by Matthew Morgan
The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God. — John 1:9-12
Children of God: Receiving Our Rightful Inheritance – In our final week leading up to Christmas, we are celebrating what it means to have “the right to be called children of God.”
Read Matthew 1:18-25
The cast of characters in the birth narrative is rather long: Jesus, Mary, the magi, shepherds, Anna, Simeon, Zechariah, Elizabeth, Herod and the religious leaders…and Joseph. Joseph is almost forgotten in the birth story. Listen to Christmas music – plenty of songs about Mary, the magi, and shepherds… very few about Joseph. In Scripture itself, Mary sings a song, Zechariah sings a song, Elizabeth offers a blessing, Simeon and Anna offer praises to God, but Joseph is left wordless. No songs. No prayers. No blessings. He is hardly mentioned after the opening chapters of Matthew and Luke, and he won’t be found in any epistle. But he is worth a fresh look. Though he is silent in the text, his life has a lot to say.
Although we aren’t privy to the specifics, we know that Joseph must have had a difficult conversation with his fiancé. Joseph knows that Mary is pregnant and the baby is not his. She claims that she has remained faithful, and that she has been impregnated by the Holy Spirit (hmm…likely story), but he doesn’t buy it. This is where we get our first glimpse into his character. He could have disgraced her. Some scholars argue that legally he could have had her stoned. But he chose to quietly part ways to preserve her dignity. This is the type of man that God chose to be Jesus’s dad – a faithful, honorable man.
But then he has a dream. Joseph has a lot of dreams; in fact, almost every time we encounter Joseph in the text, it is the middle of the night. In this first dream he is told that the far-fetched story that Mary tells is, in fact, true. She is the vessel by which God’s Son will enter the world. He is encouraged to move forward with wedding plans. And as will be common with Joseph, he gets up and obeys, reconciling and eventually taking Mary as his wife. As readers, we heave a collective sigh of relief – I am glad that got worked out. Justice prevails. But we must remember that even though Joseph was given the gift of a dream, it’s safe to assume that their friends and family were not. Joseph is now put in the position that Mary had found herself, defending their purity and faithfulness as she begins to show signs of a scandal. Joseph allows his good name to be soiled and questioned by a community he loves. He chooses to obey and to value what God says about him more than what the world says or thinks.
Of course, Joseph has seemingly little choice in the matter. He didn’t know Mary was going to be that Mary when he was matched with her. And yet, he is faithful and honorable and obedient. This is who he is. And when, in the middle of the night, Joseph is told to take his family and flee his home to live as refugees in Egypt, he is faithful and obedient. When he is told, again in a dream, that it is safe to go home, he gets up, packs his family and leaves. When he is warned that Jesus might not be safe in Judea, he detours to Galilee. Joseph is never in charge of where or when he is going and has little say about the direction his life takes, but he follows where God leads. Every time. He is faithful, honorable, and obedient.
We, like Joseph, experience seasons when it becomes painfully clear that we are not in control. Maybe it’s when we hear a diagnosis or news of a death or when the company closes its doors. Or maybe it’s something that God calls us to – some work or relationship or a bold word to proclaim – that will leave us embarrassed or humiliated, our reputation in tatters. What will we do then? Will we be faithful? Obedient? If so, we will find that when we give up control, give up our voice, our plans, or our reputation for Jesus, then our life – void of words – will speak loudly.