During this six-week blog-study we’ll be unpacking the story of the Nativity with reference to scripture (the Gospel of Luke) and snippets from Mary, My Love by Cynthia Davis. You do not have to have read the book to enjoy the blog. If you do want to order a copy, email me.
Last week we saw how Mary responded with joyful acceptance to God’s call to be mother of Messiah. Her reply, “let it be according to your word” changed not only her life but those around her. Identifying our call is only the first step. We have to act on it. Mary had to tell her parents and her betrothed husband, Joseph of the angel’s visit. The Bible says nothing about her parent’s response and very little about Joseph’s shock.
As Mary’s betrothed husband, Joseph would have had the right to have her stoned for adultery, or he could have divorced her. Matthew 1:19-20 tells us he decided, “Being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, [he] 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.’”
In Mary, My Love, Joseph has a much more human response.
Unable to work, I threw on my outer garment and stormed from the building, nearly trampling Benoni. He backed away from my rage without even a question. Blindly I headed for the hills beyond Nazareth. If anyone greeted me, I did not hear. Mary’s words repeated their terrible litany in my head.
“Bear a son…God chose...no man…I do not lie.”
Faster and faster I walked, until I was running up the mountainside. The same grove of trees that saw my decision to wed Mary received me. Like a mad man I smashed my hands against one trunk and then another until my rage was spent. In despair I fell to my knees.
“God, why do you mock me? I believed you gave me Mary’s love. Now she admits that she carries a child which is not mine!” Renewed anger set me to pacing. Suspicion fueled the fire. “Joachim was eager to accept my offer. Did he know that his daughter was no virgin, even then? Was I the dupe all along?”…
Worn out from the day’s passion, I sank to my knees. The Name of the Most High was all I could say. Over and over I repeated the word.
Eventually, I resolved to divorce Mary and send her away to preserve her life. Exhausted, I leaned against a tree trunk and closed my eyes. I must have dozed. The dream, when it came, held me tightly even after I awakened. As Mary said, the angel was a figure of light without real form. Even in my sleep, I felt my heartbeat quickening.
“Joseph, do not be afraid. You may take Mary as your wife. The child is conceived by the Spirit of God. She will bear a son. You will name him Jeshua. For just as his name means ‘God saves’, so this child will save all people.”
Then the messenger from God was gone. The peace that enveloped me left me comforted. Gradually, I opened my eyes to stare at the surrounding trees. The grove was in darkness but my soul was in light. Moonlight filtered through the sparse early spring leaves to illuminate the trunks and the ground. Slowly I sat up, reassured and unafraid. God had stolen my beloved but I would not lose her.
Joseph, in the night-long struggle with God and his conscience comes to accept his own call-his own place in the unfolding drama. He accepted the child as his own, knowing that there would be whispers and gossip. Joseph’s feelings of betrayal by Mary were put aside out of love and for the healing of both his anger and the sins of the world.
In the Disney movie Hercules, the hero sings “I Will Go the Distance”*. By embracing God’s call, this is exactly what Joseph agreed to do. He would have agreed with Hercules who says, “Down an unknown road, to embrace my fate Though that road may wander, it will lead me to you And a thousand years, would be worth the wait It might take a lifetime, but somehow I'll see it through. And I won't look back, I can go the distance And I'll stay on track, no, I won't accept defeat It's an uphill slope, but I won't lose hope Till I go the distance, and my journey is complete”
Unlike Hercules, Joseph knew his call was to follow God’s will, not the desire for a ‘hero’s welcome’. He did not know how his resolve would be tested in the coming years. When we step out in faith to follow God’s call, we don’t know where that road will lead us. However, we can know that when we stay in God’s will, “I know ev'ry mile, will be worth my while When I go the distance, I'll be right where I belong.”
As Mary learned, it can be hard to tell others of our call, our vision to make a difference in the world. Sometimes we are met with resistance, anger, disbelief, even rejection or condemnation. It takes courage to hold fast to the call of God.
Sometimes the challenge to accepting the call can come from within. It can be easy to look at the ministry and success (by worldly standards) of other’s work and response to their call. We can say, ‘my little bit doesn’t matter.’ I am reminded of a story Max Lucado tells of visiting a woman who carved Bible shapes from wood then decoupaged a Bible verse on each plaque. Her call was to make these plaques which offered encouragement to those who got them. She might have sat at home and done nothing, esp. if she compared her wood carvings to someone like Lucado’s fame. Yet, she did not. Joseph is often overlooked because he ‘just’ married Mary. However, his response to God’s call changed his expectations of his life dramatically.
Many heroes and heroines in the Bible met with resistance, both internal and external, when they stepped out in faith. Sometimes it is their own doubts that prevent them from acting. In the Book of Esther, she hesitates to approach the King when the Jews are threatened with death. Mordecai reminds her, “If you keep silence at such a time as this, relief and deliverance will rise for the Jews from another quarter, but you and your father’s house will perish. And who knows whether you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this?” (Esther 4:14)
Joseph did not believe Mary at first. He had to struggle with his conscience and with God’s demands before “he took his wife, but knew her not until she had borne a son; and he called his name Jesus.” (Matthew 1:24-25) His ‘yes’ to God was a tiny pebble in the sea, but without it, the story would have been very different. Can your ‘yes’ to God make a difference? Indeed it can!
Have you ever shared your dream or call to ministry with someone and been met with skepticism or worse? How did you react?
Are you resisting responding to God’s call because you think it’s ‘not big enough’?
Holy God, help me to ‘go the distance’ you require of me. I want to respond to your call on my life with joy, but sometimes I am fearful and doubt that I hear you correctly. Inspire me with your love to share that love with the world. AMEN
Next week we'll see what happens to Elizabeth and how she and Mary encourage one another.
*I Can Go the Distance (from Disney's Hercules)
I have often dreamed, of a far off place
Where a hero's welcome, would be waiting for me
Where the crowds will cheer, when they see my face
And a voice keeps saying, this is where I'm meant to be
I'll be there someday, I can go the distance
I will find my way, if I can be strong
I know ev'ry mile, will be worth my while
When I go the distance, I'll be right where I belong
Down an unknown road, to embrace my fate
Though that road may wander, it will lead me to you
And a thousand years, would be worth the wait
It might take a lifetime, but somehow I'll see it through
And I won't look back, I can go the distance
And I'll stay on track, no, I won't accept defeat
It's an uphill slope, but I won't lose hope
Till I go the distance, and my journey is complete
But to look beyond the glory is the hardest part
For a hero's strength is measured by his heart
Like a shooting star, I will go the distance
I will search the world, I will face it's harms
I don't care how far, i can go the distance
Till I find my hero's welcome, waiting in your arms