Psalm 93, 96 (Morning)
Psalm 34 (Evening)
Isaiah 62:6-7, 10-12
Matthew 1:18-25 (NRSV:) 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 fulfill 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.
Ever decided to stick out a painful situation when every fiber in your being tells you there's no shame in bailing out, and that those who know you would understand? I sure have--which is why today's Gospel reading really jumps out in front for me today.
Of course, in this story, we have an advantage because we know all the plot spoilers. We know it's worth it, since the unborn child is Jesus. But imagine what things must have felt like for Joseph in this situation, at a time when the words "Jesus," and "Christ" would not have meant doodly-squat. Mary would have certainly told him something like, "Well, you won't believe it...this angel showed up. His name was Gabriel...and you won't believe what he said!"
I imagine his answer was something like, "You're right--I don't believe it...and furthermore, I'm not going to believe it." Mary and Joseph probably had words. Strong words. Mary might well have gone off crying. Joseph may have already tipped his hand to her that he was going to keep quiet about this, but was finished with it all the same. I suspect at the very least, Joseph felt victimized and betrayed. How could he not feel that way?
I like to think that Joseph went to bed heavy with the details of how he was going to extract himself from this betrothal, and how to do it in such a way that he could at least show dignity and compassion to Mary, despite his feelings. Perhaps he had rationalized that she too was a victim in this, and that possibly her relatively youthful innocence allowed her to be taken advantage of by someone. But as he slept on things, an angel showed up and opened up another possibility.
It's amazing what possibilities come to us in our dream life. August Kekeulé discovered the ring-shaped molecular form of benzene in a dream where a snake grabbed his own tail in his mouth. Paul McCartney, during the filming of the movie Help!, went to sleep one night and heard a classical ensemble playing what turned out to be the tune to "Yesterday." Elias Howe, frustrated in his attempts to make a sewing machine, fell asleep and dreamed he was captured by people with holes in the ends of their spears--and he awoke realizing the eye of a sewing machine needle needed to be in the tip--the exact opposite of what his intuitive powers were telling him when he was awake.
The fact is, although very few of us can lay claim to an angelic visitation, many of us can recall some sort of solution to a problem that sprang forth in a dream. Many of us have been the recipient of lucid dreams, which, by definition, are dreams where we are keenly aware of the details yet at the same time are "conscious that we are asleep." What is striking about lucid dreams is their plasticity--the realization in the dream that we are dreaming--and may even be able to wake ourselves up. Lucid dreams are of interest to neuropsychologists because they are one of the windows where people have the ability to change their mind. In my understanding of them, they seem to also be a place where we can have a change of heart.
The skeptics among us would simply claim that Joseph's visitation was merely created between Joseph's ears--and that's ok. If it made him stick with Mary in this situation where he had every right to walk, that's good enough for me, because, you see, in my way of thinking, all we are comes from God. That includes our brains. But if Christianity were only about our brains, belief in God and a changed life through the power of Jesus would make no sense whatsoever. It's about that thing we call our "heart," which we know really isn't our physical heart. It's a way of describing our deepest, most centered "us." It's the mystery within ourselves that causes us to, on occasion, go against all good sense and strike out in new ways and feel absolutely centered about our choices.
I imagine Joseph never looked back (well, not much anyway) after his dream. He knew what needed to be done. Mary needed a husband and her unborn child needed a father. It worked out.
When are the times in your life a dream changed your mind and you were at peace with it?
Maria Evans, a surgical pathologist from Kirksville, MO, writes about the obscurities of life, medicine, faith, and the Episcopal Church on her blog, Kirkepiscatoid. Dr. Evans recently returned from a mission trip from the Diocese of Missouri to the Episcopal Diocese of Lui, South Sudan.