Year A, Advent 4
One of the things that you have to come to terms with when you have chosen to adopt is that it is unlikely that you will have a child who looks like you. No one will ever say, “He’s got your smile” or “Wow, look at those eyes…I wonder where they came from?” It’s a small thing….especially when you see your child smile and you think, “There could be no smile more beautiful than that smile.” But it’s still something that you need to consider.
When we talk about the story of Joseph (which we don’t do very often) the focus is usually his reaction to the information that his fiancée is pregnant and it’s definitely not his child. We usually refer to Mary and Joseph as engaged. This is not the most accurate translation. Our understanding of engagement today and what it was at this time period are two very different things. Today there are elaborate proposals and photo documentation of the proposal. Engagements are important. It is a commitment, but it is also pretty easy to break. In the time when Jesus and Mary lived, engagements were more than a ring and an extended time to plan the perfect wedding. An engagement (or more accurately a betrothal) was a legal agreement that two families made. After the betrothal, they were legally wed, but not yet living together. To break a betrothal, one had to get a divorce. To have relations with someone other than your betrothed would be adultery. It had the same punishment for the woman…public stoning.
One can only imagine what Joseph felt in hearing that his wife was pregnant. Despite the fact that they did not live together, they were still referred to as husband and wife. He must have felt betrayed by her and even her family who had arranged this. Most likely, their marriage had been planned for years, perhaps their whole lives. Suddenly, his whole life was changed. Certainly, he could find another wife. Yet even if he could, people would still wonder if the child Mary had was actually his and he divorced her so no one would condemn him for having marital relations before they were officially married. He could have survived the embarrassment and shame, but it would have probably followed him and his whole family the rest of their lives. These are all reasonable assumptions for his initial reaction to the news.
What I wonder is what he felt after the angel came and told him, “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 we know is that Joseph woke up and followed the angel’s instructions. He took Mary as his wife. Let’s assume for a minute that there was no doubt in Joseph’s mind that this had really happened….an angel had appeared to him and told him that the child who would be born to his wife was actually the child of God. The father of the child was God. Did he wonder: what is this child going to look like? Will he look like God? What does God look like? Will God give this child the physical attributes of Mary but no attributes of me? When this child comes out of Mary’s womb and I cradle him in my arms, who will I see….my son or the son of God?
I like to think that Joseph was asking these mundane and rational questions, because that is what I would be wondering. Now that we know the whole story, they seem like foolish questions. But all he knew was that that this child was from the Holy Spirit. In this time period, the first son was a very important thing in a family. The first born would very likely acquire all that the father had. The first son had a position of importance. Yet was this Joseph’s first son? The questions that were whirling around his head and almost surely the head of Mary must have been unlimited.
Think about it, everyone wonders what their child will become. Will he be an athlete…a musician, a scientist. Those were not the questions Jesus’s parents had. Their son would save the world. I am sure that put all their concerns to rest. After this initial dream with the angel….consider the dreams or nightmares that followed. Perhaps this child would come out of Mary not as a baby…but as a full grown man. No baby could save the world. That is ludicrous. He would have huge eyes that would see all things and a huge head that would know all things. The possibilities are terrifying.
Who knows what he must have envisioned in the dead of night as he lay awake with fear and anxiety? What we know is this: Joseph took Mary as his wife and he claimed Jesus as his son. He might have looked at Jesus and seen Mary’s eyes or Mary’s smile. But I bet what he really saw was what we all see when we see babies. He saw a miracle. He saw a child of God…someone so precious that God had to be involved somehow. At that moment, it did not matter if he had his DNA…he had God’s DNA. He was infused with the Holy Spirt. He was love in the flesh.
People make a big deal of the fact that Mary was a virgin when she conceived Jesus. For some, it has even become a litmus test for true Christian faith. For my part, I believe that Mary was a virgin. I believe that is important not because it makes her pure or holy, but because it makes it clear to all of us, that this child born was no ordinary child, no matter how ordinary he looked. The virgin birth and Joseph’s acceptance of that story is proof that something special was happening…something beyond our understanding. We can tell the story over and over again, but we can never make it our own. We can never tame this story because it is so amazing, so out of this world.
When Joseph looked into that newborn’s eyes, he saw pieces of himself…not because this child carried his DNA, but because this child knew him more than anyone else. This child could see into the depth of his soul. At this time of year, we have an amazing opportunity. We have the chance to imagine the eyes of Jesus, the eyes that know us and loves us….without condition. We have the chance to see ourselves through those eyes, just like Joseph saw himself in Jesus’ eyes.
Let’s try it. Let’s close our eyes for and take a deep breath. Then for a moment, imagine that you can see the eyes of Jesus and you see yourself reflected in those eyes. What do you see? Do you see beauty? Do you see pain? Whatever you see, don’t allow yourself to judge what you see. This is not a mirror you are looking at…this is you, through Jesus’ eyes. What you see is holy. What you see is your divine image. Take that with you when you leave this place. Remember that you are holy and that you too carry the Holy Spirit. Let that be your Christmas miracle.