In Matthew 1:18-25, we find the most extraordinary birth narrative in all of Scripture. Nothing else even comes close. As we'll see in just a moment, whenever God gets involved, things get a lot more interesting; stuff starts happening that otherwise wouldn't; people's destinies are altered; their plans are changed; their hopes and dreams become inextricably linked to the much bigger story God is telling. This is exactly what we find going on in Matthew 1. And Joseph, a man we really don't know all that much about, is right at the center of it.
Put yourself in Joseph's shoes. What would've been going through your mind if you found out that the woman you love and are about to marry is now pregnant and there's no way the child is yours? Really, what would've been going through your mind? What would you have done?
I don't know about you, but I would've probably pulled out my iPhone and googled Zales ring return policy. Things are pretty much over at that point. The engagement's off. It's hard to get excited about your fiancé's pregnancy when you're not the father of the child. And I'm not trying to be cruel or even funny.
This is like a bomb blowing up right in the middle of Joseph's relational world. It's devastating. This is the very definition of heartbreak. Lesser men would've walked away, which is something Joseph was right on the cusp of doing, until God intervened.
Obviously, this story is thick with mystery, which is just another way of saying that sometimes God does things that confound us. Clearly, the restraints of the physical world don't apply to God. There are no limits to his power. And as followers of Jesus, this is something we need to continually remind ourselves of.
We are not in a relationship with a God who is impotent. He has unrestrained creative energy. His ability to accomplish what we might consider to be miraculous is boundless. He is not hampered by thoughts of what is possible or impossible; he speaks and it's done. This is the God we encounter in Scripture, and this is the God who shows up in the womb of the impoverished, unwed, teenage girl who was pledged to be married to Joseph.
It's invigorating to know that we don't live in a world that's had the supernatural sucked out of it. God can accomplish whatever he sets out to do. And that fact emboldens me. The possibilities are endless when we believe that nothing's impossible with God.
Alright, let's get back to Joseph. You don't have to be a marriage and family counselor to realize that Mary's unexpected pregnancy is going to be a deal breaker for Joseph. The text tells us that he was a righteous man. All that really means is that Joseph kept the law, all 613 of them. And according to Jewish law Joseph had every reason to end the engagement. So he wants out, plain and simple. According to verse 19, he even begins to plan the breakup. The marriage was off. No doubt his heart was broken.
When our dreams are shattered, it breaks our hearts. It hurts. The writer of Proverbs explained it well when he said that, “Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a dream fulfilled is a tree of life.” (13:12, NLT) As far as Joseph and Mary were concerned, there were no dreams fulfilled. It was all hope deferred in Nazareth. Until God showed up. And I think that's the key. The hinge upon which the whole story swings is in verse 20. Matthew tells us that “…an angel of the Lord appeared to [Joseph] in a dream.”
Prior to that angel interrupting Joseph's sleep, there wasn't a lot of hope for the young couple. It was pretty much over. For Joseph, it was time to move on. Then God intervened. He showed up. He helped Joseph make sense of what was going on inside Mary's womb — the gestation of Immanuel. Wow!
Can you imagine what it was like for Joseph to wake up from that dream? Think about the outcome. This encounter with the angel of the Lord literally changes the course of Joseph's life. It quiets his doubts about Mary's fidelity so much so that he reverses his decision to end the engagement. And in just a few short months he becomes the father of God incarnate. That must have been some dream.
But the dream may not even be as important as we think. And I don't mean to diminish it in any way. But I think God just needed Joseph's undivided attention. The dream's just a vessel. The treasure's actually inside. It's the fact that God showed up. Not only in the womb of Mary, but also in the heart of Joseph. At a time of great upheaval in his life, when his relational world is literally crashing down around him, and he's no doubt trying to make sense of what he thinks is Mary's infidelity, God shows up. He reveals himself to Joseph. He sends a messenger to let him know that all is well, that what is conceived in Mary is from the Holy Spirit. And that's all Joseph needed, because Matthew tells us, “When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife.”
God shows up. That's what He does. We may not know when or where or how he'll intervene, but that's okay. We just need to remind ourselves and remind each other that He shows up.
That's the promise of Christmas: God shows up. In a dream. In a womb. In a manger. On a cross.
In the midst of the most intense heartbreak, God shows up. When you have given up hope, God shows up. When sin has got you by the scruff of the neck and it won't let go, God shows up. That's what God does. And when he shows up, it changes everything.