happening.

Joseph could never have proof that Mary had not cheated on him with another man. His only confirmation were the words of an angel spoken not even face to face, but in a dream. Through faith in those words, Joseph committed to walk with Mary into the unknown. He stayed by her side, and stood in as the father on earth to a child not from his seed. With this story as the backdrop, it is not difficult to imagine how Joseph loved Jesus as his own son.

I can think of few examples of people with Joseph’s mix of strength, compassion, and faith.

I hope I can see Jesus through his eyes this Christmas.

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Father in heaven, teach us how to love as Joseph loved. Give us his faith. Share with us his compassion. May we have the courage to follow you into the unknown as he did. Show us something new as we see Christmas through his eyes. Amen.

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Joseph’s Lullaby- Mercy Me

“I believe the glory of Heaven Is lying in my arms tonight Lord, I ask that He for just this moment Simply be my child”


NoticingImmanuel

Noticing Immanuel: a series for Advent. Each day starts with noticing: a picture of an everyday Christmas moment. That picture leads to a verse, a meditation, a prayer, and a song. My hope is that when we see those Christmas moments a second time, they will strike us differently. That we might feel the presence of Immanuel this Christmas season, whether we are sitting in quiet or moving in chaos.

messy stories

We often create biblical characters that do not exist. At least I do. When I read the Bible, I see people possess excellent traits in certain stories, and I get tunnel vision. I begin to see them only through the eyes of what they did well. I forget that these characters were in fact, human.

God chose to give me an honest portrayal of men and women who have followed him in history. He chose to write a story in which I can see their successes and failures, strengths and weaknesses. When I don’t let the story be messy, I miss seeing how God takes messes and creates masterpieces.

I have been doing a series of posts on Joseph. He in particular, seems to be a biblical character we see through rose-colored glasses. He does so many things right in his life, that it’s difficult not to.

That happens often in the section of his story found in Genesis 42-45, when he reunites with and forgives his brothers. He famously says

“And now, do not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here, because it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you.” – Gen 45:5

Joseph’s response is held up as an example of how we should forgive those who have wronged us. And it should be: it is a great example. But, when we see only this sentence, we over-simplify the story.

Joseph doesn’t see his brothers until twenty one years after he was first sold into slavery. And, he doesn’t see them again until after God has rescued him from the worst of his story. The wound is not fresh and it is not gaping open. God has had twenty one years to transform it.

Even when Joseph does finally see his brothers, he does not reveal his identity and forgive them instantly. He tests them first. He wants to know if they have changed. Then, he gives himself time.

First, he puts his brothers in prison for three days. Then, he sends them on their journey home, which was over 200 miles. Joseph doesn't see them again until they return, which is after they ran out of food. It is easily several weeks or more between when Joseph first sees his brothers and when he says the famous words of Genesis 45:5.

We have no idea what was going on in Joseph’s mind and heart during those weeks. He might have been celebrating the chance to be with family again. He might have been wrestling with God about what he should do compared to what he wanted to do. He might have done some crying, some shouting, or some dreaming. We don’t know.

I bet Joseph’s journey to forgiveness was messier than we picture it. He was a human too. He was able to see how God took something terrible and turned it into something good. But I’m guessing that didn’t come easily. I don’t think it was an instant revelation when someone quoted Romans 8:28 to him (especially since Romans 8:28 didn’t exist yet).

If Joseph’s journey was a little messy, that’s okay. That doesn’t take away from the power of the story. Because ultimately, it is not a story about Joseph; it is a story about God. Joseph did not forgive because he was a perfect guy who always did the right thing. Joseph forgave because he was a human who let God soften his heart.

No matter what our struggle is, or how messy things have become, God can redeem our lives, our stories, and our choices. Sometimes it’s not in our timeline. Sometimes it’s not in our preferred method. But he does it. If we let him.

Have you ever watched artists paint? Paintings are covered with layers. The background often looks messy. But that’s the way it’s supposed to be. As each layer is added, the picture becomes more clear. And in the end, it’s beautiful.

I want to let God paint.

waiting

I hate waiting. I am one of those annoying people who try to fill every waiting space with activity. I scroll through Facebook while my son is at swimming lessons. I do a quick check for texts when I am at a stoplight. I like to feel like I am moving forward with something. I have been reading through and blogging about the story of Joseph. The more I read, the more I realize that his story is full of waiting. Even in places I hadn’t recognized it before.

When I read Genesis 41, I feel like I am finally reaching the climax of Joseph’s story. Joseph gets out of prison, interprets Pharaoh’s dreams, and is promoted to second in command of Egypt. After time in the pit, time in slavery, and time in prison, it seems that Joseph has finally arrived.

But Joseph’s journey is far from over. At this point, Joseph has no proof that his interpretation of Pharaoh’s dreams is correct. Joseph tells Pharaoh that it will take seven years of plenty before the first year of famine hits.

Joseph has seven more years of waiting ahead of him.

How many times during that first seven years does Joseph wonder, what if? What if I misunderstood God’s dream? What if the famine is not coming? What if my response is wrong? What if I collected all this tax for nothing? What will the people do? What will Pharaoh do?

I’m not sure if Joseph’s head was filled with what if’s. I’m pretty sure mine would have been.

God has a habit of telling us maddeningly little details about our future. It’s a smart decision on His part. He knows that humans have a habit of using whatever details we do know to take control and mess things up. So, he tells us a few things, and then asks us to wait.

Wait to find out if your house sells. Wait to find out if you will make new friends. Wait to find out why He is taking your life in new directions. Wait to find out if your dreams match up with His plan.

Do you know what word is a synonym for wait? Remain.

Jesus said,

“Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.” – John 15:4

So yes, like Joseph, our lives are often filled with times of waiting. But, Jesus gives us a waiting space. It is in the waiting that we learn to connect ourselves to the One who gives us life. It is in remaining that we are able to grow. 

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