..."and a highway shall be there, and it shall be called the way of holiness; evil minded people shall not travel on it, but it shall be for those wayfarers who are traveling toward God. (Isaiah 35:8, adapted)

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Notwithstanding, Joseph

from Matthew 2

Merry Christmas, Everyone! here is something I was pondering from the Christmas story in Matthew's gospel today...

In this portion of the Christmas story, this difficult and heart wrenching portion, we see God's sovereignty and His Provision amidst the humanity and nobility of Joseph, the earthly father of Jesus. God must have loved and respected Joseph very much for the place that he is called to stand in was a very difficult one. Yet, we see the character of Joseph rising up to meet the challenge in the best way he knows how. God does not have perfect people to work with, the only perfect One in this scene is still a vulnerable Baby who is put into the hands of the two people God felt would do Him right.

The Holy Family is off to a difficult start. An entourage of wise men show up in Jerusalem inquiring where the "King of the Jews" might be. Scripture says "When Herod the king heard of this, he was
troubled and all of Jerusalem with him." Oh dear. This one statement most likely sums up a scene of complete uproar. Herod is not so stupid as to dismiss the Magi as misguided mystics. They know something he does not and he demands they, and the local priests, tell him the truth so that he can make evil use of their spiritual gifts. He feigns spiritual interest in wanting to worship this king and you see the cinematic closeup shot of his face twisted in jealous horror hidden by a wan grin. The Magi have come in good faith, they do not, it appears, understand the rotting political and spiritual milieu of first century Israel. There is no king but Herod. There will not be another king if Herod has anything to do with it. Then God begins to intervene. He warns the Magi and they escape by another path, leaving a tricked-by-God Herod angrily left to vent his cruel anger.

God then warns dear Joseph, to take the sweet family to Egypt. "To Egypt?" echoes Joseph, but he has already faced far more difficult things to believe and so to Egypt they go. All that "it might be fulfilled." Meanwhile, Herod, possessed with indignant, vengeful rage, decrees the horrific slaughter of the holy innocents : no child under two years old escapes Bethlehem and the surrounding towns alive. No doubt "the lamentations of Rachel weeping" are heard all the way to Egypt, Joseph pondering and worrying and keeping watch over his adopted, precious Son: each night never really sleeping soundly but listening for things that go bump in the night.

 Later, another dream comes, the angel of the Lord announcing the "all clear" to dear Joseph. "Return to Israel, for those who seek to kill the Child are dead." And now here is my point in all this: Joseph takes Mary and Jesus back to Israel "not withstanding" says the King James version. Joseph only half believes that God has gotten it straight. After all, Archelaus, Herod's son, was now king, and does the fruit fall any closer to the tree than that? Cruel and tyrannical; murderous and treacherous, Archelaus was not exactly safe. "Does the Good God have all the facts?" thinks Joseph. So just to be sure, just to be safe, Joseph heads not back to Bethlehem, where the only two year old boy would stick out like a sore thumb in the bereaved township, but into the backwoods of the Galilee. And who can blame him? In this we see that God is watching all the way, guiding Joseph as the leader of his dear family, and that even when God says it is safe, overcautious Joseph is obsessively diligent: no one shall hurt the boy on his watch! Dreams are dreams, and guidance from God a luxury mostly for the rabbis, but in the real world of carpenters, knives and swords are real dangers and death a real possibility. And thus unfolds the heavenly story come to earth and the fulfillment of scripture even because of Joseph's overkill. Matthew records all this and notes "so that the Scripture might be fulfilled, "Jesus comes to live in Nazareth for the prophet says, "He shall be a Nazarene."

 Can you see yourself in this story of Joseph? I can. When God says, "Go!" it is easy to ask,
"But are You sure?"
"Yes, I AM"
"But are You, sure, sure?"

 I am not condoning questioning God when He tells us something, but our response may not always be an expression of rebellion but of the very human feeling that we do not want to endanger those in our spiritual care or the work of God given to us. To the degree that this is predictably how decent humans think and not open disobedience, God weaves our moments of hesitation and the resulting detours, into the grand story of His Redemption, "notwithstanding". I reckon He weaves all our downright failures in too, for "all things work together for good to them that love God and are called according to His purpose."

 What is beautiful, and fearful, about this story is that we can see God being God over tragedy and over the tiny, narrow, glorious road that led to our salvation. In all our humanity we try our best, we put our trust in God and obey, sometimes a bit slowly, a bit to the left or a bit to the right, but God is still well in control, well overseeing the details, well able to perfect all that concerns His kingdom. 

The more we see this truth, the more we see that it is really all God and very little of us, and because of that we can really start to enjoy the bit parts we play in the Kingdom of His Dear Son. So find your place, and say your line in the Christmas play, and rejoice in God and celebrate that He is the One who scripts the Christmas and Easter and Happily- Ever-After story
for His People. We are blessed. So very blessed.

No comments: