A Full Yes to Love

Image: Joseph’s Dream (1645) by Rembrandt

Last week, we explored Mary’s Story and her “Yes”.  This week, we explore Joseph.  

First, it’s important to remember that we never do wonderful things alone.  There’s those who came before, those who stand beside, and those who will come after.  It’s all interconnected and this Advent Time is a strange time of  “Already and…Not Yet” where time tangles and becomes, in some ways, irrelevant.  But that’s a story for another day.  Back to first things first.  We never do things alone and we, as people, are God’s Hands in this world.  

As we watch Mary and Joseph continue their journey to Bethlehem, it’s a tough journey. Lots of miles, rivers to cross, heat and cold, bandits.  It’s a dangerous journey.  They have one donkey between them and Mary is very pregnant at this point in the story.  Even though there would have been other travelers, Mary and Joseph likely would have been slowed.  But they wouldn’t always be alone, there would have been other travelers.  There would have been helpers.  

Let’s help Mary and Joseph along the way… (Joseph to next window; Mary to next window). 

Let us take a moment to pause and imaging their journey.  They are getting closer, but they are still a week away from Bethlehem. PAUSE.    

PAUSE.

Before all this, before this journey, we find Mary and Joseph in Nazareth and preparing to be married.  Then Mary is visited by the Angel.  

Joseph has a contract with Mary.   They are as good as married.  He struggles with how to break the contract with the least amount of harm to Mary, while still doing the “right thing”, which is to obey Jewish Law.  

It’s quite a struggle he must be having.  Similar to Mary’s and yet very different.  She is offered a choice to say no, to marry Joseph, and to live as a normal couple (as much as we can pretend “normal” exists).  But she chooses yes, despite what it might cost her.  She comes to Joseph and tells him that the Angel of the Lord has come to her and she has conceived through the Holy Spirit.  She will bear the Son of God.  She is still a virgin.  

WHAT is Joseph to believe?  He obviously doesn’t fully believe her, as he is considering divorcing her.  He also obviously loves her, and is a kind man, as he is trying to find a way to break the contract with the least amount of shame possible from his end.  

We’re not alone in imagining Joseph’s anguish and trial here.  Many poems, stories, sermons, readings, books, scholarly studies, etc explore and imagine this struggle.  

Notice that the struggle he is having is with himself, and not God. His struggle is with Mary, not God.  PAUSE.  It seems he can’t quite believe her story or that he has a part to play in it.  He is required to divorce her.  He must be churning so many feelings.  Why would she lie?  Did she lie?  Does she believe her story?  Did she…?  Does she…?  Who…?  He loves her.  He loves the law.  

To add a layer we might not know , there is scholarly speculation that Mary was raped by a Roman soldier (remember these are not wonderful, blissful times).  That the story of Joseph turns “the usual” on its head.  Mary would have been dismissed and shamed for being raped.  With Joseph, we have a man who says, “No, I will protect her and this baby” to his own reduction in society.  He takes the shame with her.  This baby is still holy.  This is not to bring on argument or debate, but to add an opportunity to deepen our relationship to the story.  

In any case, Joseph is in a whirlwind of: What’s happening?  What do I do?  

It’s a familiar refrain of life we’ve all experienced.  

His struggle is internal.  We don’t get a running dialogue of Joseph’s struggle.  We don’t know, but we can guess.  There are no easy answers for Joseph.  But he does know he must divorce her, as quietly as possible.  PAUSE.  The kindest and least painful way possible.  

That’s love.  He doesn’t seek to shame her or punish her.  He doesn’t seek revenge in his possible anger.  He chooses to simply divorce her, according to the law, as simply as possible.  Maybe that’s his test?  

Maybe there’s a big lesson for us in that.  PAUSE.  In this simple passage an answer for our own lives.  PAUSE.  Rarely do we hear about a simple, uncomplicated divorce where the parties seek the kindest and simplest and quietest outcome.  We hear about finger pointing, anger, retribution, punishment, revenge.  Divorce tends to be a loud, angry affair where the “other person” is always, and completely, at fault for it ALL.  

Although, this may be like the news, we hear it because it’s loud and aggressive and the Quiet Story rarely makes the news.  

Maybe this is the beautiful part of our lesson from Joseph.  How do we come to a decision, despite our hurt and struggle and anger, that is quiet and kind?  Not just divorce, but in all our relations, how do we confront the inner struggle of anger, pain, fear, to come to the most loving and kind decision?  How do we be loving and kind when we’ve been angered, pained, afraid, and hurt?

It’s not a bad decision.  He’s not a bad man.  He chooses kindness.  He chooses a loving path, even though what he must do will inevitably hurt Mary.  He doesn’t add extra hurt.  

I imagine it takes a while for him to come to a decision.  I imagine a struggle of emotions.  Often the hardest place to be in in the middle, between the “thing” and the choice/decision.  But he does choose and resigns himself to that decision.  

And that’s when the angel comes.  PAUSE.  His struggle is over.  He doesn’t need to question the angel or God.  He doesn’t ask for proof (lots of others do).  He accepts, because he’s already done his struggling and come to his own answer.  Love.  Then, the angel comes with another answer for him. Even more Loving.  A different answer and he says yes.  

It’s not an easy journey for Joseph and Mary, but his internal struggle with himself and Mary is over.  Trust has been restored in each other.  Faith has been strengthened.  The door opens on Hope.  

They hold nothing back and love.  Love God. Love one another.  Love the baby.  Because the journey ahead can’t be held back by stagnant half yeses and sticky grudges.  The way must be cleansed and cleared for a full yes to life, a full yes to each other, a full yes to God.  

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