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Joseph – Joy

Scripture Focus: Isaiah 7:14; Matthew 1:18-25
One of my favorite Christmas movies we watch every year as a family is The Nativity Story. One scene that has always stayed with me, even after the many times I’ve watched it, is a conversation Mary and Joseph have as they’re resting from their days journey on their way to Bethlehem. They are reflecting on the magnitude of the call that they have been given: Raising Israel’s Messiah. Mary ponders aloud, “When will he know that he more than just a man?” To which Joseph, played brilliantly by Oscar Isaac, replies, “I wonder if I will be able to teach him anything.?” Joseph’s words point us to everything that is mysterious, scandalous, hopeful, promising and yes, joyous, about the arrival of Jesus. It is why, as we celebrate Advent, we center our thoughts on joy. How can Joseph’s example point us to joy?
I think it is fair to say that joy is often viewed synonymously with happiness. Don’t get me wrong, there are times when the emotional expression of happiness will approximate joy, but joy goes much deeper, its rooted in character and nature of God. We see it all throughout the life of Jesus as well. Where happiness is often contextual and circumstantial, joy is more stubbornly present, it’s there when things play out in ways we did not anticipate, when we suffer or find ourselves in situations we are incapable of controlling. Joy is a state of mind and an orientation of the heart. It is a settled state of contentment, confidence and hope. It is something or someone that provides a source of happiness. When joy is expressed in Scripture, it is directly linked with God’s saving actions within His world.
About Joseph; Matthew tells us:
Now the birth of Jesus took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together, she was found to be with child of the Holy Spirit; and her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly.” *
In what ways was Joseph being just? Let’s think about this from his perspective. In some ways, Joseph was well within his right to expect a kind of retributive justice, instead he opts for mercy and compassion. Let’s imagine being in Joseph’s shoes. Mary comes to us to tell us that she is pregnant. What might our first thoughts be? Who is the father? How could you do this to me? What will others think? Our feelings towards Mary might fluctuate between anger, betrayal, jealousy, and even embarrassment. As if that’s not enough to weigh, how might we respond if Mary then tells us not to worry, God did it! Incredulous.
Yet, what we find is that Joseph, even though, being very human, felt a wave of shame and anger, opted for compassion. As Kenneth Bailey put, Joseph looked beyond the penalties of the law in order to reach out with tenderness to a young woman who was no doubt bruised and exhausted.** He sought the route that would bring the least amount of shame and suffering to Mary. His faith was rooted in the knowledge of God’s Word that was also grounded in the love of God. The prophet Isaiah wrote about Israel’s Messiah: “A bruised reed he will not break, and a dimly burning wick he will not quench; he will faithfully bring forth justice.” Joseph’s understanding of justice was anchored in the kind of justice the Messiah would one day bring. The kind of justice that Joseph understood himself to be in need of. Little did he know that he was showing the very kind of justice that Jesus would bring to the world. If we listen, we might even see how Joseph’s presence in raising Jesus had a hand in shaping Jesus’ powerful words spoken to the woman caught in adultery, “Neither do I condemn you. Go and sin no more.” Is it any wonder that Jesus could endure the cross? He knew he was bringing something better into the world!
We know of course, that after Joseph is resolved to divorce Mary quietly, he is visited by an angel in a dream. He is told not to be afraid. Mary’s story is confirmed. God’s rescue plan has begun. Like Mary, Joseph believes. Let’s go back to our definition of joy: an orientation of the heart, a settled state of contentment, confidence and hope, something or someone that provides a source of happiness. Joseph new that the arrival of Israel Messiah meant the long-awaited liberation of not only God’s image-bearers, but creation itself. Something new was happening within the world. It would be messy, and costly, but the long-waited promise was now coming to fulfillment. Joseph’s compassion to deny his rights in order to protect Mary was honored by God. Just as Mary said yes, so did Joseph. It did not matter to him whether or not others would believe their story. His heart was full of the joy that comes from the very life of God.
So, the next time we sing Joy to the World, know it’s more than a feeling that we are singing about. Instead, think of it as a prophetic tune that God, though Jesus, has enacted a rescue plan to save men and women from the sin and death. It’s a song that gives hope that creation itself is being restored. It is a song to the nations. A new day has begun where war will be no more. Our lands can find peace and healing from the leaves that come from the tree of life planted by the river of the water of life, that flows from the throne of the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, whose earthly father was a humble carpenter.
Pastor Mario Alejandre
* Emphasis mine
** See Kenneth Bailey’s, Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes, pages 44-46