“This is how Jesus the Messiah was born. His mother, Mary, was engaged to be married to Joseph. But before the marriage took place, while she was still a virgin, she became pregnant through the power of the Holy Spirit. Joseph, to whom she was engaged, was a righteous man and did not want to disgrace her publicly, so he decided to break the engagement quietly.”
Matthew 1:18-19 NLT
So…2020, a year it feels like all of us had a plan or ten and those plans…changed. I feel like the Christmas story (I’m referring to the one in the Bible) is on repeat in my mind. That verse at the beginning, being a huge piece of it. I’ve been thinking a lot about Joseph and what type of person he was. Before I get into that lets reflect a little on this year.
In 2020 we’ve had an unprecedented pandemic. At least in modern times there really hasn’t been a lot like it. We were (and many still are) told to stay at home as much as possible. Children excited for a new year in school, instead, had to learn a new way of schooling from their computers…at home…without their friends. We came up with new classifications for people in the workplace. Essential and non-essential. Health workers, first responders, utility workers, and teachers, daycare workers and of course, car dealers (yes you read that right), were all classified as essential. People lost their jobs in huge numbers. The hopes and dreams of small business owners fell apart as their customers were told to stay home. We all learned that we had to make sure to bring one more thing with us when we went outside, a mask. Couples, so exited to begin their journeys in marriage, were told their hopes and dreams needed to be canceled, or at the least be paired down to a zoom meeting. Friends and family passed away, and all you could do was send your condolences and prayers and on rare occasion, log into another zoom meeting to watch the memorial. So many zoom meetings. The fires of racism and political division burn brighter than I can remember in my 40 years of life. Fear and disappointment. Disappointment and fear.
So…how about we get back to Joseph. I’m betting Joseph is excited. Possibly even daydreaming about being with Mary. Maybe his carpentry is slowing down a little because his mind wanders while he works. Both he, his family, and his fiancé’s families are planning for a week long marriage celebration and every detail has to be accounted for. Has everyone been invited? Do they have enough wine? Is there enough space? Has their house been built? Is there enough food? He’s probably thinking, a lot, about the night he gets to be with his wife and they become one, I sure did.
Then, Mary asks to speak with him. She’s acting a little different, not her normal self. She also looks different, maybe more radiant? Maybe she’s thinking of the wedding night too! Then she tells him she’s pregnant…
He wants to throw up, and maybe throat punch someone. Perhaps like Samson, he’ll go and break some bones with a donkey jawbone. He’s crying…why is he crying? He can’t breathe. Is it hot in here or is it just me? What did she just say? Something about God putting the baby in her. Seriously?!! Just admit you slept with another man, you don’t really want to marry me but you couldn’t find the time to tell me or our family so you got knocked up instead. Oh man, what if the neighbors find out? They’ll tell the priests and then Mary’s life will be over. I can’t let that happen. No matter what, and I can’t believe I’m saying this, I still love this girl. I’ll just end this marriage process as quietly as I know how. I can’t stand the thought of her being harmed. Why can’t I stop crying? I had such great plans for us…
I have no idea of that’s what Joseph may have felt but I just imagine it might have gone a little like that. Crushing disappointment in the face of a wonderful hope. Fear for the one he loves, for her life, and for their future.
This is what I’ve been thinking about. I know there is hope coming in this story, but Joesph doesn’t know that. I believe there is hope coming in this pandemic, but what is hope in? Maybe the vaccine works, and maybe it doesn’t. Maybe the political climate changes with a new president, and maybe it gets worse. Maybe people stop discriminating and make reparations for years and years of systematic injustice. Maybe I get to shake the hand of a new friend. Maybe January 1st, 2021 magically changes everything, but probably not. Where is my hope? Where is your hope?
Maybe that’s what this hope-dashed Jewish man felt when he found his soon to be wife pregnant with another’s child. Where did his hope come from? He has resigned to trying to do things the best he knew how, with as much dignity as he could muster, and then, at what might have seemed like the lowest point, God sent an angel in a dream. Let’s not forget that it’s been 400 years since anyone had even heard from God and BAM!, there’s an angel in Joseph’s dreams. This angel cooperates Mary’s story, and get this, He tells Joseph to “not fear”, and to marry that girl. Wait, what?! It’s true?! Could it be? God sees me? Hope isn’t lost?
We need that hope. I need that hope. I believe that hope comes from the Father, His son Jesus, and the Holy Spirit. I believe He is already offering it, that’s why the name Emmanuel matters so much. It means “God with us.” I find that in the craziest, hardest, most chaotic or painful times in life, no answer to my questions really suffice. What I really want is someone who promises to be right beside me through it. Someone reminding me that I’m not alone in the hard places. Someone loving me IN my pain, sorrow, loss, and chaos.
One of Jesus’ names is Emmanuel.