What I Learned From Joseph this Christmas

When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife~ Matthew 1:24 NIV

 I will not lie.

 I actually enjoy some of the less-than-spiritual aspects of Christmas. I love Jesus (I am not a heathen). I also love the parties, the food, the trees, the decorations, the music, and the traditions of Christmas. I even like some of the stuff I should probably dislike. Things like Frosty, Santa Claus, elves, reindeer, and gift giving and getting. Basically, I like all the commercial stuff that sidetracks us from what should be a simple celebration of the birth of the Savior.

 Because I am drawn to the less-than spiritual side of Christmas I have attempted to discipline myself and spend a little extra time each year focusing on the birth of Christ. This year I started in Matthew and rediscovered an often forgotten hero of the Christmas story: Joseph.

 Like most people, I tend to overlook Joseph because Mary is obviously the star of the show. It’s easy to get caught up in the drama of her story. Mary’s obedient response to Gabriel’s announcement is the picture-perfect example of how we should all respond to God’s call. She voluntarily endured personal loss, hardship and probably even ridicule to become the Mother of the Jesus.

 It’s impossible not to love Mary.

 However, this year it was Joseph that captured my attention. I’m convinced that if we were all a little more like Joseph the world would be a better place.

 The text tells us that God considered Joseph to be a righteous man. That, in and of itself was a fairly rare thing for God to say about anyone in those days. Then we are told that because of his righteousness he did not want to divorce Mary publicly. It’s important to note that at this point in the story Mary and Joseph were legally wed, the marriage was a done deal in the eyes of the law and their religious community. The only thing left to do was to consummate the marriage.

 According to both Roman and Jewish law Joseph had every right to publicly divorce (and humiliate) Mary. They were married and he had what appeared to be incontrovertible proof of infidelity. Her story about the angel was, by every standard, well, more than a little crazy. Most of us would have felt justified in publicly shaming a woman who slept with another man and then told a ridiculously outlandish tale about God and angels to cover-up her indiscretion.

 Seriously.           

 God’s evaluation of Joseph as a “righteous man” tells me that God has a special place in His heart for those who look out for the reputations of others. God blesses those who are willing to go out of their way not to behave in a vengeful way even when they have been legitimately wronged.

 I think my favorite thing about Joseph is how he ignored the opinions of people in order to gain the approval of God. Following the dream where Joseph was commanded to keep Mary as his wife, Joseph had to go back to his family and friends and tell them that he planned to go ahead with marriage to a girl most people were probably convinced was well, a hussy (for want of another word).

 I am persuaded that Joseph’s family and friends were convinced that Joseph was either a fool or a liar. It almost goes without saying that Joseph suffered heartache, humiliation and social disgrace for his choice to stick by Mary.

Joseph’s selflessness is a reminder that the kind of righteousness that pleases God almost always involves a high level of inconvenience and self-denial.

 I do not believe there is anything wrong with the fun side of Christmas celebrations. I am convinced that the God we serve is the originator of fun and joy. My prayer for all of us is that in the midst of all the fun and merrymaking Joseph’s story will serve as a reminder that our response to God’s goodness and generosity should be a life of authentic righteousness and self-denial.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Power of Fearless Truth-telling

These are the things that you should do: speak the truth to one another; judge with truth and judgment for peace in your gates. Also let none of you devise evil in your heart against another, and do not love perjury; for all these are what I hate,’ declares the Lord~ Zechariah 8:16-17

 Recently I took a fresh look at two of my favorite books of the Bible, 1st and 2nd Samuel. The author divulges in vivid (and occasionally scandalous) detail the good, bad and ugly bits of David’s life, proving once and for all that one does not have to be faultless to be a man or woman after God’s own heart.

 Revisiting an old favorite inevitably causes me to see something I never really noticed before. This time it was Joab. He seems, at least in the beginning, to be nothing more than a bit player in the story. He emerges in 2nd Samuel as a military mastermind and the go-to-guy for all things ethically dubious.

 If there was a shady thing that needed to be done, Joab was the man to do it. The person asking did not have to worry at all about Joab questioning the morality of the proposed action, or attempting to set them on a more virtuous path (2nd Samuel 11:14-24. Joab just wasn’t that sort of a guy.

 Joab possessed some noble qualities. He was unquestionably loyal to David, a courageous warrior, and a brilliant military strategist. He was also power-hungry and egocentric. Joab appears to have been driven by the need to control and manipulate the people and circumstances around him. If he had a personal motto it would have been, “The end always justifies the means.” His best choices were morally debatable. His worst choices were brutal and wicked.  Simply stated, Joab was not a Bible character we ought to model our lives after.

 All that being said, Joab possessed one rather commendable quality. It was a character trait that is much needed in our wishy-washy, never say anything the way it really is, never offend anyone (no matter how stupid or harmful their beliefs might be) world.

 Joab was a fearless truth-teller.

 On at least two occasions Joab was willing to say things that urgently needed to be said. The first time Joab spoke hard truth to David was through a wise woman from Tekoa (2nd Samuel 14:1-13). The woman spoke Joab’s words for him. If David had followed Joab’s counsel and found a way to reconcile with his son while still adequately dealing with his sin, years of war and untold human suffering might have been avoided.

 The second time Joab confronted David was after a hard won battle with Absalom’s army. David was so grief-stricken over the death of his rebellious and horrible son that he neglected to show appreciation to the men who fought and won the war that saved Israel.

 Joab informed David harshly that there were things more important than his feelings (2nd Samuel 19:1-8)  He advised David to behave like a leader and to start thinking with his head rather than his heart. Joab told David in no uncertain terms to grow up, move past his grief and do what needed to be done. Joab’s truthful but hard words saved the kingdom and perhaps altered the course of Israel’s history.

 Joab’s tough talk and David’s response reminds me of some truths that I am sometimes inclined to forget. First, God uses less than perfect people to communicate critical truths. I can get caught in the trap of expecting perfection of others before I am willing to listen to what they have to say. When this happens I inevitably wind up overlooking some critical and possibly life changing truths. David’s willingness to hear out a less than perfect messenger reminds me that wise people prayerfully evaluate what others say to them.

 That said, Christians should strive to be the kind of truth-tellers folks respect and respond to. Joab’s story reminds me that I should be striving to be the type of Christian whose actions and attitudes do not get in the way of God’s truth. Joab was a born leader, gifted with incredible insight and the ability to articulate truth in a powerful and life changing way. He was also a moral and spiritual failure.

Joab’s life is a reminder that the spiritual impact we have in this world is directly tied to what kind of life we choose to live.