Empathy for the Carpenter

Empathy for the Carpenter

In the name of the Father, and of the +Son, and of the
Holy Spirit. Amen.

Put yourself in Joseph’s place. All you have wanted
is to love Mary and to be loved by her. You have dreamed of the day when you
would go with your friends to take her into your home for the wedding feast and
then into your arms as your one and only beloved. You have imagined the joyous
week of feasting following your wedding day and, if God wills it, having your
very own child one day. You want to teach your children to love God and neighbor;
how to be faithful and responsible children of God.

Put yourself in Joseph’s place. Perhaps after years
of watching Mary from afar and knowing her to be a pious young woman, beautiful
inside and out, and hoping against hope that she would be yours, the joyous day
came when Mary and you began a year-long engagement. You were never allowed to
be alone with her. It was just not a safe or acceptable practice. Proper
boundaries were kept. Virginity until your wedding day was expected and
protected by your culture, because that’s what God’s Word teaches. You see each
other almost every day, and your longings grow stronger. But, then, Mary tells
you that she will go to see her cousin, Elizabeth, who is pregnant. Is it just
nerves, or does it seem that there is something troubling Mary as she tells you
she is going away for a few months?

Put yourself in Joseph’s place. You count the days
until Mary comes home. You send word to her as often as you can, and you look
forward to hearing from her, too. At last, she is coming home, and Mary sends
word that she needs to talk with you right away. You get butterflies in your
stomach. There is a knot there. What could be on her mind? What is troubling

Put yourself in Joseph’s place. Your joy at being
reunited with your beloved suddenly turns to confusion, fear, and even
disgust. Mary, your precious Mary, sweet, pious Mary is pregnant. You can see
it despite her garments. You can see it in her face and eyes. Her eyes look
so vulnerable and pleading. You were once smitten with love each time you looked
at those eyes, and now you want to hate your heart for filling up with love
despite all your best instincts to grab a stone and throw it at her.

Put yourself in Joseph’s place. What a fool you feel
that you have been! All that waiting, planning, and dreaming for nothing! How
could you have been so taken in by this girl? You know that you have not been
with her in a way that was forbidden. Clearly some other man has taken
advantage of her vulnerability. Some other man has led her astray. Some other
man has put a wedge between your heart and hers. There will be no wedding
now. There will be no child with Mary. Perhaps you will never have a wife.
How could you ever trust anyone again?

Put yourself in Joseph’s place. Mary tells you a
far-fetched story and seems to believe the words herself. She cannot be that
good an actress. She is too young, too naïve, too pious to lie that well.
Your love wants to turn to hate. Part of you wants to follow the letter of the
Law and have her stoned as an adulterer.

Part of you wants to see her dead along with the man
that destroyed your dreams. Who is he? Where is he? Part of you wants to
make him hurt. Part of you wants to make him pay!

Put yourself in Joseph’s place. You have always been
a strong believer. You have led a disciplined life of worship, prayer, study,
and service. You have been taught to want to do the right thing. And it has
become to you almost second nature. You are no fool. You know how it is
between men and women. And yet you know and love Mary, and even now, you do
not want to see her hurt even if you know you must break the engagement,
quietly. It is not permitted by the Law to make yourself unclean with an
adulteress as your bride.

Put yourself in Joseph’s place. Your mother has
taught you how to treasure a woman and to treat her with understanding and to
regard her as a gift from God’s gracious hand. Your father has taught you how
the Lord God in His goodness made both the man and the woman in His image and
made them to be partners and, in the miracle of birth, to be co-creators with
Him. That is what is so hard now. Everything you have believed and hoped and
dreamed has been called into question all by this woman who hardly is more than
a girl. Lord God, have mercy. It is all too much. You just want to crawl
into your bed and pull the covers over your head and drop off to sleep
muttering your prayers.

Put yourself in Joseph’s place. What uneasy dreams
must come as your brain tries to make sense of the senseless, as it tries to
make the unimaginable understandable! You have become like your namesake
Joseph, Jacob’s son—trying to make sense of dreams!

You believe in angels, although you have never seen
one. Now like the earlier Joseph’s father, Jacob, you see and hear an angel in
your sleep. An angel of the LORD greets you with the words you most need to
hear: "Do not be afraid!"

Put yourself in Joseph’s place. Isn’t that finally
it? Your anger is about both your hurt and your fear. You hurt at Mary’s
betrayal. You hurt at the humiliation. You are afraid of what others will
think of you. You are afraid of your own anger, and afraid that you can never
trust any mortal ever again – especially a woman!

Put yourself in Joseph’s place. The angel says:
"Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that
which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit." You are from David’s
family, and you know that the angel is telling you to claim the child as your
own legal son so that he will be known, too, as a Son of David.

And yet you wrestle in your sleep with such a wondrous
and strange explanation. A child conceived not in the usual way but by the
Holy Spirit! Such knowledge is too wonderful for you! The child being knit
together in Mary’s womb is not just any child, but God’s own Son!

Put yourself in Joseph’s place. The angel declares:
"She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Yeshua (Jesus), for he
will save his people from their sins." It is all too much even for a
dream. And you wake and you are soaked with sweat, and you feel just like
Jacob of old—that you have wrestled God all night long (Genesis 32)!

Put yourself in Joseph’s place. If you do as the
angel tells you, the child will be your legal child, a Son of David. And, oh
this is too much: The Child will be the fulfillment of God’s promise to your
ancestor King David that someone from his family would rule over God’s people

You will raise God’s Son as your own son, and you will
take into your heart and your home as your wife a woman who is the Mother of
God. It is all too much to imagine! It is all too much to take in!

Put yourself in Joseph’s place. All you can do is
take that leap of faith if you are to obey this dream that God has given you. Part
of you wonders if dreams are not simply wish-fulfillment, the brain seeking to
give the happy ending you wanted in the first place. So what then do love and
fidelity and respect and responsibility and godliness and piety mean after
all? Why be good? If you are Joseph, a lifetime of spiritual discipline
taught by godly parents has to kick in. Joseph has had good training, and he
has been taught to listen not to the ungodly dreams of human conceit but to the
Word of God that comes from outside himself. Joseph has been taught to listen
and obey the good and gracious will of God.

Put yourself in Joseph’s place: "When Joseph woke
from sleep, he did as the angel commanded him." Against all reasonable
doubts, Joseph took Mary into his heart and his home. He claimed the child as
his own legal child, a Son of David. And Joseph named him Yeshua, Joshua,
Jesus. And Joseph raised the child as he had been raised: In awe and praise
and wonder and love of the LORD GOD, Jesus’ heavenly Father!

So…put yourself in Joseph’s place. Do not be afraid
to receive God’s Son Jesus into your heart and into your home. Prepare a place
for Him to enter daily into the fullness of your life. Prepare a place for Him
by confessing your sins to your Father in heaven. Prepare a place for Him by
meditating upon God’s Word and calling upon Him in prayer, praise, and
thanksgiving. Prepare a place for Him by coming eagerly to the services of
God’s House and gladly hearing and learning God’s Holy Word.

Prepare a place for Him by teaching those you love to
know Him and to learn from Him. Prepare a place for Him by seeing Him in the
eyes of those you love and in the eyes of those in need.

Put yourself in Joseph’s place. Hoping against hope,
he prepared a place in his heart, his home, his calendar, and his
wallet…first for the Lord Jesus’ pregnant mother and then for the Holy Child

Put yourself in Joseph’s place. In obedience to His
call to follow, make room for Christ in your life. Today as you come with empty
hands to the Lord’s house, pray: "Lord Jesus, Son of God and Son of David,
I do not understand how you limited yourself to enter into Mary’s womb and to
be born a child like me but without sin. I cannot fathom how You could give
Your life away on the cross to take away my sins while we were yet sinners.

I cannot grasp with my mind how You can fulfill Your
promise to be present for me and for all Your people in the pouring of water or
in a tiny bit of bread and wine. But, O Lamb of God, I trust that you do come
to me, and will forgive my sins and fill me with the power of Your endless
life. Come, Lord Jesus!"

In the name of the Father, and of the +Son, and of the
Holy Spirit. Amen.