Friday, December 15, 2006

Joseph's Surprise

Here's another attempt to retell one of the nativity stories. In this short sketch, I was trying to thinking about questions the bible doesn't address like how did Joseph find out about Mary's pregnancy and what happened to the customs of the day? While this is beyond the text, it helped me to see Joseph a real person and not a two-dimensional character.

Surprised by Love

The town gathered in anticipation, excitement: could he be the one? Every birth in the tarnished house of David brought expectation that maybe just maybe the ancient prophecies would come true, and Jesse’s root would bloom once again. Then the royal house of David would once more rule the land, and the darkness of Rome and of Herod’s wicked rule would finally come to an end.

The family waited anxiously for news of the coming baby. Could he be the true Son of David that restores our fallen house? Could he really be the one?

He was not the one.

His father named him Joseph. And he grew in his father’s footsteps, a simple man bearing the quiet dignity of a royal family that had long since lost its status. They were simple people, simple carpenters. And they were faithful. Their lives revolved around God’s precious gift to the His people: the Torah.

Joseph, like his father and like his father’s father, observed Torah. He worshipped the Holy One of Israel. He expressed his devotion through obedience. A man of few words, Joseph’s actions defined his faith. He remained faithful to the ways of the fathers.

In the fullness of time, he looked for a righteous wife from a righteous people. The family must observe Torah. The family must walk in the ways of the Lord. The family must be a trustworthy, holy people. Joseph found such a family. And within that family, he found Mary.

Joseph’s family and Mary’s family entered into covenant. They celebrated the betrothal between Joseph and Mary. As the time of feasting came to a close, Joseph took Mary by the hands, looked her in the eyes and proclaimed, “I am going now to prepare a place for you, but I will come again and take you into my house.”

As Joseph and his family traveled home, an excitement danced in the air. He began to dream. Soon his life would be transformed: his house would be a place joy overflowing with children. This poor man would treat Mary as a princess. The royal blood of the House of David would still shine in their simple life and their simple home.

Months passed and one night Mary’s brother suddenly appeared at Joseph’s home. Marked with the anguished look of a man bearing news that split through his heart, he tried to speak. Joseph assumed the worst: “Is Mary dead?”

“No. She’s with child.” Falling to his knees, her brother began weeping and begging for mercy upon her and the family.

Stunned, Joseph stumbled to the floor.

Soon he began weeping as though Mary really has died. God’s surprise appearance in Joseph’s life was unexpected and unwelcome.

He grieved for the betrayal. He grieved for the dreams now dead He grieved for her family who could not escape her shame He even grieved for her.

He wanted to spare them, yet the Torah constrained Joseph to act in certain ways. How could he act faithfully and yet with mercy toward her family? The dismissal would be a quiet affair. No trial. No public shame.

A weak and weary man lay to sleep that night with a heart torn between betrayal and compassion. His sleep offered no respite. Suddenly his room lit up like the Eastern sky at sunrise and an angel of the Lord appeared in his dream, “Son of David!”

These three words resounded deep within his soul, deep within his blood, deep within his family, and Joseph woke up for the first time in his life.

His family bore the shame of a fallen house. “Son of David” echoed through his soul. It came as a blessing, a song of deliverance. It came as a surprise of love. In these words of life, God’s “hesed,” his lovingkindess, his unrestrained mercy, his unfathomable love brought life to Joseph.

“Do not be afraid to take to you Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. And she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name Jesus, for he will save His people from their sins.”

Joseph arose.

The once dead root, now stirred. God called Joseph forth, and he obeyed. His heart burned from the visitation, from the word of God. And now his mind now raced with a flood of dreams, memories and new responsiblities.

For some reason an old legend about Moses’ father captured his imagination. A similar dream, a similar visitation, a similar command, “For he will save the Hebrews from their bondage in Egypt.” Moses’ father faithfully and quietly obeyed. He received no earthly glory and simply faded into the shadows, and yet his faithfulness made a way for the redemption of God’s people.

Now Joseph has been offered a similar commission.

A loved burned in his heart for Mary and for the baby within her womb. He would lay down his life for them. From now on, his life would be in service of their life. He would name the child “Jesus.” And by naming him, he would legally claim Jesus as his own child.

As the Son of David, Joseph would obey the commission of God and make way for the long awaited, true Son of David to come forth, restoring David’s fallen house and restoring God’s people.

The time, the time, the time. He must hurry.

In a moment, he’s running. Running to his parents’ house, alerting them that there’s going to be a wedding. While he makes no mention of the baby, he explains the Lord told him the wedding must happen right away. Soon the whole town is percolating with energy as everyone joins in the preparation.

Then a few nights later, Joseph dresses in the full regalia of the bridegroom. Flowers and robe flowed around him. The Son of David goes to claim his bride.

The wedding party slips away in the middle of the night with torches, music, dancing and celebration.

He appears at Mary’s family’s house like a thief in the night.

Mary’s grieving family had awaited his appearing for days with terror. They feared the trial, the public shame, the end of their family name. Their feared the curse over their poor, foolish daughter.

But Joseph doesn’t show up as the judge. He comes as the bridegroom to claim his bride.

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