Joseph is the silent partner of the Holy Family. No word he spoke is recorded in scripture. He was a man, however, who paid attention to his dreams. It is for his dreams that we remember him. Men and Women are different in many ways and there also seem to be some differences between the dreams of fathers and the dreams of mothers: Mothers tell us who we are and Fathers tell us who we are to become. Mothers are about origins/birthing, the nesting frenzy of booties, cribs, gowns etc. There is only one beautiful child in the world and every mother has it! On the other hand, Fathers tend to look to the future and show up at the hospital with baseball mitts, footballs and open college accounts on the day their child is born.
We see some of the same issues in the story of the nativity. Mary gets most of the attention and nearly all of the credit. Joseph gets little attention and no credit at all. Yet Joseph is the ordinary-extraordinary man that God chose to be the earthly father to his only son, the Christ. The thing that strikes me about Joseph is that he is a man who pays attention to his inner life.
I. JOSEPH’S DREAMS
Scripture records four of Joseph’s dreams.
- Mary is pregnant. The child is not Joseph’s child. As he was pondering what to do he fell asleep and dreamed. A messenger (angel) of the Lord appeared to him in his dream and said, “The child is the product of the Holy Spirit so do not fear to marry Mary. ”So Joseph took Mary and went to Bethlehem and the baby was born in a stable in a crowded city. And the angels came to the shepherds and the shepherds found the stable. Time passed. It appears that the baby family settled in Bethlehem, as that is where the Magi found the family, tradition says two to three years later. Here Herod enters the story. He is the stereotype of the “wicked king”. He learned from the mysterious eastern visitors that a “new” king had been born and decides to kill him before he can become a problem. Recently I learned that Herod had one of his 11 palaces in sight of Bethlehem, a fortress-palace called the Herodion. In my mind I see the King standing on the single high tower of the place watching the torches move from house to house while his henchmen did the terrible injustice to the innocent.
- After the Magi have departed by another way, true to form, Joseph had a dream. An angel told him that Herod would kill the child and that the holy family should flee to Egypt. Joseph arose right then and by night took Mary and the child and traveled to Egypt.
- After Herod had died, in a dream, an angel instructed Joseph to, “Go home.” Back they go from Egypt to Judea. Back in Judea Joseph is uneasy about the new ruler, Archaleus, Herod’s bouncing baby son.
- In yet another dream an angel gives further instructions, “Do not stay in Bethlehem. Archaleus is as evil as his father.” So they settled in Nazareth and Jesus was known as a Nazarene.
II. JOSEPH: A MODEL OF A FAITHFUL LIFE
Where would we be today if Joseph had not paid attention to his dreams? Joseph was sensitive to the realities of the spiritual world. He becomes for us a model of faith. Had Joseph not been in relationship with God he could have attributed the dreams to indigestion caused by the pizza he ate last night. Or maybe because of the stress he had been living with. This radical openness to God, this willingness to be led by the Spirit is a critical component of what it means to be used effectively by God. A Hasidic tale speaks of the “faith treasure” that lies within each of us, if only we will pay attention to the guidance given us.
Isaac, a poor Jew, lived in an old hovel many miles from a large city. One night he dreamed that if he would make the long journey to the far-off city, he would find a bag of gold hidden under the bridge leading to the city’s main gate. The man was so poor he had nothing to lose, so he ventured forth on what seemed like a foolhardy trip. Isaac, slowly and arduously, made his way to the city. After many days of walking, he finally arrived. But to his dismay, Isaac saw that the main bridge leading to the gate of the city was heavily guarded. Upset and lost, the poor man stood there under the bridge, hoping for an opportunity to make a search for the treasure. His disquieted presence soon caught the attention of the captain of the guard, who looked down on the poor figure and shouted, “What are you doing here, old man?”
Isaac, in the simplicity of his poverty, told his dream to the captain. Hardly able to contain his laughter, the captain replied, “Why you old fool, where would we be if we took notice of our dreams? Why, only last night, I dreamed that if I were to journey to a small village, miles from here, I would find some treasure hidden behind the fireplace in the miserable hovel of an old Jew named Isaac. Be off with you, old man. Take your foolishness elsewhere!” And, of course, Isaac went home as fast as he could and found treasure behind his own hearth.
The question is how do we become like St. Joseph?
III. HOW TO BE LIKE JOSEPH
Morton Kelsey, in his book, Encounter With God, gives us some hints. He says:
Act as if the spiritual realm exists. Churches are full of people who live as if the physical word – the world of the five senses – is all there is. What if we began to act as it the world of scripture, which assumes there a supernatural, were true. How would that change how we live our life? Would we be different at our jobs? Begin by saying, “There is a realm of realty that is beyond the purely physical world. I want to know more about that realm.” Pray and ask God to reveal this spiritual to you.
Begin one’s pilgrimage with serious purpose. What would happen if we engaged our spiritual life with the same energy that we do our jobs? What would happen? Be as honest with oneself as possible. We must be honest before we are able to face and grow through many things. Denial is the mark of human nature since the Garden of Eden. We hope that if we don’t admit that there is an elephant in the living room no one else will notice either.
Begin spiritual disciplines:
- Keep a journal.
- Keep records of dreams. God still speaks to us from our unconscious.
- Read and study the spiritual life.
- Pray, experiment with prayer.
- Give of time, talent and money to this parish and beyond.
- Practice the faith – we don’t have to get it right every time – faith is a laboratory.
Seek God. It is important to become as open to God as we know how and then expect him to meet us. As Scripture states if we draw near to God, God will draw near to us!” God speaks to us in many ways. On many occasions, I have heard the word of the lord coming from the lips of someone who never knew that what they said had some power for my life.
IV. WE ARE CALLED TO BE A COMMUNITY OF JOSEPHS
Many of us are walking around, hunting and hoping for what might have been or what might be but that is where it ends. The Good News today is that God is at work in the world. The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light. And they are us! I invite you and me to be open in this New Year to the possibilities that God has for us.
Folks in Alcoholic Anonymous speak of the “consequences” of alcoholism. I have a dream that Saint John’s will be a place where people encounter God with all the extraordinary “consequences” such encounters entail. What consequences await us this year? We have new dreams and we have the old dreams that have yet to come to pass. Dreaming dreams is part of my job, but the dreaming of this community is everyone’s responsibility. What is your dream? What is your dream for you, your family, and this faith community?
Dreams require sacrifice. As Robert Johnson puts it,
“Sacrifice really involves the art of drawing energy from one level and reinvesting it at another level to produce a higher form of consciousness.” In 2014 what are we willing to sacrifice that we may become whole in body, mind and spirit?
Here also Joseph is a sign and a model to us. Tradition says that Joseph was much older than Mary. Here his whole life has been uprooted by this mysterious pregnancy and birth attended by angels, shepherd, and wise men. He is faithful to the call of the angels in his dreams. He pulls up stakes time after time, moving to new towns and a new country. He goes back to Bethlehem with Mary and the boy and sets up his carpenter business all over again. Luke tells us that Joseph was alive when Jesus was twelve and in the temple. After that he disappears from the scriptures without a trace.
Joseph, the patron saint of workers, is also the patron of people who keep on keeping on. Those who put one foot in front of the other, day after day, week after week, many coming like Joseph to the end of their life or rope without seeing the thing they have hoped for and had been promised. Apparently Joseph died before Jesus began to proclaim the Kingdom of God. Joseph was more faithful than successful. He is the patron of the doggedly faithful. What a moment it must have been when Jesus went to the place of the dead proclaiming the resurrection? I’ll bet that right behind Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses and Elijah was the man who first taught Jesus what it meant to call somebody Abba/daddy. Pray that we, like St. Joseph, will be open to God’s working in our lives. Pray that we will hear God’s call in our dreams and then with patience and courage follow where God leads in 2014 and in the age to come.