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Lenten Devotions from Fourth Presbyterian Church

Christmas Eve, December 24, 2017

Today’s Scripture Reading | Matthew 1:18–25

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. Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly. But 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. She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet: “Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel,” which means, “God is with us.” When Joseph awoke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took her as his wife, but had no marital relations with her until she had borne a son; and he named him Jesus. (NRSV)

The Incarnation makes demands on us. Just ask Joseph.

Though Mary’s teen-aged fiat has informed much of Advent prayer and beautiful images of the Madonna and Child now surround us, Joseph’s prominence in this reading (unlike how he’s usually over there, off to the side) helps me to think about what this amazing feast means beyond beautiful liturgy, festive meals with family and friends, and some time off work.

The extraordinary events that Matthew relates here threw a monkey wrench into the life that Joseph was building for himself. The way that Joseph meets those events isn’t flashy, and it’s difficult to portray on a Christmas card, but his actions are, indeed, righteous and holy. Joseph wrestles with the fact that a person he knows and loves is different/more/less/beyond what he imagined her to be (verses 18 and 19). He chooses to treat her with love and respect though he would be lawfully justified in not doing so (verses 18 and 19). He pays attention to his experience and reflects on it (verse 20). These reflections, in turn, shape his actions; his prayer life is intimately connected to his “real” life (verse 24). And mystery pervades all of it, with Joseph choosing and acting without completely understanding why or how things were happening or where they would lead.

Joseph isn’t all that different than I am. The vision he had for his life was stretched and rearranged and transformed by the in-breaking of the divine. For Joseph that was manifested in Mary and a baby and angels. The faces and places and details will be different in how Jesus bursts into my life, but for sure, I will be changed. Incarnation will do that.

God, who loves us so much that you were, and are, willing to be with us as we muddle through our lives, thank you. May Joseph be our guide as we make a home for you today. Amen.

Written by Susan Quaintance, Program Coordinator,
Center for Life and Learning

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