Speechless

Joseph with Infant Christ (Murillo)
“Joseph With Infant Christ”, Bartoleme’ Estaban Murillo, 1665-1666, Museum of Fine Arts, Sevilla, Spain

18 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 fulfil 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)

The writer known as Matthew is the one that gives Joseph his moment.  But, interestingly enough, he doesn’t even get a chance to ask a question (like, “How can this be?”)  or voice his opinion or perhaps shake his fist in utter disbelief.  I don’t know if it’s the moment or the Scripture, but Joseph is somehow rendered speechless.  He’s not even given a small speaking role.  Instead, Joseph, who had apparently already decided what he was going to do (a plan that it should be noted in the face of the tradition was merciful and compassionate).  He was going to quietly dismiss her.  And, I suppose, Joseph would have faded into the pages of the story with no other mention.  Perhaps Mary could have gotten help from her cousins.  They probably would have put her up.  And Jesus and John would have grown up like brothers.  It could have all worked out, but that’s not what happened.  Because in this moment, Joseph is handed a dream.

It was apparently a wild fit of a dream.  I mean, the Lord came.  That cannot have been a comfortable situation.  And, true to form, God tells him not to be afraid.  “Oh, no,” Joseph thought, “I have read this before.  When the Lord tells you not to be afraid, things tend to happen–things like the floor of your world on which your standing giving way and you falling uncontrollably into something that you never imagined and for which you certainly could never have planned.  Hold on!”  And the Lord hands him a story that doesn’t even make sense.  Joseph is being asked to step back into the story.  And oh what a story it has become.  Joseph is being asked to raise the child that IS the Messiah.  Joseph is being asked to love him and guide him and discipline him (Good grief, how do you discipline a Messiah?  I mean, does he get like some sort of Divine time out?)  Joseph is even told what to name the child.

Well, I’m betting that Joseph’s first thought when he awoke was that he had eaten some bad shrimp or something (wait, that wouldn’t be…crustaceans and all…maybe he wondered if he had had a bad piece of lamb).  He probably laid there for a few minutes processing it all.  I mean, remember, the verses before the ones we read remind us that Joseph was descended from a long line of dreamers.  In fact, old Grandpa Jacob (like 34 “greats” ago) had fought back, wrestling until the break of day!  Remember that?  And then Joseph got up and moved out of the way and followed.  He had plans.  He had a reputation to think of.  He had a face that he had to present to the temple.  He had a life.  But Joseph moved aside and fell speechless.  And then God gave him his voice.

Advent should be our reminder to fall speechless, to get out of the way, and listen.  We, too, will be given our voice.

You must give birth to your images.  They are the future waiting to be born.  Fear not the strangeness you feel.  The future must enter you long before it happens.  Just wait for the birth, for the hour of new clarity.” (Rainer Maria Rilke)

FOR TODAY:  Shhhh!  Fall silent and let the Lord give you your voice.

Grace and Peace,

Shelli

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