Today, I am sharing the fourth and last in a series of Christmas articles about stirring up hope and devout belief again in the Christmas Season. The first three blogs were Can We Make Christmas Meaningful Again? Stories of God Breaking In, How to Get Hope Back in Your Life: A Christmas Message of Hope for 2021, and The Visit of the Wise Men | Revelation of New Life in Jesus. Today, I want to end this series with writing about Joseph, father of Jesus.
The story of Joseph is one that is often passed over or just given a brief nod. “He was a good guy, humble and decent, and didn’t put Mary out,” people note. But, I think the scriptures are saying so much more about him.
Joseph had supernatural experiences
Yes, he was humble, and decent, and good apparently. Matthew 1:19 is translated several different ways, but the words just, righteous, and good are all used to describe Joseph. The fact that he didn’t want to shame Mary after discovering she was pregnant prior to their marriage is further appreciated by many.
However, when we read on and discover his encounter with the angel of the Lord and his dream instructions from God, it becomes clear that we shouldn’t brush him off as a minor character. No, in fact, we ought to meditate deeply on the combination of his supernatural encounters and on his observance of the Law. Can we find more of Joseph’s way of living for ourselves with God’s help?
What is the story of Mary and Joseph?
“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.” (Matthew 1:18 NIV)
The angel Gabriel had visited Mary and told her that she would have a baby. She was pledged to be married (betrothed) to a man name Joseph, a descendant of King David. (Luke 1:26-24) This is important information as Mary was just betrothed not married. However, in those days, that connection was considered much stronger than an engagement of today. It took a divorce to end it.
Joseph wanted to deal with Mary humanely
The betrothed couple was not to be sexually active like a husband and wife. Apparently, Joseph and Mary had not been as Joseph was very upset by Mary’s admission about being pregnant. He didn’t want to shame her publicly. But, he did want to divorce her quietly once he learned her news.
Joseph was a man faithful to the Law, however, Matthew 1:19 is saying more than that. He was a just man, “just” meaning righteous, holy, and innocent. But additionally, it also meant fair, equitable, and kind according to Strong’s Concordance. Though the Law had a lot to say about what the punishment should be for a sexually active, unmarried woman (see Deuteronomy 22:13-21 for example) Joseph had no desire to harm Mary. He adhered to the Law but he was also kind.
Nevertheless, Joseph wanted a way out
However, Joseph did want to divorce Mary quietly. To receive an already pregnant wife would be a disgrace. Her coming to the marriage pregnant was a terrible breaking of the Law and Joseph was a man as faithful to it as he could be.
Yet, he was also a man who heard God beyond the reading of scripture. He heard God in his dreams.
What did God tell Joseph about Jesus?
As Joseph pondered divorcing Mary, he had the first of several dreams. The first dream was vivid and clear enough for Joseph to completely leave his plans for divorce behind. He embraced Mary and the idea that he would have a divine son created by the Holy Spirit.
“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. 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.'” (Matthew 1:20-21)
The Bible then goes on to say that the way in which Jesus would be born was happening in order to fulfill prophecy. “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him ‘Immanuel,’ (which means ‘God with us.’)” (Matthew 1:23 NIV)
God still speaks to us in dreams
What happened to Joseph is wonderful. God spoke to him as he slept. In fact, he was vividly visited by the “angel of the Lord” in his dream while sleeping. Some see “the angel of the Lord” as Christ Himself.
No matter the identity of this angel, Joseph, a man of scripture and obedience, heard God in his dreams and took it seriously. He was not a man of the Word only or a man of the Spirit only. He honored both means of hearing God speak to him.
Joseph protected Mary because of his dream
The Bible says, “When he woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife.” (Matthew 1:24 NIV)
Joseph’s dream encounter is neither a rare or an extinct event. Many people have dreams that, as they think about them, they realize them to be messages from God. It is good, like Joseph, to believe that this is yet one more “today” way for God to speak to us and don’t discount it. Nurture this path. Ponder your dreams!
A book that might help you to be more sensitive to your own dreams and look to them for God’s voice is: The Mystery of Dreams: A Teaching and Journaling Experience.
As we nurture ourselves in thinking about dreams, noticing signs to which God calls our attention, and other supernatural parts of our lives, life gets more exciting. We realize God is talking all the time in various ways. He is trying to reach our hearts and minds to guide and protect us. God wants to encourage us.
Joseph had three more dreams
In these opening chapters of the Gospel of Matthew, three more dreams of Joseph are described.
After the magi, or wise men, came to worship the Christ child, God warned them not to return to King Herod, but to go home by another way. This warning came to the Magi in a dream. Joseph, then, had his own dream. He heard, “Get up and take the child and his mother to escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.” (Matthew 2:13 NIV)
Once again, the constantly obedient Joseph got up during the night and took Mary and Jesus to Egypt.
Joseph and Mary stayed in Egypt
The holy family remained in Egypt. Matthew sees this as another fulfillment of the hundreds of prophecies about Jesus. In Hosea 11:1 it had been written, “Out of Egypt, I called my son.”
Herod became furious when he realized the Magi had bypassed him to return back to their native land. To make sure that he did discover and destroy the competing baby king, he had all babies and young boys two and under killed.
Once Herod died, Joseph had his third dream of this season. He heard the angel of the Lord say this time, “Get up, take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel, for those who were trying to take the child’s life are dead.” (Matthew 2:20 NIV)
A dream led Jesus to be called the Nazarene
Finally, God, through the angel of the Lord, gave Joseph one more bit of guidance during this infancy and young child season. In a dream, Joseph got the warning not to stay in Judea, but to go to the Galilee district. The son of Herod, Archelaus was ruling in his place and he was just as bad. To be safe, Joseph was directed to the area of Galilee, to the town of Nazareth.
So, here is a man who saw his obedience to God to be guided by two things – the Word and the Spirit. Joseph wanted so much to be faithful and righteous in all matters. Rather than simply reading scripture and ignoring other signs and evidences of God’s guidance, Joseph was tuned in sharply to the voice of the Lord from other sources.
We can be people led like Joseph today
My concern for many modern people is that God is still giving signs, sending prophetic dreams, and speaking in unusual ways. But people let themselves get so distanced from the supernatural that they often miss out on this. Don’t be afraid to ponder something to which God calls your attention.
I’ve told this story before, but for a long time, God would cause me to find two pennies in many places where I went to minister. They were like the widow’s two copper coins (Luke 21:1-4). I felt God saying through them, “I’m pleased with what you are trying to do. He was encouraging me. But I could have brushed off that sign. I chose not to.
Joseph is a wonderful example of a man determined to obey God – using the Word (scripture) and the guidelines of his spiritual community to do it. But, he also listened for God in the realm of dreams, a more unusual pathway.
How about you? Are you looking to sensitize yourself to encounter God in a variety of ways? You’ll find your hopes rise when you look for God to speak to you again and again in a multitude of ways. The spiritual gifts ARE for today.
This Christmas, consider Joseph
Merry Christmas to you!
As you experience this Christmas, ask yourself and God, “Could I be more like Joseph? Could I be more closely guided, warned, and protected? Lord, will you open my eyes that I might see more too?”
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Church Attendance Strengthens Spiritual Health
Coping with Difficult Feelings During Holidays
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