A sermon preached at Lyonsville Congregational United Church of Christ on December 22, 2013 (Fourth Sunday of Advent)
Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. 19Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly. 20But just when he had resolved to do 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 as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” 22All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet:
23“Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
and they shall name him Emmanuel,”
which means, “God is with us.” 24When Joseph awoke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took her as his wife, 25but had no marital relations with her until she had borne a son; and he named him Jesus. – Matthew 1:18-25
A dramatic monologue – in the character of Joseph:
I am Joseph. The child’s father – sort of. At this time of year most people remember and think about Mary – his mother – which is only right. She was a remarkable woman. What she did was extraordinary. But I had a part to play in the whole story, as well.
Our families had arranged for Mary and me to marry – when we were old enough. That was OK with me. Of course I knew Mary while we were growing up together. She was no beauty, but I knew I had little chance of finding a wife any better than her. I was working to earn enough to be able to support a wife and family. It was hard – we don’t own any land, so I had to try to make a living working in wood. It was a trade, but there wasn’t much money in it. But I was hoping we could marry soon.
And then – Mary told me that she was pregnant. What a shock! She said it wasn’t what I thought. She believed it was somehow the work of God’s Holy Spirit. As you can imagine, that was difficult to believe. I was hurt. I didn’t want to marry her. But I also didn’t want to see her disgraced in our community. So, I decided I would call off our engagement, and just tell folks that I couldn’t support a family at that time.
I’m sure people would have thought I was a real jerk — abandoning her when she was going to have a child. But I didn’t know what else to do.
That’s when I had the dream. Now I’ve had dreams before. Usually I don’t remember them very long after I wake up. I’ve had daydreams about my future – like most people do. They were pretty ordinary. I just wanted to marry and have enough to support a family – to see my kids grow up and have children of their own. Is that too much to ask?
But the dream I had that night was unlike any I had before. It was a presence – mysterious, powerful. I clearly heard words, although I couldn’t tell exactly where they were coming from. It said, “Joseph, Son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child she is carrying is from the Holy Spirit. She will have a son, and you are to name him Jesus.”
Son of David??? Sure, everybody in our village claims to be descended from David – we’re royalty! But we’re all kidding, trying to act important. No one really knows if they have any royal blood in them. And what difference would it make? I don’t think the Emperor is going to come and kneel down before any of us, and give the kingdom back to us.
“Don’t be afraid to take Mary as your wife…” I was afraid before – getting married and having a family is a big responsibility. But now, this terrified me! It was just too strange. Even telling me the child would be a boy, and picking out a name for the child!
But I did it anyway. I knew I had to.
So who, or what was it in my dream? How could I dare to believe this was a message from God, brought by an angel? How would anyone else ever believe me?
All I can tell you is, whatever appeared to me in that dream was much bigger than me. It was awesome, powerful, wise, and even scary. I don’t know if you’ve ever experienced that in your life – being in the presence of something so powerful and beautiful that it takes your breath away. I just knew it wasn’t just another dream.
I think it was God because it asked me to do something different – something unexpected – something I didn’t even think of. What I was originally planning to do I had thought a great deal about. Breaking off our engagement seemed logical. It seemed like the right thing to do – the noble thing to do. To go ahead and take Mary as my wife, when I didn’t know whose child she was carrying, and I didn’t know how we would provide for child – that was crazy! Only God would suggest something like that.
And I dare to believe it was a messenger from God because it asked me to be a part of something so important and so – godly. Me – a nobody, with few prospects for ever being more than a nobody. Only God would ask me, and Mary, to do something so important and world-changing.
That’s my story. I was there to see him born. I wasn’t able to be there when he grew up and started this little Christian movement. But I was able to experience some close encounters with the ultimate power behind all that is – in dreams, and in human flesh. A living sign of God’s love.
Robert J. von Trebra