(Excerpts from the meditation: NOT YOUR AVERAGE JOE)
This Nativity story is as inclusive as you can get because it was the inclusiveness of God’s love that was of such importance to Dr. Luke. That is why it is all about women, and Gentiles, and outcasts and anyone who had appeared to be excluded from God’s grace. Folk seem to stumble into the story, every which way, from every which angle. Some come:
• suddenly and unprepared like the shepherds;
• on a hunch like the wise men;
• after years of longing and searching and waiting like Anna and Simeon;
• with simple trust like Mary;
• with a joyful and relieved surrender like Elizabeth;
• from a place of rank incredulousness and unbelief like Zechariah;
• with initial doubt and rejection and with a struggle like Joseph.
But come they do, and come we all may in similar ways, but come we must. How did you come to Jesus? Which of the above do you most relate to? And if you have never come to Jesus, which of the above approaches best defines how you might be coming?
Let us focus on that last guy I mentioned, and his way of coming to Jesus, of becoming connected …
…. THE THIRD THING I love about Joseph is that he got to name the child. It is such a lovely touch in the script. When Jesus was born it says, “and he (that’s our Joseph) … and he gave Him the name Jesus” (Matthew 1:25). Are you kidding me! If I were God I would not have allowed such a thing. There would have been a light show in the firmament like no other with a heavenly voice like no other booming the name from the starry stratosphere with a cohort of angels doing a fly-by and the name Jesus appearing in their exhaust. I would want no one to be in any doubt that this was my boy. But the God of heaven defers to Joseph, and invites him to specify who this boy is exactly. If you had spoken to Joseph a few months earlier I think he would have named these circumstances very differently, and in particular, named that fetus a number of choice, unkind and uncomplimentary things. Like Zechariah, it is all about this business of naming. Do you remember what you named your circumstances and life before you were aware of God’s loving purposes for you? What are you naming your circumstances now? Is the God who is getting too close for comfort being named as fear, or` threat, or trouble? God invites us, as he did Joseph, to name these circumstances and feelings differently, and discern what is really going on. O the stretch-marks of faith, the discomforts of Christ. Years later there would be a similar set of circumstances for Jesus’ disciples when they got caught in a storm out on Galilee. Some only named the circumstances as a life-threatening storm. Peter named it differently. He saw the Lord in it and walked on the water. Why do I love this man Joseph? He teaches me to discern the work of God in my life, and invites me to name what is going on as God’s work and initiative pursuing me. There is so much in my life that did not rest well with me when I first perceived it, but later, with Joseph’s help and example, I was able to name it ‘Jesus’: Jesus wooing me, Jesus disciplining me, Jesus refining me, Jesus redeeming me, Jesus disciplining me – frankly, Jesus saving me ….
… As we keep asking, where does this Advent season find your life? Are there pains and struggles in walking out the will of God? Are you tempted to run and quit on this possible relationship with Jesus? Is God trusting you with your responses to His faith-stretching requests and requirements of you? Are things happening in your life that are anything but the dream circumstances you had planned for and to be honest, it looks as if resolution is as far away as the delivery of that baby seemed to Joseph. Are you bearing shame and humiliation in this process? Are you learning, like Joseph, to continue to co-operate with God’s pregnant purposes and trust His delivery date? Are you choosing to respond as Joseph did, righteously not reactively, and in obedience, doing nothing less or more than what God has shown you, though it may neither feel nor look good? Is your character being tested and honed as Joseph’s was? How would Joseph counsel you? I think he would say, “Dear-heart, there is one simple and indisputable thing that makes it all worthwhile – relationship with Jesus, a revelation of Jesus, the presence of Jesus in your life. Don’t run. Don’t check out. Don’t doubt. Don’t delay. Just come. Take Him on. You may be naming it many things right now – name it the Lord! Take Him home.” Thanks Joe! You are an Extra- Ordinary Joe, and I love you.
The poem that follows was provoked by Simeon’s description of Jesus as a child destined “to be a sign” (Luke 2:34), and summarizes my personal response of deep gratitude to what Joseph has taught me.
(who taught me how to look at art)
“This child is destined … to be a sign.”
You did not frequent marbled shrines
Or marvel at the brush-stroked lines
And contours of museumed artistry.
No guided tour, no catalogue,
No philosophic dialogue
In Nazareth – no civic gallery.
Yet you beheld a work of art,
The making of a holy heart.
At first its meaning was so hard to see.
The artist said He was divine,
That earth would bow before His sign.
But is art pure that robs virginity?
Joseph, you taught me how to view,
To look by faith and sight eschew,
And give the artist time to be believed.
When flesh-framed masterpiece was done,
It flamed the image of a Son.
When hung, at last its meaning was perceived.