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. (Matthew 1:24-2)
Joseph was perhaps fifteen or sixteen years old when he was engaged to Mary. We know from Scripture that at first he did not believe Mary’s explanation of how she came to be pregnant. Though Joseph undoubtedly was hurt when Mary told him, he sought to spare her public embarrassment or, worse, death by stoning; and therefore he had determined to break off the engagement without explanation, taking the blame himself. But then he slept on it. And in his sleep Joseph dreamed of a messenger from God who assured him that Mary was telling the truth, that the child would save his people from their sins, and that Joseph was to marry her. Then comes this powerful line of Scripture: “When Joseph awoke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him.”
This statement—like Mary’s words, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word” (Luke 1:38)—is remarkable. Joseph chose to set aside his doubts about Mary’s story. (Do you think he ever still had doubts? After all, the angel appeared to him in a dream. I would have needed more than a dream to erase all my doubts.) He decided to commit himself to raising a child destined to be a king. In obeying the angel in his dream, Joseph may have been sacrificing his own dreams for his future, his career, and his family. He would adopt the boy as his own. He would give up his father’s carpentry shop in Bethlehem to relocate to Mary’s hometown of Nazareth. These decisions would lead to Joseph’s fleeing with Mary and the child to Egypt as refugees to save them from Herod. Surely, none of this was how Joseph had imagined his life.
Typically life does not unfold the way we dreamed it would. We move, marry, begin careers; but seldom do these things work out exactly as we had planned. John Lennon captured it well when he wrote, “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans” (from “Beautiful Boy [Darling Boy].”
It appears that Joseph did not live to see that thousands of people came to Jesus during his lifetime to learn of God’s kingdom. He did not know the impact Jesus would have upon the world. But that impact was shaped by an earthly father who “did as the angel of the Lord commanded him” and gave up his own dreams to follow through with the marriage and raise a very special son.
My mom and dad conceived me when they were still in high school. Each had dreams of what they would do with their lives. Neither had anticipated that it would include getting married at ages seventeen and eighteen, bypassing college to raise a child, and working multiple jobs to make ends meet. My dad would work seventy and eighty hours a week. My mom, too, worked to support us. Even in 1964 they had choices that would have kept their dreams alive. The fact that I am alive today is because of their willingness to give up their dreams and to do what they felt God was asking them to do. How could I ever thank them for it?
Sometimes life’s disappointments, the curveballs and detours, are a part of God’s greater plan. Our task is to be willing, like Joseph, to “do as the . . . Lord commanded.”
Lord, guide my life. When my dreams get in the way of your dreams for me, help me to understand. Grant me the courage, O God, to pursue your dreams for my life. Amen.
Today's post is an excerpt from Walking the Road to Bethlehem.