Excerpt from Meditations on the Birth of Jesus
Speak, Lord, for your ser­vant is lis­ten­ing. —1 Samuel 3:9

Rec­om­mend­ed pas­sage for Lec­tio Div­ina: Matthew 1:18 – 25.

For a man whose role is so crit­i­cal to God’s plan, lit­tle is known about Joseph. The fact for which he is most famous will be revealed lat­er in Matthew when peo­ple attempt to rec­on­cile an extra­or­di­nary Jesus with his ordi­nary fam­i­ly: Is not this the carpenter’s son?” (13:55).

A car­pen­ter is trained to make plans and fol­low plans. Details mat­ter to a wood­work­er. Joseph’s work reflects his life: struc­tured and well-ordered. A person’s name and fam­i­ly line mean every­thing in this cul­ture, and there is no greater line than that of King David. Joseph rep­re­sents it well. 

Just as he would craft a beau­ti­ful table, Joseph is craft­ing a well-built life. Then a mas­sive splin­ter pierces his heart. 

Joseph’s fiancée comes to him with heart­break­ing news: she is preg­nant. Her demeanor is baf­fling; she has no remorse. The sting of her unfaith­ful­ness is com­pound­ed by her claims about the baby’s ori­gin. Of course, God could do what Mary pur­ports. But God nev­er had. And if God ever did, cer­tain­ly it would not involve ordi­nary small-town folk like them. No, the expla­na­tion is clear. Now Joseph must decide what to do. 

By Jew­ish law, a man betrayed by infi­deli­ty could bring his fiancée or wife to court for tri­al. Con­vic­tion could mean death by ston­ing. This option turns Joseph’s stom­ach. He loves Mary and has no desire to see her die or be pub­licly humil­i­at­ed. Still, his rep­u­ta­tion, his family’s rep­u­ta­tion, and the hon­or of the fam­i­ly busi­ness must be pre­served. With tremen­dous grief, he decides to pri­vate­ly sign legal documents. 

Plan in place, Joseph attempts to get some rest. But both plan and rest are inter­rupt­ed when an angel of the Lord appears in a dream. 

Pause here to ask your­self, Why didn’t the angel appear ear­li­er? Joseph’s heartache and sor­row would have been min­i­mized. His delib­er­a­tion and plan­ning would have been unnec­es­sary. God, we must remem­ber, times things to per­fec­tion, and the rea­son is always for our good. What then might be God’s intent for Joseph in the delay? 

Take a moment to con­sid­er when a cher­ished plan of yours was inter­rupt­ed. Did you expe­ri­ence it as a shat­tered dream, a tragedy, an irrepara­ble loss? This is how Joseph expe­ri­enced the death of his future with Mary. He nev­er saw it coming. 

When all seemed lost with Mary, God inter­vened. The angel tells him, Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, for the child con­ceived in her is from the Holy Spir­it. She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus” (vv. 20 – 21). 

How many times do we wish God would show up to tell us what is going on? We might imag­ine this dream clears things up for Joseph. But in truth, accept­ing the mes­sage is com­pli­cat­ed. Joseph knows the blame will fall on him. Fam­i­lies will be dis­hon­ored; busi­ness will suf­fer. Every­thing he worked so hard to build will become vul­ner­a­ble. If only the angel would vis­it their fam­i­lies, or the town gos­sip! But it was not to be. As Mary’s preg­nan­cy became vis­i­ble, heads shook and tongues wagged. 

A care­ful review of God’s action in human his­to­ry puts Mary and Joseph’s expe­ri­ence into per­spec­tive. Fol­low­ing their exo­dus from Egypt, the peo­ple of Israel expe­ri­enced forty years of wan­der­ing in the wilder­ness. Dur­ing that time their rela­tion­ship with God was tak­en to a new lev­el. Their sto­ry changed. The for­mer slaves learned how to hon­or and wor­ship the Lord. 

What if appar­ent delays and shat­tered dreams are a way of recal­i­brat­ing our rela­tion­ship with God? What if God is delib­er­ate­ly draw­ing our atten­tion away from cir­cum­stances into a respon­sive, lis­ten­ing pos­ture of receptivity? 

Joseph hears from God in a dream and choos­es a dif­fi­cult path. He accepts God’s ver­sion of events and moves for­ward. He takes Mary as his wife and seeks God’s direc­tion and coun­sel as he com­mits to raise Jesus as his own son. 

Through faith­ful obe­di­ence and resilient resolve, Joseph joins Mary in par­tic­i­pat­ing in God’s great plan of redemption. 

Heav­en­ly Father, Lord Jesus Christ, indwelling Holy Spir­it — I hear you whis­per, Your life is unfold­ing right here where you are. I am always break­ing in with some­thing new and fresh and alive. I have pre­pared a place for you in my plan that will give you the great­est joy and sat­is­fac­tion in life. Be part of my new cre­ation!” Lord Jesus, give me courage to leave the details to you and fol­low. May your will be done in my life. Amen.

Visio Div­ina

Spend a peri­od of time in per­son­al reflec­tion on the art­work below. You may find these steps of Visio Div­ina helpful: 

  1. Request. Ask God to guide your thoughts and impres­sions through the Holy Spirit. 
  2. Gaze. Take in the paint­ing. Notice its struc­ture, the place­ment of the peo­ple and objects in the art­work, the shape and form, the use of light and shad­ow, the emp­ty spaces. What catch­es your attention? 
  3. Reflect on what you see. Pay atten­tion to your impres­sions, thoughts, and feel­ings. How does the image deep­en your under­stand­ing of the text? 
  4. Respond and Receive. Car­ry the details of the image with you through the com­ing week in the way you might car­ry a word from Lec­tio Div­ina with you. You may find that God is invit­ing you to pray as the appro­pri­ate response to what he has shown you. What is God’s invi­ta­tion? Receive what God has shown you and rest in a pos­ture of obe­di­ence and devotion. 

In Saint Joseph in the Carpenter’s Shop, Georges de La Tour uses a sin­gle strong light source, a can­dle, to focus our atten­tion on Jesus as he watch­es his earth­ly father work. The use of light and shad­ow also cre­ates the strong ver­ti­cal line that extends from Joseph’s eyes, down his left arm, to the cross-shaped auger. In this inti­mate scene, Joseph is bend­ing down toward Jesus as he drills into wood­en beam sim­i­lar to the hor­i­zon­tal beam of a cross. As a young Jesus holds the can­dle, we imag­ine he under­stands his future as the Light of the World.” 

Georges de La Tour’s art was for­got­ten for over two hun­dred years. His paint­ings were redis­cov­ered ear­ly in the twen­ti­eth century.

Going Deeper

  1. Gaze upon the image. What do you notice? Imag­ine the con­ver­sa­tion between Joseph and Jesus. What are they say­ing? What do you over­hear? If you were present in that room, what would you want to ask them?
  2. Joseph believed his dream was from God and act­ed on it. How do you typ­i­cal­ly hear from God? How do you know that it is tru­ly God who is speaking?
  3. How might God use frus­trat­ing cir­cum­stances and dis­ap­point­ments to get our atten­tion? Has this been your experience?
  4. How would our lives be dif­fer­ent if we respond­ed in obe­di­ence to all that God has revealed?

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Excerpt­ed from the Ren­o­varé resource Med­i­ta­tions on the Birth of Jesus, copy­right 2019 Miri­am Dixon and Mar­garet Camp­bell. Down­load it free or pur­chase phys­i­cal copies.