Matthew 1:18-25… an imaginative retelling
I found Joseph still in Nazareth, taking a rest among his projects. His assistants were off on break, so we had time to talk. My publisher was very interested in Joseph’s son who was rumored to be risen from death, and my assignment was to find out whether there was anything of interest about his beginnings.
Interviewer: Joseph, thank you for letting me come see you about your son, Jesus. It seems everyone in the country is suddenly interested in everything they can find out about him. Until now you haven’t said much about his beginning. What can you add to the stories they already have heard?
Joseph: Well, his story makes even more sense to me when I remember how it all started. Our families had already arranged for Mary and me to be married. We’d had a nice betrothal ceremony and our families and friends were all abuzz about what we’d be like as a married couple. But she was still in her father’s house, and, though some of our peers were okay with sex before the actual wedding, we were still virgins.
Interviewer: So you hadn’t had sex yet?
Joseph: Well, I knew I hadn’t! But then word got back to me that she was pregnant! Some of the women found out and they gossiped about it till one of my friends told me. I was pretty upset. I felt betrayed and confused and ashamed and angry that she would have an affair when we were already betrothed. I thought I knew her better than that! And then what would this do to my business? My livelihood depends on having a good name in my community!
Interviewer: So what did you do?
Joseph: it took a while, but I arranged to have some time alone with her and I confronted her with what I’d heard. She was pretty tearful, but she admitted it was true. She was pregnant. I was devastated at first, but then she begged me to hear her out, so I did. She said she was pregnant by some mysterious power of God, by some incredible holy spirit.
He paused when he remembered that conversation.
You know, I really liked her back then. I’ve grown to love her more and more over the years, and she has become increasingly precious to me. But in those days we were so young and in a lot of ways not yet aware of God’s ways.
Interviewer: What do you mean, you weren’t aware of God’s ways?
Joseph: Well, I was trying really had to be a righteous man, to be upright and fair in all the ways of my faith. I obey Torah, and I keep Sabbath. I knew I had a cultural right to have her punished, but I didn’t want to make her suffer that way. I decided I would just tell everyone I’d decided to call our marriage off. That way her family could help her with this pregnancy and they could decide what to do with the child. So, I left and went home.
He paused, leaned forward a bit, and his tone became more intense.
But, see, then I had a dream, one of those really life-changing kind of dreams. I still feel something when I remember that dream. It was awesome!
I don’t know how you feel about dreams, but I’m named for my ancestor, Joseph, and I’ve always heard stories about how the one true God came through to him in dreams way back when a lot of our people were still just getting used to understanding they had been chosen for something special in the world. That Joseph was always a hero to me, and my family always spoke of him with great pride.
So, when I had this dream, I just couldn’t ignore it. It was as if my ancestor was right there saying I should pay attention and do what it told me to do.
Interviewer: So, what was the dream about? What was so special about this dream?
Joseph: In the dream, I’m alone in my house and this unbelievably bright light appears in the room with me. I can’t quite see what the shape is, but I have a sense it is like a person, more like an angel. And then I hear it speak to me. It knows who I am. It calls me by name.
His voice deepened.
“Son of David, Joseph, don’t be afraid.” Then this voice tells me that Mary was telling the truth, that the child growing inside her is really from a holy spirit. And it tells me I am to name him.
Interviewer: And in our law, that would make him legally yours! Our law states, “If a man says, ‘this is my son,’ then he is so attested.”
Joseph: Exactly! Even in the dream I knew that God was asking me to say yes to this child the same way Mary said she had said yes to an angel that came to her! When she’d told me that story it seemed so fantastic that I was sort of concerned about her mental state. I thought she was making it all up to cover up her own mistake. After all, remember she was pretty young and naïve then.
He looked at me intently.
But, see, the dream changed all that for me! When I woke up I knew I had a choice to make. The situation was pretty much a mess, it seemed a scandal that could have ruined a lot of us, but the dream was saying God was involved… What can I say? I didn’t really have any proof except that dream and the promises of my ancestors before me that God is trustworthy!
Interviewer: Remarkable! What has it been like for you since that day?
Joseph: Hmmm. Well, for one thing, I realized later that there was a promise fulfilled, that one about a virgin conceiving a child who would be called “God with us,” Emmanuel.
He grinned now.
But I want to tell you, none of us in the family called him that when he was growing up! People might call him that someday, but we weren’t about to have him get some big head about being any different from any other little boy. We loved him way too much for that!
Interviewer: Anything else?
He leaned back a little and closed his eyes a moment as if to reflect on his own story.
Joseph: Well, people don’t come around asking about this very much. You’re one of the few who have ever asked me what it all meant to me. But I’ve lived long enough now to think that there are lots of times in life when the situation seems out of control, times when we might just sort of sweep things under the rug… You know what I mean? Like when you lose a job or someone you love dies or your kids let you down or any number of personal troubles, not to mention all the bad news that everyone says is a sign of doom. There is so much bad news all around us. These are times when I know its pretty hard to believe that a good God in fact is in the midst of the mess.
And I do not know the how. There is no formula to make any of us believe the impossible. But I can tell you that when that day I let myself believe, when I claimed the scandal, and gave it my name…then I found the dream was true and God was born in the very midst of it all.
I left him there with his reflections, and I began to have a few of my own. I won’t forget this man who is a lot like me, but who is also a witness to me. He reminded me that the impossible good news can happen. It does happen. I hope I can be like Joseph and believe the unlikely proclamation of an angel, find that God is with us. And holy is his name.