We have almost reached the end of our Advent journey, but we still have a few days left. The good news is we have managed to keep the candles burning, which means we still have some hope, peace, joy, and, most importantly, love left to give. Our Advent journey has been about waiting and preparing for the coming of the Christ child in just a few days. This time of year can be busy with decorations, gifts, and parties, but I hope you could take some time to slow down and meditate on the extraordinary event that is still yet to come.
Last time we focused on Mary and her yes to the angel when she was asked to be the mother of her Lord and Savior. We talked about the importance of walking in the light of God’s will in our lives, even if we do not know the end of the story. God spoke to God’s servant, and she answered the call. She had questions, as I am sure we all do, but she still said yes.
Today we come face to face with an often-overlooked character in the story of Jesus’ birth, Joseph. I tend to feel bad for Joseph because he is all but forgotten in the story. Mary and Jesus take center stage, and poor Joseph is relegated to a subordinate position, but Joseph also has a calling.
Scripture does not reveal much about Joseph, so we must rely on tradition in our biographical sketch. First, we know that Joseph and Mary were from the same town. Second, we know he was a carpenter by trade and was older than Mary. Third, we know he was a widower and that there are children, but the number is uncertain. Finally, we know that he became engaged to Mary, and looking back, we might understand that Joseph was chosen for this role by God.
Joseph is a reluctant member of the cast in this great story. When he finds out about Mary’s condition, he wants to divorce her, which certainly is his right under the law of the day. But he has compassion for Mary and her family. He is willing to “send her away” to avoid embarrassing situations for Mary and her family. There is an assumption that he was willing to pay for their relocation.
But then, the second of three dream sequences begins, and the same angel that appeared to Mary comes to Joseph in a dream. The angel tells Joseph that all will be well. Mary tells the truth, and the child she carries is to grow up to do great things. Joseph awoke from his dream and took Mary into his own home.
Joseph’s next scene is when the couple is on their way to Bethlehem to be counted as part of the census. Joseph is very protective of his new wife, although he forgot to make a reservation at a local B & B, so they are forced to go door to door looking for accommodations. Finally, they do find a place, and Mary goes into labor. The child is born, and all seems to be well. But, then, all manner of folk start to show up.
It must have been confusing for Joseph and Mary. Sure, they knew their newborn son was to be someone special, but I am not sure they knew all the details, and now, all these people are coming around. They were far from home, without family, and I am sure they were a little scared. But Joseph takes Jesus into his heart as any father does with his child.
I recently saw a depiction of the night that Jesus was born. It was Joseph, holding Jesus in front of him to look into the child’s face. Behind him, almost out of focus, is Mary asleep on the crude bed they fashioned. Joseph is looking at Jesus as if saying, I am here and will not let anything happen to you. No matter what he thought before this point in the story, Joseph is now all in, and he has become the protector of Jesus.
We get brief glimpses of Joseph after this. We see him when the angel again tells Joseph to take the child and his mother and flee to Egypt to avoid Herod and his dastardly plan to kill the child. Joseph does as directed, and this young family, although tradition tells us it is several years after the birth of Jesus and does as directed. They do what they need to protect their family; they leave everything they own and everyone they know and go to Egypt. We do not know how long they are there, but eventually, they come home.
Joseph does what any parent would do, takes care of their children.
I mentioned earlier that Joseph was a reluctant participant in the story, and I take great comfort in that. There is an old saying that God does not call the equipped, God equips the called, and I believe that with my whole heart. Joseph rightfully so had many, many questions, but he trusted in God, and God did not let him down. In many ways, the yes of Joseph is just as important as the yes of Mary. They both have a choice and choose to follow God’s will.
Today’s Advent theme is love, and we see that expressed in what Joseph did. Joseph loves God and his young, new family and risked it all to say yes. He risked his reputation, and he risked his life. But, like Mary’s yes, Joseph’s yes changed not only his life but the world.
There is no mistake that love is the final theme of the four weeks of Advent because without love, none of the rest matters. Unfortunately, we have many examples of people claiming to be Christians, going through the motions but not expressing this sacrificial love we experience this season. In the examples of Mary and Joseph, we see two people not living for themselves but living for another. We see an example of how we surrender our will to God’s will, regardless of the cost.
Today we light the final candle in our Advent Wreath, and it seems fitting that tonight, our Jewish brothers and sisters light the first candle of Hanukkah. The center candle on the menorah is the Shamash, the candle that lights all the others. Without the Shamash, none of the other candles will be lit. So be the Shamash, the one who helps others and the one who lights their way.
I hope you know by now that it is my sincere belief that Love is central to the message of the Gospel. Without love, none of it makes any sense. Love is the only answer—everything that Jesus did, he did out of love. What Joseph did, he did out of love, and everything we do, we have to do out of love. It is really that simple.