By the Very Rev. Sherry Crompton
December 23, 2007
Read: Matthew 1:18-25
Stephen Beck told about crossing a narrow bridge on a country road. It was one of those narrow, one-lane bridges. Two cars cannot pass each other on those bridges. If there was a car on the bridge when you got there, you had to stop and wait for it to finish crossing before you could go. If you and another car got on the bridge at the same time, you would be nose-to-nose and one of you would have to back off the bridge.
So Beck told about coming to one of those bridges and seeing a Yield sign. After he crossed the bridge, he happened to look back and noticed that there was a Yield sign on that end too. He was curious enough that he stopped to check and, sure enough, there were Yield signs on both ends of the bridge.
It kind of reminds us of Joseph and his story today. He was in a tough spot and no matter which way he went, it wasn’t a clear, easy path with no obstacles in his way. He had no choice but to yield to circumstances beyond his control.
Let’s think through Joseph’s situation. He is engaged to Mary and Mary winds up pregnant. So we can imagine how shocked, angry, and embarrassed Joseph must have been when he got the news that Mary was pregnant. He knew that he wasn’t the child’s father! He figured Mary had been unfaithful. And he knew that the only way he could avoid public disgrace was to divorce her. But Joseph was a kind and fair man, who didn’t want Mary to be publicly shamed either. He could have made a big fuss, and Mary would have been subject to the death penalty under Jewish law, but, instead, as Matthew tells us, Joseph “planned to dismiss her quietly”. He would yield to that route.
Joseph must have thought his life had taken a disastrous, embarrassing turn for the worst. But then he discovered he had experienced what a friend of mine calls “a holy disruption”. God stepped into his life, and changed it, sent Joseph in a new and positive direction.
An angel spoke to him in a dream—have you noticed that in the Bible? Have you noticed how often God speaks to a biblical character in a dream? And do you suppose God might still speak to us in our dreams?
Anyway, in his dream, Joseph was told that Mary’s child was not a child of scandal, but a miraculous child, conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit. The angel instructed Joseph to receive Mary as his wife, to name the child “Jesus”—meaning “Salvation”—and to care for the baby as his own.
I like the description “a holy disruption”—don’t you? God disrupted Joseph’s plans. So Joseph faced this crisis and there are more to come as we continue reading Matthew. He will continue to be disrupted by God in his dreams. But what is remarkable about Joseph is that he hears the messages intended for him and takes the necessary action. So what is it that makes him so receptive?
Consider how he is described in today’s Gospel. The word applied to him is “righteous.” Joseph is a righteous man. He is obedient to God as he knows God. God is not a stranger to Joseph, so when a crisis comes and God sends him a message, Joseph hears the message and does what must be done. Joseph is a man of faith before the crisis, so that when the crisis comes, he is able to act in faith, and do the Godly thing.
Here’s an important reason for a life of prayer, an important reason for the regular practice of prayer. Because if we are in relationship with God through a life of prayer, if we value God’s company on those ordinary days, then, when the day of crisis arrives, and our world comes apart at the seams, we are better able to recognize God’s voice speaking to us at the heart of the crisis, and we are better able to respond in faith by doing what God would have us do, by living as God would have us live.
Life is challenging enough even if you have faith, but what happens with people who have no faith, who do not pray? What happens to them when the inevitable crisis occurs?
They lose a loved one. How can they begin to hear God’s voice speak softly to them in their bereavement when their grief shouts so hopelessly? In a troubled time, it would be hard for anyone to hear the divine voice, to see the vision of a greater purpose, but how hard it must be without the experience of listening to God in better times!
God speaks to us in a variety of ways. For Joseph, it was through the Jewish law and a remarkable series of dreams. For us, it may happen through scripture reading and worship, through personal devotions, the beauty of nature, the warmth of human love, the circumstances of each day. Our response to God constitutes our prayer. No one who knows about prayer says it is easy. Routine practices can seem empty at times. There’s always something else waiting for us to do. Yet it’s vital to persist in prayer. It’s vital that we do this — and for several reasons. One of the most important is that through our prayer, our response to God, our relationship with God, we become able to recognize the divine voice whenever it speaks, even in the heart of crisis.
Times of crisis are sure to come in every life. Our choice lies in how we will respond. Will the noise of our own fears drown out everything else, or will we hear God’s voice speaking to us at the heart of the crisis? Having heard that voice, will we take the necessary action? Will we be obedient to the message?
Our response is never simply private. What we do in response to God’s voice has impact on other lives beyond our ability to understand. When Joseph’s moment of crisis arrived, he heard the divine voice and acted upon it, and what happened was a widespread redemption, unexpected and unstoppable.
Let us thank the Lord for Joseph’s faith in a time of crisis. Let us thank the Lord for the grace to give Joseph a “holy disruption” in his plans for his own life. And may we all be granted the grace to hear and act when our own lives are facing a “holy disruption”. When we come upon that one lane country road, will we yield to God’s voice, the Holy Spirit? Will we take the hand of Jesus and follow where he leads? “Yes, by the grace of God” and the people said, Amen.
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