Advent IV


Well, are you ready?


Wednesday is coming quickly and we all want to make sure we are doing things the way we are supposed to.


These are the days we try to cross off those last couple of items from the wish list.


We want to make sure we get everyone the right gift and in the right shade as well.


These are the days when old recipe cards come out that no one is exactly sure what the directions mean but folks will notice if it’s not made the way it’s always been.


These are the days when all of the Christmas decorations are carefully pulled out of storage and each ornament must go in the right spot.


This heavy one must go on the lower, stronger branches.


The Packer’s ornament can’t be too close to the Viking ornament or there will be another fight like last year.


The one made out of a milk bone needs to be up higher than a golden retriever on its hind legs.


In these days we fall back on well-worn paths and practices.


We know what we must do and we want to do it right.


Joseph would fit in well with this season.


When Matthew calls him a righteous man it is a weightier term than we know.


It means more than Joseph always did the right thing.


It means that Joseph knew the right thing to do in almost every situation.


Being a righteous man in Joseph’s time meant you not only knew the bible, or the Torah to him, but also the Talmud, which is simply a commentary on the Torah, and probably even quite a bit of midrash, which even more commentary on the Talmud which you will recall is commentary on the Torah.


It would be like this:


Say Joseph was decorating the tree.


He would not only know where all of the ornaments are supposed to go but he would know when they were first put there and by who. He would know about the time someone tried to put them in the wrong place and who corrected them. And we would know where to get a replacement for every single ornament on the tree and how to recreate the homemade ones.


Joseph was a righteous man.


He knew what he must do and knew how to do it right.


And this is what he had done so far.


He has initiated the betrothal sequence with Mary in just the right way.


We can presume that he is exactly on pace to make and sell the precise number of tables and chairs in order to save up the exact amount of money for the dowry.


Everything looks right.


And then, he encounters something a little more complicated than a Christmas tree.


He discovers Mary is pregnant.


And he knows that he is not the Father.


His brain whirs into motion as he contemplates the points, counterpoints and counter-counter points of the situation.


He knows his options, none of them are very pleasant.


He could have Mary stoned to death, as would be his right.


But no, that seems harsh.


She was still the woman he had wanted to spend his life with.


But the rules are clear:


She must be dismissed.


It needn’t be a spectacle but it needs to happen nonetheless.


He knew what he must do and he knew how to do it right.


Just as he has his mind made up, an angel visits him.


“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. She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”


A part of me wonders if Joseph had the angel check his work but we are not told there was any resistance to the winged one’s instructions.


No, Joseph knows now that it was not Mary’s infidelity to him that caused this but God’s fidelity to his people.


This embarrassment that Joseph was about to dismiss quietly would soon become the glory of his people and the crown of his ancestors.


The God, who had given Joseph all of these laws which had made him a righteous man was now calling him to a new righteousness.


And Joseph followed the calling.


He had been transformed in encountering the good news and did exactly what the angel told him to do.


Tom Long says that Joseph becomes, therefore, a model for the Christian life, He learns that being truly righteous does not mean looking up a rule in a book and then doing the “right thing”; it means wrestling with the complexities of a problem, listening for the voice of God and then doing God’s thing.


God’s call to Joseph and to all of his adopted son’s disciples is to look passed right and wrong and look for God in every situation.


Our first questions should be, “where is God in this? Where is he healing, where is he showing mercy? Where is he saving?


God has called us to a deeper, harder way of navigating this complex world.


For Christians, being righteous is never simply being pure and good in the abstract; genuine righteousness is always joining with God to God’s work in the world.


On Wednesday, we will celebrate the reality that God chose to join in all of the messiness of this life.


Joseph reminds us that we too will be called not into the clouds speculation but into the all the places that God is at work in the world.


And we do so only through the promise that God gave Joseph, that God will be with us in it all.


So, are you ready?

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