As I listened to Pastor Rob’s message this past Sunday, one word captured my thinking: Intervention. On my bulletin, where I scribble my notes, I put several boxes around the word. That’s a pretty good indication – I know from past experience – that the Holy Spirit has something he wants to say to me about this word, intervention. The context is Joseph’s story as he considers what to do about Mary. Being a “righteous man” (Matt. 1:19) he “did not want to expose her to public disgrace…”
Have you ever been on the horns of a dilemma? That’s where Joseph finds himself. Author Scot McKnight puts it this way in his book The Jesus Creed, “If Joseph continues in his relationship with Mary, he will be called what Jews called the religiously common…They will call him a member of the Am ha-aretz. Such people don’t observe Torah: they eat ham sandwiches, pass on tithing, and idle on street corners with Gentiles.”
The point that McKnight makes about Joseph concerns his ‘reputation.’ As one whose linage traces back to King David, Joseph would have been very aware of his heritage and very concerned about his status in the community. Once he’s heard Mary’s story, the struggle begins. Can you imagine? Everything God has lined up could unravel. Mary will need protection, not to mention physical and emotional support to birth this baby. She will need a helpmate who is as obedient to God’s voice as she has been. She will need the man who is willing to lay aside his earthly reputation (what others think of us) for true identity (who we really are as God’s children).
And that’s where God’s intervention becomes crucial. Joseph has options. We all do! But God does what only God can, and informs Joseph of exactly what has happened to Mary and what his role as her husband will be – to take Mary to his home, and when the child is born to name him Jesus. Of course, we know it didn’t end there, did it?
It would be easy for us to say that having an angel speak to us – or having God visit us in a vision or a dream – would make all the difference in our lives, wouldn’t it? It would help clarify our identity and enable us to lay aside our reputation if necessary. If we’re honest, we have to admit we want both of those attributes to speak favorably about us, don’t we? McKnight says, “The decisive act of Joseph is found in a simple expression: ‘He did as he was told.’” (Matt. 1:24) God’s intervention has empowered him to find his identity in God, even at the cost of his reputation. “Joseph is no longer a tsadiq (Hebrew for a righteous man).” McKnight says. “Instead, he is husband of Mary and the (legal) father of Jesus.”
At Christmastime, when the world is rushing from one store to another in search of the perfect gift, I hope you will take some time, like I’m doing, to think of the wondrous gift of God’s intervention. He’s still doing it today, you know?