Prepare O Bethlehem – Joseph, A Dreamer and Just Man

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When in bed Joseph thought painfully how to save the virgin from the danger of scandal. Then from heaven came Gabriel, the God sent angel in a dream. He informed that Mary is conceived by the Holy Ghost and the child is the son of God. Joseph when he rose from his sleep bowed with anxiety before the Virgin and said in a loud voice, I do respect you and your son. The father who sent the son to show the right path to all castes is blessed (Matthew 1:20-25). (Translation of the Catholic Hymn sung on the day commemorating the Annunciation to Joseph).

Dear bothers and sisters in Christ Jesus

 As we prepare to welcome the Incarnate God into our lives this Christmas, let us continue on our series by learning about Joseph.

Outside the birth narratives, Joseph is mentioned only a few times, generally in reference to Jesus, Mary and the town of Nazareth. (Read Luke 4:20-22, Mark 6:1-6, John 1:25, 6:42. Please also refer to Matthew 13:53-58, John 19:19, Acts 2:22, 3:6, 4:10, 6:14, 10:38, 22:8, 26:9).

We do not know much about Joseph other than what the Gospels tell us. He was from the line of David, he was a Carpenter, and he lived in Nazareth with Mary. Furthermore, Matthew tells us that an angel announces the good news to Joseph that his wife will bear a son:

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“Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit; she will bear a son, and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.” And this took place to fulfill what the Lord has spoken by the prophet, “Behold,  a virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and His name shall be called Emmanuel” (which means God with us). When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took his wife, but knew her not until she had borne a son; and he called His name Jesus” (Matthew 1:18-25).

We commemorate the Annunciation to Joseph on the second Sunday of December. According to Matthew, Joseph has two more dreams – one where the angel warns Joseph that Herod is seeking to kill the child Jesus, and another where the angel tells Joseph that it is now time to return home (Read Matthew 2:19-20).

Dreams were very common throughout the Old Testament. For example, King Solomon is asked by the Lord in a dream what he wished to have. When Solomon asks for wisdom, the Lord grants him his wish and in addition gives him wealth and power (1 Kings 3:5-15). The text goes on to say that upon rising from sleep, Solomon offered burnt offerings and peace offerings in the temple for all the people. Likewise, Jacob had a dream at Bethel where he saw a ladder that reached far into the heavens and angels ascending and descending on it. Then, the Lord told Jacob in the dream that He would bless Jacob and his descendants and that He would never leave Jacob (Read Genesis 28:10-17).

Not only are visions and dreams abundant in the Old Testament but also dream interpretation. While dreams are considered important, it is even more important to understand the meaning of these dreams. Daniel becomes the interpreter of dreams at the court of Nebuchadnezzar and foretells his demise (Dan. 2:36-45).

Matthews description of Joseph, Mary’s betrothed, is highly reminiscent of Joseph in the Old Testament, who was considered the man of dreams. He was the youngest son of Jacob and Rachel (Gen. 30:24, 35:24, and 1 Chronicles 2:2) and was envied and hated by his brothers in part because of his dreams (Read Gen. 37:5-12).

Joseph played an important role in the story as well.  He was a rather ordinary man, who had extraordinary faith.  In Orthodox Tradition, we hold that Joseph was an elderly man, who had been widowed.  He had children from a previous marriage, (they are referred to as Jesus’ brothers and sisters who in reality were half-brothers and half-sisters, see Matthew 13: 55-56).  And he worked as a carpenter; a rather ordinary life.

Joseph was a just man, and the Gospel tells us, that he did not want to put Mary to shame, so he resolved to divorce her quietly.  Joseph had extraordinary faith.  Imagine the conversation when Mary told him that she was pregnant.  Here she had been raised in the temple.  They were engaged but not married.  And now his betrothed was pregnant and the baby was not his.  What faith he must have had in Mary, to believe that she was pregnant in a way no human being could become pregnant, by the Holy Spirit.  And what faith he must have had in God to assume the role of caretaker for an unmarried woman who risked being scorned by the society of the day.  He had the same risk as well.  He had a job, he had friends, he had a reputation, and all those things he was willing to put on the line because of his faith.

 Joseph’s role in the birth of Jesus according to Matthew is prominent. He is a “just man” and obedient to the word of God. Joseph doubts the truthfulness of his wife’s pregnancy, just as Moses doubts his role as the law give and as Sarah doubts the conception of Isaac. Yet, Joseph like Moses and Sarah, remains faithful to the Lord, trusts in God’s plan, listens to the word of God and follows it by taking his family and raising them in the town of Nazareth.
There are two lessons from the life of Joseph.  First, one can be a rather ordinary person and still make an extraordinary spiritual contribution.  Joseph was not a priest, was not really learned (he had a trade, not a career), was not a member of the temple elite.  He wasn’t looking to play a big role when God tapped him on the shoulder.  Yet, he, too, like Mary, embraced his role.  You don’t have to have a lot of money, or fame or a great career in order to answer God’s call for your life.  And secondly, Joseph was willing to risk his comfort, his job, his friends and so much more in order to care for Mary and her (not his) unborn child.  Are we willing to do the same?  Joseph’s “Yes” to God was for a different thing than Mary.  But it was really no less important.  Because the story could not be complete without both of them.
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An extraordinary person with little faith is rather ordinary in the eyes of God.  An ordinary person with extraordinary faith is extraordinary in the eyes of God.  What kind of faith do you have?  What kind of faith do you want to have?  If you were standing in the presence of God right now, how would HE describe your faith?
I would also like to venture to say that most of us do not have dreams like Joseph. If we did, I’m sure not many of our friends would believe us – they would probably send us to a doctor to get help! Conventional wisdom tells us that otherworldly visions and dreams are “ultra-spiritual” and mysterious and are wonderful ways to experience our faith. Yet, we cannot be certain that our dreams and visions are from God, after all, the Scriptures remind us that even the Devil can come to us as an angel of light (2 Cor. 11:14). Therefore, we should not dwell upon them. Many of our spiritual fathers say that if you have a spiritual vision of dream, do not tell anyone, just say a prayer, and forget about it. In other words, our faith is not in dreams and visions but in Jesus Christ (incarnated, crucified, buried, risen again and ascended into Heaven) who comes to us through His spoken Word in the Scriptures and in the liturgy of the Church.
It is here, in the saving message of the Word of God, where we encounter the everlasting and life-giving good news of the Kingdom of we choose to listen. We must have open hearts so the seed of the Gospel can be planted in it. As Matthew says, the good soil receives the seed, and it takes root. Hopefully, the Word will take root in our hearts and grow abundantly.
Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy upon me a sinner.

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