18 Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. 19 And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. 20 But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” 22 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet:
23 “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel”
(which means, God with us). 24 When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife, 25 but knew her not until she had given birth to a son. And he called his name Jesus.
I grew up in the Pacific Northwest, in Spokane Washington. The place where we lived, in fact, the whole surrounding area, was filled with ponderosa pine trees. When mature, these trees are very tall and wide-reaching upwards of 100 feet and are perfect for climbing.
My friends and I would often climb the trees with the unspoken dare to see how high we could go. At the base of the tree, the branches are thick and solid, and the climbing is easy, but as you can imagine, the branches towards the top are skinny and can’t hold much weight. The higher a person went, the riskier things became as the branches became smaller and thinner, not to mention that the tops of the trees would sway back and forth at the slightest breeze, but if you wanted to go higher you needed to risk trusting that the next branch up would hold.
That’s the image that I have in mind for Joseph in this passage. He is being asked to take a tremendous risk and climb higher. Luke’s Gospel account of Jesus' birth focuses on Mary and her experiences, but Matthew’s Gospel gives us Joseph’s story. Up until this point, Joseph has been climbing in some pretty safe territory but now he has some doubts and concerns given Mary’s surprising pregnancy. Put yourself in his position in a culture that is based on shame and honor. Your betrothed has just informed you that she is pregnant and, she claims, that it’s from the Lord. What would you think? How would you respond?
I love this picture of Joseph. It’s clear that he is a good guy, “a just man,” and unwilling to put Mary to shame. In keeping with his character, Joseph is trying to find a way out for both of them, a way that saves face for him and a way that protects Mary.
And while he is thinking through all the options, suddenly, an angel of the Lord appears to him in a dream and asks him to risk everything and climb a bit higher than he ever dared.
And Joseph does; he trusts the Lord, that the Lord is working and moving in this surprising way.
That’s revealed to us in the name given to Jesus; Immanuel. Matthew’s Gospel has a very Jewish perspective, so the name Immanuel given to Jesus is important and tells us something about Jesus’ identity. Immanuel is mentioned in Isaiah 7:14 and 8:8; the meaning of the name is God with us and says much about Jesus. One of the themes of Matthew’s Gospel is to express that God is present with His people, in their midst, actively working and moving in surprising ways. In fact, at the end of the Gospel, we shouldn’t be surprised that Jesus’ last encouragement to the disciples, and us, is that He is with us always, to the end of the age.
That’s really the thing that is settling with me this morning. God is present with us—with you! He is working and moving in ways that are surprising. We saw that yesterday in the history of Jesus’ ancestry and today as Joseph was asked to risk, placing his trust in the Lord.
Jesus is present with you, asking you to place your trust in Him, to risk and reach a little higher as you listen to His voice and follow where He leads.
It might be that Jesus is asking you to risk trusting Him with a deeply personal matter that you are wrestling with in your own heart and mind. It might be that Jesus is asking you to risk trusting Him with your finances, your marriage, your health, your career choices, or with your children.
Perhaps you’re being asked to risk trusting Jesus by saying “no” when everyone else around you thinks it’s not a problem. Perhaps you’re being asked to trust Jesus in a difficult conversation with a friend whose behavior and choices need attention. Or perhaps you’re being asked to risk trusting Jesus by sharing your faith in the face of opposition.
Every day we’re asked to trust Jesus just a little bit more, to climb a little higher. But when that happens, remember this; God is present with you…, always.
God bless you, and know that you are constantly in my prayers.