Text: Matthew 1: 18 -25

Joseph had made up his mind, we’re told.
Joseph had made up his mind.
In other words there was a decision to be made. And it wasn’t whether or not he would divorce Mary but the how of it. He knows he’s not the father of this child. And so he knows a divorce is called for. It’s not what he was counting on nor what he wanted, but this is what has happened and so he sets his mind to facing it.

Chance are, making up his mind, it didn’t come in a flash but rather, was born of struggle … the hard labour of sifting through matters of conscience, of religious observance, of expectation, the relationships that have been built, all of it shot through with his feelings of shock, betrayal, anger, hurt, dear knows what else.

Joseph is a righteous man, we‘re told … not only a man of his culture but steeped in his religious tradition. He walks the talk. He knows he has two options: the choice either of demanding that the religious law be carried out -- by which Mary would be returned to her father’s house, potentially stoned to death by the men of the city on account of the disgrace brought upon her father’s house-- or, he could secure a written notice signed by two witnesses confirming that he had divorced Mary, sparing her shame, even her life.

It turns out he chooses the latter, for he is unwilling to expose Mary to public disgrace. In other words, there is mercy in the heart of this man. Maybe that alone is his consolation … that in finding himself in this place where he never wanted to be, at least his decision is congruent with the mercy that is in him.

So we might imagine him, his mind made up, ready to move forward, dear knows after sleepless nights and agonizing exhaustion, and finally he falls asleep. It’s at this point that he’s visited by an angel, a holy messenger, in a dream. Notice he’s not spared all the wrestling that has come before. But now, when his guard is down, and he’s not so “in charge,” a whole other wisdom surfaces. And what comes to light is that for all that Joseph knows about what is and what’s called for, he doesn’t know everything! There’s more afoot than he’s aware. “Do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit,” he’s told. “She will give birth to a son, and you must name him Jesus for he will save his people from their sins.” In the space of a few words it comes to Joseph: God is up to something in this child for the world. Healing is on its way! Liberating Love is coming into the world. And Joseph, you have a part to play! Naming is what parents do! Your part is to draw closer, not away. Yours is to commit more deeply, not to disengage. Yours is to be with Mary, and with her to shelter this love, to make a way, a place for this love to grow.

Joseph had made up his mind. And then this happens! … this call to change his mind … to open up to an unforeseen possibility … to a new direction altogether. And it comes in a dream … in something as flimsy, intangible, unverifiable as a dream. It may be all of those things to us looking on.  But for Joseph, it seems something landed with vitality … something lodged in him through this dream with just enough assurance that he chose to go with it … to trust it.

What have you been up to … what are you doing even now simply because you trust that Love is in it … that healing is already on its way?

Trusting, of course, doesn’t mean that the way is suddenly made easy. For Mary and Joseph I’m guessing it wouldn’t be long before the fur would fly … the questions, the rumours, the looks, the judgements … which of course turned out to be the least of it. What it must have demanded of them when all they had was the courage of their conviction that what they were about was something their God had asked of them.

So we too make decisions. We make choices. We set out knowing what we know. And maybe now and again it occurs to us we don’t know everything! It’s good to remember Joseph.
We don’t know what the state of our planet will be in two years. We don’t even know what the state of our own health will be. So all we can do is step out knowing only in part, trusting Love’s capacity to break through. And so it is for us to be attentive --listening for what is being asked of us, noticing what is being given to us --and venturing our yes in the company of Mary and Joseph and this great long line of our foremothers and fathers who, like us, couldn’t know ahead of time where would take them or what it might mean for them … even for the world! In other words we’re in amazing good company even as it is for each of us to make our own way -- but not without a blessing.

So I invite you to let this blessing rest on your sweet head, as Carol Charlton would say … or find it’s way into your hungry heart … or perhaps be inscribed on the soles of your feet.

If you could see
the journey whole,
you might never
undertake it,
might never dare
the first step
that propels you
from the place
you have known
toward the place
you know not.

Call it
one of the mercies
of the road:
that we see it
only by stages
as it open
before us,
as it comes into
our keeping,
step by
single step.

There is nothing
for it
but to go,
and by our going
take the vow
the pilgrim takes:

to be faithful to
the next step;
to rely on more
than the map;
to heed the signposts
of intuition and dream;
to follow the star
that only you
will recognize;
to keep an open eye
for the wonders that
attend the path;
to press on
beyond distractions,
beyond fatigue,
beyond what would
tempt you
from the way.

There are vows
that only you
will know:
the secret promises
for your particular path

and the new ones
you will need to make
when the road
is revealed
by turns
you could not
have foreseen.

Keep them, break them,
make them again;
each promise becomes
part of the path,
each choice creates
the road
that will take you
to the place
where at last
you will kneel

To offer the gift
most needed --
the gift that only you
can give--
before turning to go
home by
another way. [1]

[1]  Jan Richardson, “For Those Who Have Far To Travel,“ in Circle of Grace, Florida: Wanton Gospeller Press, 2015 p 67.