There are some things I don’t know. I don’t know if when the ancient world talked about dreams was it only what you experience in that state of asleep are half asleep, Or did they also speak about dreams like we do, of our hopes or expectations or a future?
And I wonder what Joseph cleaned up for his future, Before he had that dream with the angel. I imagine it was pretty simple: A betrothal which was the legal and monetary exchange for marriage I know that was arranged by Good families. That they would establish a home together, and They would both survive. And then he would teach his son or sons and they would work side-by-side for The rest of his life however long that would be. These are simple dreams and simple hopes that really just described how the world was supposed to be. these are simple dreams and simple hopes that really just described how the world was supposed to be.
These weren’t dreams of fame or fortune, these weren’t dreams of conquest and power, these were dreams of a simple life that probably looked like the life of his father, and his father before him. And everything was set in motion to be just like that. The arrangements had been made, contracts had been signed money had been exchanged and they were just waiting to finalize the marriage. And only then did he find out that the woman, somewhere between the ages of 12 and 20, was already pregnant.
By law, Joseph could set up the system in motion in which Mary would be killed for having had sex outside of the parameters of the marriage, of which betrothal was part of. Our author tells us that Joseph was a righteous man and that really means that he followed the law in this case the spirit of the law. He did not long for her death, did he care for her already? He just decided that the contract was broken and they should move on. .
This isn’t the story of Jesus’ birth that we expect to hear at Christmas time. we always read the story of Jesus’ birth out of Luke And we will again on Christmas Eve. We know what to expect out of Luke. But here there is no census, there are no shepherds in Matthew. No angel comes to Mary we don’t know what she knew or when she knew it. But Matthew isn’t the story we expect. And Joseph was about to live a life he didn’t plan.
Sometimes things don’t go as we planned. Sometimes the dreams we have for our lives don’t turn out. In fact, most of us could write a story of our lives and title it Not Exactly What I Expected.
I just told this story the other day but it’s a favorite of mine. I was still kid of a single-digit age, and my sister Jessica was 8 years older than me, she still is, she had decided she wanted a boom-box for Christmas. She had in her room a 80’s stereo with a record player, dialed to find the radio station, and the 2-foot speakers with long cords in separate corners of the room. But she was in high school, and maybe she was thinking about college, and that stereo wasn’t going to cut it.
Jessica also was committed to finding where the Christmas presents had been hidden before they were wrapped and under the tree. Sometimes they were hidden under my parent’s bed, sometimes they were on the shelves in the back of the closet where we just store things. I didn’t think I’d be very good at pretending surprised, so I didn’t know so it was easier not to look.
Christmas morning came and the boom-box she had already found in the basement was there under the tree all wrapped up… with my name on it. See, because it was like 1990 and my parents thought what she really wanted was something that she could plug into her stereo and her car to play these new fancy compact discs.
My sister received one of her early lessons in not Exactly What I Expected.
Of course, that wasn’t the last time. Just about anyone who has aged to adulthood understands when a dream gets deferred, or expectations end up changed, or life isn’t what you expected. You see it if you have kids in your life that you love and then they just change everything. The moment you think you have settled and have a handle on things, they grew a few more inches, they ask some wild question, they learn something new. And if they are your kid, and you think you have this figured you, we could have another, the second one couldn’t be more different.
We see it in other ways. Maybe you expected you would grow old this one person And something keeps you apart bad timing or death, divorce or growth, abuse or betrayal.
Maybe you are certain that this career you have forever, then you got there and it just wasn’t what you thought.
Author Elizabeth Gilbert had an interview or a conversation with Author and Scholar Kate Bowler. During their conversation, Liz Gilbert (because that’s what she calls herself) told a story of how she was walking down the road and she saw across the street this man standing precariously on a ladder. She said she had a dad who stood on ladders and it was her job to hold it so nothing would happen. So here she was, running across 4 lanes of traffic, to hold the ladder steady for this stranger. She held that ladder until he finally started climbing down and was in a salfe place, 45 minutes after she started standing there, and she walked away. They had no interaction, he didn’t seem to have even known she was there. And she wondered what if that was her purpose in life? What if her purpose was to make sure that man didn’t fall from his ladder? Wouldn’t that be unexpected.
When Joseph has that dream, when he’s given that vision, when he’s given the appearance by an angel the life and future that is presented to him is both grandiose and small, both an honor and deeply humbling. Were people going to know it wasn’t really his kid? Were they going judge him for claiming the child? For staying with Mary?
It was not unlike he had hoped and yet it was completely different. Choosing to love this family he was given, choosing this life that was going to be nothing like he expected.
And there he was stepping in and stepping up and naming the child Jesus and claiming him as his own. And part of his family.
Dreams we have for ourselves are filled with hope and the best of intentions, it is life that is complicated and unexpected. And we are called into and out of a hundred things every day. We are called to the small actions of holding ladders and the cosmic ones of caring for children, be they ours, or like Joseph: step or adopted children, or grandchildren, or the kids of our church.
The call of God, be it in a dream or a prayer or an conversation, is to live with love into the unexpected. To live with grace and hope into the surprises. To welcome the unexpected like a newborn–full of undiscovered potential and endless surprises.
That is the call to us as individuals and as a community called church. We are named Emmanuel, God with us, God is with us, and we, like Joseph, will realize that that will ask things of us, That God with us will grow and change us too. Will ask us to choose unexpected things, to move in the world in unexpected ways, to be humble enough to hold a ladder or write a letter or love a child, and count all that as an honor.
May Christ be born in us and change everything.