Advent Reflection #19, 2016

advent-series-image-2016

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.

Joseph is the most overlooked character in the Christmas story. We naturally gravitate towards Jesus and Mary, or we’re compelled by the story of the shepherd’s following the star, or even the wise men and their gifts from distant lands. Joseph, though, is often lost in the discussion.

Consider, for a moment, this brief account of Joseph. He’s betrothed to Mary, which means they didn’t share a bed, except for possibly in a way divided by a board as was sometimes the custom then. If this was the case, she probably was living in his parent’s home, while he prepared a home for them. Only when the groom had prepared a home, and met all other requirements, would the couple be allowed to formally marry, and thus consummate the marriage. Sexual union prior to this point was strictly forbidden, under the consequences of death. Seriously. Joseph appears to be a hard worker, a man of good character, and very much in love with Mary. He then has a dream laying the whole scenario out. In short, he is supposed to trust that the baby that Mary is said to be carrying is not the result of unfaithfulness, and that she is still a virgin, as the baby has, in fact, been immaculately conceived – the product of God’s will and purpose being carried out in this most unexpected manner.

What?!?

This was a singular event. Joseph had no examples to look to to gain confidence about this. He would not get to enjoy his soon-to-be-wife as he had expected. People would notice. If not immediately, they would eventually. People would count the months. They would ask questions. Would they be killed? Would he have to kill her? What would happen to her? What would happen to him? Why would God do this, in this way?

Despite all these questions, Joseph follows through on his engagement promises, turning them into marriage vows. We assume that they concluded the engagement quickly, in hopes of people not noticing anything out of the ordinary. The only thing we’re told about this is that, “he took her as his wife, but had no marital relations with her until she had borne a son; and he named him Jesus.”  After his dream, Joseph decided to raise Jesus as his own, to adopt him, to care for him, and to give no impression that he wasn’t biologically his. Wow! Adoptive parents get this part – mentally acquiescing to the reality that though they weren’t part of a baby’s conception and birth (and possibly longer), they will be a huge part of its future, raising the child as its parent, caring for it as if they had conceived and birthed it. What an amazing feat! Oh, but add in the strange marital dynamic Joseph had to deal with, knowing that the child was actually birthed by Mary, his wife, and that he had been there from day one of conception, only he had nothing to do with the conception. Most husbands, even the best ones, I think, would always wonder and struggle with doubts. To be honest, Joseph might have. He probably did! Why wouldn’t he? But the crucial thing is that Joseph was a man of his word. We have no reason to think anything other than that he raised Jesus as his own, and that he cared for Mary in the way a husband is meant to care for his wife, thus providing a safe, nurturing environment for Jesus to be raised in. I hate the expression, “a man’s man,” but if ever there was one, Joseph was a “man’s man.” He demonstrated such courage, humility, sacrifice, and love for Mary and Jesus, and thus for God, that he exemplified, in a small way, what men (indeed all humanity) were made to be.

It’s pretty awesome that Jesus was both born and also adopted. (Adopted by Joseph, not God – no Arianism here!) What an amazing statement about parenting; about God’s blessing on both the biological birthing process and the adoptive process. Later, Paul actually makes use of the imagery that we are all adopted into God’s household, through baptism in particular. This is especially the case for gentiles. God is a God that desires to adopt a LOT of children! Joseph reveals what it looks like to be an adoptive parent. We, too, are called to parent, both biologically, and adoptively. This can open up a can of worms, I know, but simply put, we can all parent. Some can have biological children and do, some can and don’t, some can’t and desperately want to. Some can’t and don’t want to. Regardless, we can all, and should all, adopt. We can formally pursue the adoptive process – which more of us should probably consider – or we can, at the very least, adopt children around us and help care for them. Children who need Christmas presents, Children who need a teacher, or Sunday School teacher, Children in need of a Youth Group leader or sponsor, children in need of a mentor or big brother/sister, children that befriend your own children and clearly need extra love and grace. The world is full of children in need of adoption – of all sorts. If we want a better future, and if we want to model the God we serve, we are to be adoptive parents. If you’re not sure, start with Joseph, for he is perhaps the most important adoptive parent of all.

As you pray today, name children and teens that you know. (If you don’t know any, consider that a problem!) Ask God to reveal how you might adopt them. Perhaps they need a Christmas present, money to go to camp, an encouraging word, a teacher, or Sunday School teacher, or perhaps they need a consistent friend of another generation that will care for them, and in doing so, provide them with tools necessary for growing up and adjusting to this difficult world. Perhaps God’s calling you to fully enter the adoptive process, or to be open to it and wait. Perhaps you’re called to this but the time’s not right, but you know it’s coming? Name children and ask God to reveal how you might adopt them, and then do it! There are all different levels of adoption. Start small and go from there. Finally, if you’re feeling called to fully enter the adoptive process, pray heavily about this and ask God to reveal when and how.

Our Father is an adoptive parent. Jesus had an adopted father, Joseph. We, too, are called to adopt.

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