18This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit. 19 Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.
20 But after he had considered 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 home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus,[c] because he will save his people from their sins.”
22 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: 23 “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel”(which means “God with us”).
24 When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife.
Every year I like to focus on a specific character within the Christmas story. Mary was my focus for many years since all my pregnancies were due around Christmas. Other years I have meditated on what it reveals about God’s heart that the Good News is proclaimed to poor, homeless, and disreputable shepherds. I have thought about the Kings and their pilgrimage. But I have never given much thought to Joseph, until this year.
Joseph is the instigator of much of the movement in the birth narratives - the reason they go to Bethlehem, Egypt, and their return. But he doesn’t get a song or his own storyline, he is somewhat of a background character. And yet, he has more recorded visits from angels than anyone else.
Angels appear when people have a very difficult task to do and hard obedience is being requested. They bring the comfort of God to those that need it most and they show up when God wants to be absolutely clear about what he is asking. Joseph’s experience fits every one of these categories.
Joseph’s betrothed young wife comes to him with strange news. Mary is pregnant through an act of God. This immaculate conception had never happened before and there was no historical tradition or precedent to rationalize the event.
Joseph, a righteous man, decided he would divorce her quietly. Within the confines of the law and all he understood with human eyes - divorcing her was the kindest and most merciful thing he could do. The penalty for adultery was death.
But an angel of the Lord appears to him in a dream and tells him to not be afraid to take Mary as his wife for she is telling the truth. The angel tells him that there are greater things at work here, supernatural things.
And what does Jospeh do? He believes Mary and he obeys God.
Instead of publicly shaming Mary, Joseph shields her and takes the shame on himself. He takes on the judgemental eye of every member of their community that knew their story, every person who could do the math between their marriage and Jesus’ birth.
God helps Joseph show courageous love to Mary not only during her pregnancy but for every single day afterwards. He welcomes Jesus as his son even though he knows that it was not his act that created him. With God’s help, Joseph is able to make space for this little babe, to accept the shame, swallow his pride. With God’s help, he does the hard thing.
One of my professors had a term for the love of our current culture- “squishy”.
He lamented the worship songs of our generation that sounded more like songs about “my boyfriend Jesus” than about the Alpha and Omega. “Love” in our culture has become more about twinkling lights and bouquets of roses, and doing what you feel. Love has become selfish, focused on what you will get out of the relationship. It is soft and squishy as opposed to the robust and enduring hesed love of God. (Hesed is worth learning about.)
The love we see in Joseph’s action is far from soft and squishy. What we see in Joseph is the courageous love of God that comes through the Holy Spirit. He is given strength by God to live out the enduring, tough, covenantal love Mary and Jesus needed. The same love we so desperately need in our world today.
God’s love is a gift, not something we conjure up in ourselves. And the gift of God’s love in our lives gives us courage to love others beyond rhyme or reason, beyond the law, beyond what we can comprehend, or understand. God’s love gives us strength to care in the hard moments, to endure and remain faithful to covenants and commitments we have made. God’s love is sustaining, it is faithful, it is rugged, and it is unending.
We only need to be obedient to the tasks he puts before us and to the things he is asking us to do.
I am avoiding giving specific examples here because this looks different for each of us but I do want to say this:
Courageous love is not foolish love. It is not love without healthy boundaries. It is not love that returns to an abuser. But, it is the kind of love that will find you doing unexpected things, things that are contrary to the status quo or what is popular in the culture. Courageous love might find you on the outside of things but closer to the heart of God. Just like Joseph. Just like many people who have encountered the love of God.
I have found reflecting on God’s work in Joseph’s life refreshing. I had never considered the strength of God’s love in this way. I had never looked at the hard and beautiful love Joseph shows Mary and Jesus, love that could only come from God.
I needed a reminder that the Holy Spirit can help each of us do the hard things, the things that requires love that is strong, not squishy. Things that require obedience, that are beyond ourselves, and create opportunities for God to fill in that which we lack.
There might be things that loom in the future for you. Difficulties waiting on the other side of the holidays. But know this, God’s love can help you do the hard things. The courageous love of God is what each of us need every day to be obedient, to be apart of the grand narrative he has welcomed us into. And all we need to do is ask Him. Will you ask Him for his courageous love?