18 December – Poor, poor Joseph

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 fulfil 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.

(Matthew 1.18-24)

He could have done it but in his heart he didn’t want to. Just because she was pregnant didn’t mean he loved her less. But he had to make a decision. Would he stay with her or let her go? It was a disaster in the making. Whatever he chose to do he would be wrong. If he let her go then what would her life be like – a young girl and a child, no man in the background. She’d be on the street trying to eke out an existance. Family and friends would want nothing to do with her, or her child. It was a terrible prospect. But if he let her stay, if she had her child and the child lived, he could end up the laughing stock. They were not fools, they would all talk. And he was old and she was young and they would know and perhaps they would all end up having to leave.

In the musical ‘Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat’ there is a song with the chorus

Poor, poor Joseph, what’cha gonna do?
Things look bad for you, hey, what’cha gonna do?

It could have been written of another Joseph in another age. The dilemma that faced him was impossible. Heads he won, tails she lost. It was awful. And he was a good man, a righteous man and she was a good woman, a righteous woman. Poor, poor Joseph.

Poor, poor Joseph!

Poor, poor Joseph!

His forbear, Joseph, sold into slavery, was a dreamer. His brothers hated him for it but in the end his dreams saved him and them. Joseph too was a dreamer. And in his dream an angel appears and tells him to do the radical thing, to have faith in God’s purposes, to trust his better instincts, to do right by Mary and the child yet to be born. The angel didn’t say that it would be easy but the impicaton was that it would be right. Joseph had the confidence and the courage to listen, to take what the angel, what his dreams told him and to respond in the right way.

The prophet Joel says

I will pour out my spirit on all flesh;
your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
your old men shall dream dreams,
and your young men shall see visions.

(Joel 2.28)

It isn’t wrong to dream, it isn’t fanciful to have visions of what can be, it is isn’t pointless to listen for the voice of the Lord. Jung was right when he said of dreams that

“they show the inner truth and reality of the patient as it really is: not as I conjecture it to be, and not as he would like it to be, but as it is.”
― C.G. Jung, Memories, Dreams, Reflections

Truth and reality – that is what was revealed to Joseph. He dreamt and when he awoke he acted and did what was right and God was with him and God is with us. You are righteous, act righteously. As together we are Bethlehem bound, choose not the easiest path but the right path and if an angel speaks, listen.


God, in the decisions I have to make today
point me in the right direction
and give me the courage, the clarity
and the righteousness of Joseph.

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