Sunday 22nd July
Do not be afraid - Matthew 1:18-22
This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about: his mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit. Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly. But after he had considered 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 home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.'

Joseph, we are told, was a righteous man; and righteous people tend to do the right thing. The law, to which he was faithful, said that his engagement to Mary should come to and end, and his care and concern for Mary impelled him to so so quietly, in a way that avoided her disgrace.

But this was a moment when the obvious thing to do; the right thing to do; the traditional thing to do, was not what God wanted him to do. Joseph became central to God's Salvation story, not through some great act of public honour, but by quietly obeying God's message against his own instincts and the conventions of the day.

Joseph probably saw himself as no more than a decent bloke trying to do the right thing in the midst of a moral and emotional dilemma. But God saw a potential way beyond that, a reality that echoes in the angel's salutation 'son of David'. Unknowingly, it was Joseph's choice to become a husband to Mary, that some months later would require them to travel to Bethlehem, and it was Joseph's identity that would connect God's incarnate self with the promised Messiah, long declared by prophets as coming from the house of David.

Yet the immediate consequences of Joseph's decision would feel a far cry from any such grand ideas. Misunderstood and rejected by his peers, left alone and desperate, Mary and Joseph would nurture this child in the most challenging of circumstances, and yet it was through these circumstances that salvation prevailed. As an Advent people, we too are called to be a people led by God's Spirit, alert and ready to not simply follow convention and expectation. We are called to follow God's way, even if it seems a choice that makes immediate circumstances more difficult. And we do so confident that God's Salvation has come, and that Christ's full and final Kingship will one day be unequivocally revealed.

God who works in ways that our human reason will never fully grasp, help us not simply to conform to the expectations of our age, but have the courage and wisdom to be led by your Spirit. AMEN

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