During Advent, we are featuring devotionals written by clergy of the Greater NJ Annual Conference of the UMC. For this second week, we are focused on reflections related to Joseph, based on the Gospel of Matthew.
18 This is how the birth of Jesus Christ took place. When Mary his mother was engaged to Joseph, before they were married, she became pregnant by the Holy Spirit. 19 Joseph her husband was a righteous man. Because he didn’t want to humiliate her, he decided to call off their engagement quietly. 20 As he was thinking about this, an angel from the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, don’t be afraid to take Mary as your wife, because the child she carries was conceived by the Holy Spirit. 21 She will give birth to a son, and you will call him Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” 22 Now all of this took place so that what the Lord had spoken through the prophet would be fulfilled:
23 Look! A virgin will become pregnant and give birth to a son,
And they will call him, Emmanuel.
(Emmanuel means “God with us.”)
24 When Joseph woke up, he did just as an angel from God commanded and took Mary as his wife. 25 But he didn’t have sexual relations with her until she gave birth to a son. Joseph called him Jesus.
Matthew’s account of the birth of Jesus is my favorite version of the Nativity story in Matthew 1:18-25. As I have experienced the Christmas season over the years in my life and ministry, I believe I have ﬁgured out why Matthew’s rendering of the Nativity is my favorite: IT. IS. REAL. Now, don’t get me wrong – the other Nativity account in Luke is awesome, grand, and familiar. But, I believe the Matthew account puts us face to face with the real feelings and perspective of Joseph. Matthew 1:19 tells us that once Joseph knew that Mary had become pregnant with Jesus by the Holy Spirit – before Joseph and Mary came together – he was planning to “divorce her secretly.” As I have read this verse within the larger context of Matthew 1 throughout the years, I realize that Joseph’s thoughts and planned action (before the Holy Spirit intervened in a dream) can be summed up in one question: “What will they say?” We know that question well, don’t we? So much of life, at least as we grow into adulthood, is about managing expectations – expectations of ourselves and expectations others have of us. What will people say if I change my hair style or hair color? What will people say if I change my style of clothes? What will people say if I move to this neighborhood? What will people say if I serve this group of people?
Like Joseph, I believe we ask ourselves and one another the same question – “What will they say?” – especially when we feel the Spirit of God leading us to do something or say something in a particular situation. This question also arises then we, like Joseph, step into others’ lives and experiences where God is already at work and calling us to cooperate in
that sacred work. No matter the circumstance or experience, the feelings are the same. We feel afraid. We feel confused. We may feel frustrated. We feel as though we have to give an answer to the onlookers – a backstory as to
why the circumstance is the way it is, and why we have chosen to respond according to God’s leading. No matter the circumstance or experience, these emotions are responses to the central question inside us: “What will they say?” My husband and I worshipped and served at an urban congregation in Washington, DC while we were dating and after
we married. Shortly after we had our daughter, my parents and other family members and friends expressed their concern about us continuing to worship at the church. They shared how they were concerned about our safety because we, now, had a newborn and the location of the church was surrounded a men’s homeless shelter, low-income and poor families, and some gang activity. My husband and I were aware of the church’s location and knew all these things prior to our daughter’s birth. Yet, we felt led by God’s Spirit to remain with that faith community because we had grown in God and encountered Jesus in real and tangible ways – in the eyes, hearts, and hands, of members from four different countries and cultures and three different races, in the opportunities to share Jesus with and do life with residents in the community, in the way Jesus was “birthed” every Sunday morning in worship as we sang “God is good”
in three different languages. Our remaining at church, with my parents, other family members’ and friends’ concerns swirling around in my mind, did cause me to ask myself, “What will they say?” And, remaining there also achieved something else: it made us open to receiving Jesus in ways we never would have ever expected! Our presence in that
church communing with the God who was already present and working made the spirit of the words God spoke in Matthew 1:20 ring truer than they ever had before: “Enger and Patrick, daughter and son of mine, don’t be afraid to enter what is happening here, because what I have conceived and began in this place is from the Holy Spirit.”
This Advent season may each of us boldly claim the many ways the Spirit of God is leading and guiding us to partner with God in making the way for Jesus. May we cooperate with joyful obedience and ardent faithfulness.
By the Rev. Enger Muteteke
For Pondering & Prayer
What call of God have you resisted because of the question “What will they say?” Is it time to set aside those fears?