Joseph is the patron saint of cabinetmakers, confectioners, engineers, immigrants, house hunters, travelers, pioneers, pregnant women, fathers, married people, Austria, Belgium, Bohemia, Canada, China, Korea, Vietnam, Manchester, New Hampshire, San Jose, California, Sioux Falls, South Dakota and Nashville, Tennessee. Joseph’s connection to Nashville seems tenuous. He should be the patron saint of taking chances.
After several months of pretending to be interested in china patterns and bridesmaids dresses, Joseph discovers that the simplest response is, “Yes, dear.” The rabbi and organist are lined up. The flowers are ordered. The honeymoon suite is reserved. Planning for the bachelor party has begun.
Things are going according to schedule until Joseph’s future is undone and his insides torn up by Mary’s unplanned pregnancy. He wants to ask, “How did this happen?” but he does not really want to know how this happened.
He decides to say, “The marriage just wasn’t going to work.” Joseph will find a safer, more predictable wife.
Then he has a dream in which an angel says, “Joseph, don’t be afraid. Go ahead and marry her. The child belongs to God. It’s a boy.”
Joseph is a supporting role in the Christmas story. Luke hardly mentions him. Joseph does not get a single line of dialogue in all of the New Testament.
“Against all odds, Joseph pushes aside the arguments and follows the dream.”
In manger scenes, Mary and Jesus are center stage and Joseph is in the shadows, looking worn with fatigue. Joseph would be more comfortable at a funeral than a birth. In the crèche on the coffee table, if Joseph’s head gets knocked off – as often happens to ceramic Josephs – you can promote a shepherd.
When Matthew describes Joseph as “just and righteous” we picture an earnest craftsman whose carpentry business is all the excitement he wants. The long-expected Jesus comes pretty fast for Joseph. Leaving Mary is reasonable. Ignoring an angel’s whisper is easy.
Against all odds, Joseph pushes aside the arguments and follows the dream. This roll of the dice is Noah building the ark when there is no rain in the forecast, Ruth buying two tickets to Bethlehem, Esther nailing a mezuzah to her door, Atticus Finch defending Tom Robinson and Peter Parker putting on the Spiderman suit.
When faced with the choice of doing what is reasonable or taking a big chance, Joseph embraces the unexpected. When the baby is born and people count the months, they will not think of Joseph as “just and righteous.”
What kind of man marries a woman who is having someone else’s child? What kind of person takes direction from a dream?
“When we think of Christmas as an invitation to be safe and warm, we are mistaken.”
When we think of Christmas as an invitation to be safe and warm, we are mistaken. God’s angels tell us, “Don’t be afraid to follow dreams.” We are tempted to live a careful life, keep six of the Ten Commandments, go to church twice a month, give money we do not need and believe the parts of the Bible with which we already agree.
Whenever we are dissatisfied with a cautious faith, it is because God wants more for us. God offers obscure intuitions that the truth is more wonderful than we imagine, grace is beyond what we suspect and hope is greater than we dream.
Christmas invites us to be visionary romantics who listen for improbable truth. God invites us to stop being so cautious, embrace the unexpected and allow the unexpected to embrace us. Dream of loving God with all of your heart – thinking not at all about the expectations of those who have forgotten how to dream. Dream of caring for refugees, immigrants and unwed mothers. Dream of a church where black and white, rich and poor, liberal and conservative, straight and gay, old and young, and saints and sinners gather to worship.
Dream of a world where people take chances and discover that God is not only our hope, but that God has placed that hope within us. Dream of angels inviting us to take our place next to Christ.