Last night on the CMA Country Christmas show I heard Tim McGraw singing the song – “It Wasn’t His Child” The song reflects on Joseph’s love for Jesus. Love that, when you consider the circumstances, could seem remarkable.
As many of you know – the story goes like this. An angel appears to Mary and tells her that she will have a child. At the time, Mary is betrothed to Joseph and Mary having a child that is not Joseph’s is scandalous. Upon learning the news, Joseph decides to end their relationship quietly in an effort to spare Mary’s reputation. Bible scholar, Holly Hearon, points out:
Joseph represents an example of a model type. In the Gospel of Matthew, the “righteous” are those who behave in ways that reflect the nature and will of God.
But before Joseph manages to leave Mary, an angel appears to him and says, “Do not be afraid.” The angel then goes on to tell Joseph to stay with Mary and to name the baby Jesus. Scholar Christopher R. Smith explains that once Joseph and Mary get married, Joseph becomes Jesus legal father.
As you might know, the first fourteen verses of the Gospel of Matthew provide a genealogy of Jesus that traces his lineage back to David, an important pointer to Jesus identity. It was prophesized that the Messiah would be descended from David.
The fascinating thing to me in this story is that this lineage defies tradition and expectations because it is consummated by love and not biology. As Tim McGraw’s song reminds us, according to the story that has been passed from generation to generation, it wasn’t Joseph’s child. And yet, it’s Jesus relationship with Joseph that makes it possible for him to be the Messiah.
Going back to the beginning of the scripture reading, it’s important to note that Joseph had to be open to a shift in his understanding. Remember, his initial understanding of God led him to the decision to divorce Mary quietly, but then the angel appeared in a dream and a different illuminated a different possibility. Since luminaries are our anchor image for this Advent season, we could think about it like this. The angel turned on a light that allowed Joseph to see something new, something he hadn’t seen before. And then Joseph had a choice. After all – the child wasn’t his. Joseph could have turned off the light and divorced Mary quietly. But he didn’t, instead he believed in the possibility of a different way. You might even say, Joseph believed in love even when he didn’t necessarily feel it.
I think many of us think of Advent as a season of waiting and expectation. Every year we take the four Sundays before Christmas to hopefully anticipate what this year’s birth of God might bring.
But, while we repeat our Christian seasons year after year, I dare say our faith and the way God is at work in the world is not static.
I wonder what might happen if we also used this season to imagine and discover new possibilities.
What if, like Joseph, we opened ourselves to seeing something new? And what if, just like Joseph, our faith in God and belief in love gave us the strength to follow even when…?
May God bless us on our journeys. Amen.