This morning, as I stood on a high bluff overlooking the Albuquerque valley awaiting the sunrise, with the sounds of the song "Mary Did You Know' playing softly on the car radio, my thoughts were drawn from Mary, the subject of the song, to her husband Joseph. Not much is known about Joseph and I thought of him and how he may have felt and what he might have experienced on that long ago day.
Joseph was a man, in a man's world, a member of a religious society with a long set of moral rules. Here he was married to his beloved and her pregnant well before the wedding date. Scandalous for such a time as his regardless of whether society deemed him the father or not. According to societies rules he was well within his rights to put her aside publically, to shame and humiliate her. Now it is said that he, being a fair man, did not want to do this, and he had determined that he would put her aside privately. But then Joseph had a dream, and in his dream an angel told him ""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.".........so he did just that.
Now I imagine that he must have thought that since this child was from God that everything would be okay. God would work it all out in some glorious and amazing way. There was nothing to worry about and no need for concern. God has this.
And then the Roman governor called a census and Joseph now has to figure out how to get his heavily pregnant wife to a town 90 miles away, because the census requires him and his family to be counted in the town of his birth. Bethlehem, in Judea. Surely God couldn't intend for him to take his young, pregnant wife on such a difficult journey? How can this be happening? A 90 mile journey was no easy task in that time, and was for sure not something you wanted to do when pregnant. I had difficulty waddling to the mailbox with both my pregnancies and I cannot imagine the stress my husband would have gone through had he been tasked with getting me across 90 miles of ancient roads with probably nothing more than a donkey for me to sit on.
What a sigh of relief Joseph must have breathed out when they finally arrived safely to the gates of Bethlehem. Mary was probably already exhibiting signs that the babe was coming and he would have most likely been desperate to find a safe place for her..........but there was no place. Every room was full. The place was packed. Nobody cared. Here he was with his young wife about to give birth in the street! God? Are You sure this is right? You said this baby was special? You said this baby was conceived by the Holy Spirit? And yet here I am in Bethlehem, with a bunch of other people and there is no place for me to take her! No place for her to bear this child! Surely this isn't what you intended?
Hours later I imagine Joseph, on his knees inside the stable, with the stain of manure upon his garments and the smell of animal waste heavy in the air. There he is on the straw, perhaps holding the hand of his young wife as she labors and sweats and bleeds to expel this child. Surely this is not the way it was supposed to be! I wonder if he knew, as the child at last was delivered, as they wrapped Him and lay him in a manger, as he squeezed the hand of young Mary, I wonder if he knew that just a few miles away, the heavens had split open and angels were serenading a group of shepherds? That the glory of it all had lit up the night sky and struck these hardened shepherds with such an awe and wonder that they would leave their flocks and come and see the babe that the angel chorus sang about. Joseph....did you know?
Or was he sitting there exhausted and afraid, stuck between doubt and wonder, the doubt picking at his soul because surely, if he had heard that angel right, the one he had dreamed about, then surely things would have gone down differently than he and her, and the newborn babe, stuck in a stable 90 miles from home. Did he hover, as I so often do, between doubt and wonder? Did he question himself regarding the dream? Did he question Mary's sanity? Did he ask himself if perhaps he had gotten it all wrong? Maybe the dream was just some crazy dream......maybe he misheard....
I wonder what he thought when the shepherds showed up, there at the stable, kneeling at the feet of the child, their faces all aglow with the wonder of it all as they recounted the story of the angels singing "Glory to God in the highest heaven,and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests!" I wonder what he thought when the shepherds told him the messge the angel had proclaimed of "Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” I imagine that he must have been pretty awe struck by that. If he had harbored doubts, if he was afraid and wondering how in the world all this was going down like it was, I imagine that put a stop to it all and left him in awe of the wonder of it all.
My thoughts are speculation. Not much is said about Joseph. Nothing is said about what he thought about it all, whether he ever doubted, whether he was ever afraid. I expect he was. He was human. We humans are often afraid, we often doubt, especially when we are caught in the hard places.
I have been there. In that place where I could not see what God was doing, or even know if He was doing anything at all about the situation I was so desperate for Him to change, so desperate for Him to make an appearance, to make it stop, to deliver, to save, to redeem............and yet in looking back through these things I find that He was always doing, He was always right there in the thick of it with me, He was always in the business of delivering, or saving, of redeeming. He always will be.
The Christmas story is a wonderful story, a glorious and miraculous and amazing story that leaves us in awe and wonder of the way God planned all that out. But we know the end of the story. At the time that the story was unfolding they did not know all that we know. Sort of like our stories. We cannot see the end of it yet, and we often get scared at the way things appear to be unfolding, how they seem to be unfair, how it all seems just a little too hard sometimes. We should take comfort in knowing that our God is great at unfolding glorious stories, full of awe and wonder, an awe and wonder that is sometimes difficult to see when you are in the story and the end hasn't played out yet.
'Do not be afraid.......step away from the doubt and into the wonder of it all.