Monday, November 17, 2014

Speaking Without Words: The Story of Joseph




Six stockings are hung by the faux chimney with care, the upstairs balcony railing twinkles with a hundred miniature starry lights, and the pink tinsel Christmas tree is fully decorated.  Already, the children's Advent box is filled with candy, the snow village is covered in a thick blanket of white, and the velvet poinsettias decorate any remaining flat surfaces. 

Little hands have arranged and rearranged (at least a dozen times) the nativity with its shepherds and other visitors at Jesus' birth.  Even the Christmas gifts are all wrapped and ready for the giving. And on the kitchen table sits my favorite, the circle of purple and pink candles awaiting the first night of Advent. 

All around me, my home whispers in celebration.  The Light of the World is coming!

While I'm sure some of you will roll your eyes at my rushing the season, this early preparation for Christmas is quite intentional.  All the trappings of the season are ready.  Even the weather has brought the bitter cold of winter.  All that is left is for me to prepare my heart for Advent.

Yes.  Instead of spending the whole month before Christmas focused on buying presents, taking family pictures, or decorating, I have more time to focus on making sure my family and I pause to dwell on Jesus.

This year, our ladies Bible study group has been working through Karen Kingsbury's The Family of Jesus.  Each week, we have been gathering to discuss one person in the nativity story--Joseph, Zechariah, John the Baptist, Elizabeth, James, and Mary.   

We're two weeks from the end of our study, and while the book, itself, hasn't provided groundbreaking revelations about the Christmas story, it has served as a wonderful springboard for my diving into Scripture to explore these persons in-depth.

Perhaps because I'm a mother, I tend to look at Christmas from Mary's perspective.   And yet, Joseph has captured my attention the most this year.  

I read through the pages of the gospels and find there is not one word by Joseph recorded in Scripture.  

Mary has the Magnificat, Elizabeth praises aloud when the infant John jumps in her womb at Mary's presence, and even Zechariah sings aloud at his son's--the forerunner of Jesus'--birth.  

Joseph, however, is oddly silent.   It is this quiet nature that makes me pause.

Matthew writes of Joseph, "Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.  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, because 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.' All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: 'The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel' (which means 'God with us'). When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. But he did not consummate their marriage until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus" (Matt. 1:19-25). 

The words "divorce her quietly" and "after he had considered this" reveal an introspective man, a man who, like Mary, pondered things in his heart without the need to make all his thoughts known to the entire world...without the need to convince an entire world that he was right.  

What I often forget is that as soon as Joseph obeyed the angel, he assumed Mary's guilt publicly.   

By marrying his pregnant fiance, he was claiming both the child and the sin as his own.   

For the rest of his days, those around him would label him a Sinner with a capital S.  Even as the years passed and as his family grew more distanced from the birth and shotgun marriage so that Mary and Joseph were again accepted more in the community, I'm sure every once in awhile, he would flinch under a Pharisee's critical tone aimed directly at him or hear his name invoked as a warning to children, "Don't do what Joseph did.  Wait until you're married to consummate the union."

Perhaps this is why God chose Joseph.  Another man when faced with this situation may have spent a lifetime yelling from the street corners to proclaim his innocence.  Another man would have spent a lifetime shoving his young son in the world's face in a "Here's the Messiah!!!" way, like some grand circus act.  

Yet, this was not Joseph.  He did not yell his innocence from the rooftops.  He did not loudly insist upon his personal importance in the kingdom plan.  As far as we know, no one but him, Mary, and likely Elizabeth and Zechariah ever knew and wholly accepted the truth of Jesus' conception.  We are not even sure if Joseph's parents or even Mary's parents knew about the angels and/or if they completely believed the story in faith, although I personally think any parents who raised such righteous people as Mary and Joseph likely knew and believed. 

Instead, Joseph simply continued walking the path he had always been on--a path of righteousness where he continued to obey God and listen for His voice...all without speaking a recorded word for the generations to come to read.

When the angel appears to Joseph in a dream not once, not twice, but three times in Jesus' early years, Scripture does not record Joseph speaking one word to question, to ask, or to reply. He simply awakens and immediately acts in accordance with what God has told him to do.

Even when young Jesus is found in the temple after having been missing for three days and Joseph is surely concerned, only Mary is recorded speaking words of concern when they find Jesus.  Joseph says nothing.   

In our present culture, it's too often about how many people can you get your message out to, how loud you speak, and how many people you can convince with your arguments.  Even Christians are guilty of getting into verbal arguments with other Christians, browbeating or withdrawing fellowship from those who dare to not agree with them on the finer points of Scripture that life-long devoted commentators dispute. Sadly, the "I am right, so you must listen to me" mentality permeates both the world and the church.

And then there is the example of Joseph. 

We who love the Lord with our whole heart, soul, and mind, can benefit from being like Joseph.  We need not insist on our own righteousness.  We do not need to make a huge name for ourselves or loudly proclaim our knowledge of Scripture as the correct reading of God's Word. 

Even if what the world thinks about us is dead wrong, we need only keep walking in the path of righteousness.  Our lives, not merely our words, will most accurately record our relationship with God.

2 comments:

  1. I have never thought about Joseph's choice to become Mary's husband including the taking on of her sin. Kind of like Christ and His bride the church...Cool.

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  2. EXACTLY like Christ and His bride, the church. That precise comment is in the notes I took for Joseph. :-) So awesome how our God works.

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