It was more than just the dream for Joseph that led him to take the young, pregnant Mary into his home – even as he knew that his decision would not be understood by his neighbors and that he would be mocked and ridiculed for welcoming Mary. No person wants to be seen as a fool. Yes, the angel appeared in a dream and certainly there must have been the glory and power of God revealed but God never overwhelms our volition. God never manipulates. God always invites our free choice and our free response.
The other part to Joseph’s decision was Joseph himself. This is witnessed by the two descriptions of the man found in the Gospel reading for this fourth Sunday of Advent; “…Joseph her husband, since he was a righteous man…” and the title given by the angel in his greeting, “Joseph, Son of David…” Scholars say that the title offered by the angel is Matthew’s way of linking Jesus to the lineage of David but it is also safe to say that the greeting offered is a reflection on Joseph himself as being an observant Jew of his time, as being a righteous man who demonstrated by his life and his choices his belief in God.
Joseph, who says no words in all of Scripture, teaches us that God does not and will not overwhelm our volition nor does faith occur in a vacuum. What led up to Joseph’s ability to both hear and trust in the dream and then to take Mary “into his home” was a lifetime of making the choice for God and responding to God’s initiative and grace in faith and trust.
We often willfully forget that we have a part to play in the equation of faith. So often we say, “Why is God silent? Why is God not speaking in our world or in our lives?” Well, maybe God is speaking but it is we who have stopped our ears and it is we who have hardened our hearts by the choices we have made and continue to make. Choices have consequences.
I think it safe to say that every choice Joseph made for God (no matter how big or small, seen or unseen, applauded or not) in his journey of faith both led up to and prepared him for the moment we hear today in the gospel. All those choices gave Joseph the strength of character to trust in the message of the angel and to take Mary “into his home”.
We hear of the Star of Bethlehem that led the wise men to the place of the birth of the savior. Joseph had his own “north star” that guided him throughout the journey of his life. It was his faith and his decision to live according to his faith. Without a word spoken, Joseph teaches us what it means to be righteous in the eyes of God and what it means to be a child of David – it means trusting in God and then acting on that trust.
Faith does not occur in a vacuum.
God does not overwhelm our volition and God does not manipulate.
Our choices do have consequences.
We can make the choice to soften our hearts and open our ears and to listen to what God has to offer.
Joseph teaches us this.