December 2019

 For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life. - Ephesians 2:10

Have you noticed that whenever Angels appear to people during the nativity story they always begin by saying ‘Don’t be afraid”?  Which, I guess, is pretty understandable - after all, an unexpected encounter with a heavenly being may well be a pretty terrifying experience.

However, in the case of Joseph, the exhortation to not be afraid is not in relation to the appearance of the Angel, but another matter altogether.

Matthew 1:20 - “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.”

This comes after Joseph, having discovered that Mary is pregnant and knowing that he is not the father, had planned on dismissing their engagement quietly. We are told that he had decided on this course of action because he was a righteous man and he did not want to expose her to public disgrace.

In other words Jospeh wanted to do the right thing. If Mary’s ‘crime’ had become public knowledge it would almost certainly have entailed a death sentence for her. And Joseph wants to avoid this, however the option he chooses - ‘the right thing’ - would not involve a great outcome for Mary either. Left alone and pregnant, with no man to provide for her (these were different times!) and no welfare state to fall back on, Mary may have survived, just, but it would have been almost impossible for her to successfully raise her child. And even if, by some miracle, he survived, the future prospects for an illegitimate child in those days were not particularly strong.

And so, in to that situation, comes the Angel and tells Joseph not to be afraid. Not of the heavenly encounter, but of doing more than he had imagined possible. Of going above and beyond the ‘right’ thing to do. Of stepping up in a radical way and going beyond what the law commanded of him.

Of course we know the rest of the story, don’t we? We know that Joseph does indeed step up, marrying Mary, keeping her safe all the way to Bethlehem, finding somewhere for her to give birth and then protecting her and the infant Jesus from the wrath of Herod by fleeing to Egypt.

But I wonder if that same angelic message might be being whispered to us today. Don’t be afraid. Don’t be afraid to do more than just the ‘right thing’. Don’t be afraid of loving others with a radical hospitality. Don’t be afraid of imagining a better world and working for it. Don’t be afraid of doing things that you never imagined possible.

And if you’re wondering how you’ll hear that message, how you’ll see the incredible things that God has prepared for you to do, how you’ll find the strength and courage to see them through, the answer to all of that is found in the story of Joseph, found in Matthew chapter 1.

Because Joseph stepped up, and did more than just the right thing, the nativity story proceeds in the way it was always intended, and fulfils what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet:

“Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel,” which means, “God is with us.” (Matt 1v23)

Joseph knew that he could do more than he had first imagined possible because God was with him. May you too know His presence with you and may you too have the courage to do more than you ever imagined possible.

God bless,
Dave Bartram