Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly. But just when he had resolved to do this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “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.” All this took place to fulfil what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet:
“Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
and they shall name him Emmanuel,”
which means, “God is with us.” When Joseph awoke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took her as his wife, but had no marital relations with her until she had borne a son; and he named him Jesus.
This is a typical little soap opera story. Mary and Joseph are betrothed. They are saving up to get married, and then she tells him she is pregnant. They are both godly people, her being pregnant is a disgrace. Times were much more conservative then. This is such a very human story of a very human situation. Then suddenly, we go from the very human to the ultra-cosmic and mysterious.
I know all about angels from a hundred nativities. In fact I know nothing about angels; they are of a different order from a different type of universe. They are as knowable as quantum mechanics, chaos theory and black holes all rolled into one. Gabriel, that is the one who appeared to Mary, described himself as ‘I stand in the presence of God’. God is a bit like the sun, get too close and you get burnt, and so what sort of creature stands in the presence of God? How weird and wonderful is this? Despite all this not understanding of the truly mysterious, I like angels (and I bet you do too). They just have a good feel to them. I would like to find out more about them. On one occasion a very good friend of mine who is much more tuned in to angels than I am, came to my church. It was at a very low point in my life when I was suffering from a lot of depression and found leading a church service very difficult. He told me afterwards that all the time that I was leading the service he could see an angel by my side, supporting me.
Robbie Williams touched everyone’s pulse with his great Angels song.
‘And through it all, she offers me protection,
A lot of love and affection’
I like Joseph too. He has a sort of modest, salt of the earth, solid goodness to him. He doesn’t strike me as one of life’s great thinking, deeply reflective souls. He is a northern man who works with his hands and who likes to do the right thing. Joseph is not the sort of man to have deep, mysterious dreams of sacred angels. He probably dreams of timber and footings, nails and screws, hammers and saws. It is the angel, a real creature not a dream creature, who takes the initiative and steps into his dream. Joseph is not dreaming up an angel, the angel is coming to find and talk to him.
The child is given two names. First ‘Jesus’ as saviour and secondly ‘Emmanuel’ meaning God is with us. These are massively deep ideas. How much of this did Joseph fully grasp, how much did he really understand? I suspect that most of it just left him gasping. Nevertheless, he accepted and trusted in a sort of ‘beyond understanding’ obedient humility.
Finding Jesus is far deeper than understanding. It is about ‘seeing’ or perhaps we should say just glimpsing something of God. Our glimpsing is not the first thing, the first thing is his sending, communicating, appearing. The glimpsing is the tiniest opening of the door. It’s the beginning of thinking, seeing and responding. In our modern world we are obsessed with the need to understand. What is happening to Joseph is far beyond the world of rational thought and intellectual analysis. So don’t expect to fully understand all of the things of God, but do expect to find, or to be found. Expect him to come to you and respond by opening your door slightly; to catch a glimpse of light.
As you are finding me, help me to find,
As you are speaking, help me to hear,
As you are appearing, help me to see.
That I might awaken and do as you command.