Advent – Joseph a Man of Dreams

We all have dreamed dreams. Some have been realized; others await fulfillment. Do you have a dream? Is there something you are anticipating?

I love children’s dreams about virtually unlimited possibilities of doing and becoming. As youth, dreams form around making the team, being chosen for a lead role, getting a driver’s license or reaching autonomy. Years pass and new dreams encompassing marriage, owning a home and starting a family take greater shape. Later in life, minds fill with dreams of retirement and less toil.

Man was created with an innate ability to dream!

Dream

It is evidence of being formed in the image of God — the One who envisioned and spoke all things into being. Dreams enable us to reach beyond today’s reality, pushing present boundaries toward what could or might be.

Shattered Dreams

I remember well the excitement and anticipation with which each of our sons approached marriage. Filled with far-reaching plans and joyful hope, the future held promise.

I’m sure Joseph was much the same. How long his betrothal to Mary lasted, we aren’t sure. In the custom of the time, he would begin to prepare a house for his future wife and family as soon as he was engaged.

“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.”
Matthew 1:18

I cannot imagine the upheaval of emotions that filled Joseph when he discovered Mary’s pregnancy: anger, betrayal, disbelief, fear, anxiety, confusion, disquiet. He watched helplessly as his greatest dream shattered irreparably before him.

Honour

Where did he go so wrong? Wasn’t he faithful to God? Hadn’t he tried to follow the Lord? How could this happen? Why?

The weight of disappointment and hurt must have been unbearable! Despite his personal pain, Joseph chose to act with the same integrity and honour that previously marked his life.

“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.”
Matthew 1:19

Joseph prepared himself to protect Mary regardless of any backlash! Undoubtedly, others questioned his sanity in making such a choice. Nonetheless, Joseph’s faithfulness and integrity blazed forth in spite of his own doubt and confusion.

His dream died a brutal death! Time to cut the loses! Walk away!

A Dream

What do you do when dreams shatter like broken glass on a concrete floor? Walking away may seem easy, even logical. The dark disintegration of man’s expectation is the perfect atmosphere for God’s revelation, igniting hope from hopelessness.

Expect

“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.”
Matthew 1: 20,21

Things are not always as they appear. Mary is pregnant but not because of unfaithfulness.

If Joseph was confused before, this dream may have intensified rather than answered the questions dominating his thoughts. Could this be possible? Was God really going to entrust him, a carpenter, and Mary, an unknown maiden, with the raising of the Messiah?

Every parent feels the overwhelming sense of responsibility that surrounds the birth of a child. How much more these parents and this birth?

A Man of Action

Joseph’s preset pattern of obedience to God set him in motion. Secure in his identity, he didn’t break his stride when faced with circumstances that would topple most men. On the basis of only a dream, he took immediate action.

“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

Trust

Walking humbly in obedience to God mattered more that anything else including human reasoning or influential voices of others. God’s word carried far more weight than the words of even his most loyal support community. At what point did Joseph exchange his

doubt for courage,
fear for faith,
anxiety for peace,
anger for hope,
or betrayal for trust?

In the midst of shattered dreams, obedience demands strength and resolve. He drew deep from the well named “Trust in God”. The steadiness of a man’s steps prove the soundness of his faith! Joseph was far more than a carpenter. God spoke to his identity: “son of David“, a man with a heart after God!

The steadiness of a man's steps prove the soundness of his faith! Click To Tweet

Faith Journey

There was nothing normal about this marriage. Perhaps there never would be! At some point Joseph had to make peace with his reality. There was no jubilant wedding night or honeymoon — two becoming one flesh.

A trip to Bethlehem, an untimely birth, strangers coming with well wishes and surprising announcements, prophetic utterances in the temple, more strangers with gifts and homage …. each confirming the identity of the Holy Child.

Peace

The dream of having a “normal” life died a thousand deaths! The desire for a secure home for Mary and Jesus probably remained foremost in Joseph’s heart — to provide for and protect his household.

Just when things seemed to begin to take shape, another dream!

“…an angel of the Lord
appeared to Joseph in a dream.
Get up,” he said, “take the child
and his mother and escape to Egypt.
Stay there until I tell you,
for Herod is going to search
for the child to kill him.”
Matthew 2:13

Get up! Escape! Sounds more like a nightmare than a dream! Would Joseph ever experience the luxury of “normal”? Maybe! But not today!

The same outright obedience that had marked Joseph’s life to this point continued. His steadfast faithfulness to both God and his family were enough to stir him from deep sleep. Packing their few belongings, they moved on. Before the awakening of dawn, there came a fresh realization that perhaps the worst was not yet behind them. They became refugees on the run!

Unshakable!

I am amazed as I consider Joseph, this incredible man of God. What an example of unshakable faith in God’s sovereign will.

“So he got up, took the child
and his mother during the night
and left for Egypt,
where he stayed until the death of Herod.”
Matthew 2:14

Faith

Wherever God led, however long the exile, regardless of questions, Joseph led his family with faith.

What kind of man walks with consistency at such great personal sacrifice? God knew Joseph could be trusted along every rocky road of this journey. God’s only Son was safe in the hands of this loving, passionate servant.

Is faith blind, or does it see without light? Is the breaking of a dream the end, or the beginning of something beyond understanding?

Dream Fulfilled!

Twice more Joseph would be directed through dreams:

“After Herod died, an angel of the Lord
appeared in a dream
to Joseph in Egypt and said,
“Get up, take the child and his mother
and go to the land of Israel,
for those who were trying to take
the child’s life are dead.”
Matthew 2:20

and

“…Having been warned in a dream,
he withdrew to the district of Galilee,
and he went and
lived in a town called Nazareth.”
Matthew 2:22

Can you imagine the relief? At home with the threat over! Safe at last!

When one says “yes” to God, there is no way of knowing where “yes” will lead. “Yes” is unconditional agreement to God’s choice, God’s ways, His thoughts, His desires. The path of “yes” is often paved with sacrifice.

Hope

I have learned much from looking at the life of this not-so-secondary character in the Advent story. Each of us, at some point, will face the reality of broken dreams, failed promises, and unrealized hope. Then, what?

Joseph presents a powerful example of

faithfulness,
honour and integrity
selfless commitment
sacrificial obedience
passionate service
and unshakable faith.

May God see in us, what He saw in Joseph, a true son of David — one “who will do everything” He desires.

“… God testified concerning him:
‘I have found David son of Jesse,
a man after my own heart;
he will do everything I want him to do.’ ”
Acts 13:22

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Expecting without Expectation

I am the blessed mother of five incredible sons. That is five pregnancies, five marked times when expectations ran high and five deliveries into reality. Knowing and unknowingly, each time I was expecting with expectation! You would think this in itself would be enough to free me from further bowing to expectations, but it hasn’t.

I carry many spoken and unspoken, known and unknown expectations. They can be the source of conflict in relationships or problems in the workplace. They rest unseen like a burr under the saddle; all is fine until pressure is applied!

Expect

To expect is to look forward to something with eagerness or to anticipate the occurrence or the coming of something or someone. Expecting can be positive!

Not only did we anticipate the births of our own children, my husband and I looked ahead to when they would be married. We with eagerness awaited the arrival of each grandchild.  Over the years, our family of two has expanded to twenty-three!

The joy of expectancy!

When my husband and I were married, we fully expected some day to have a family. We had no expectation of how large that family would become, or how blessed our lives would be through them.

Expecting can also be negative!

“He does not punish us for all our sins;
he does not deal harshly with us, as we deserve.”
Psalms 103:10

The guilt of sin and failure, accompanied by conviction is not unfamiliar territory for me! I know when justice should be administered, yet mercy and grace are portioned out. I fully expect to receive the penalty that already has been applied.

The cross was the greatest act of justice ever conceived. Christ bore the full weight of the penalty of sin in His death.  What I deserved, Christ took! Though I expect punishment, grace is offered. It is a grace without strings attached.

Expectation

Expectation, on the other hand, is quite different. It is the eagerness of something “self-determined” happening in the future coupled with

assumption and even presumption,
conjecture or prediction.

It is a strong belief that something should happen in a specific way! Today is the day of unparalleled, unrealistic expectations. Media continually flashes images of “super people” in front of us. You know what I mean: the new car, perfect home, six figure income, kids who always behave, the ladder of success easily climbed, never weary, always on the up-and-up…

The weight of unrealistic expectations, like heavy stones, breaks emotional bones, fractures families, and incubates discouragement.

“The hopes of the godly result in happiness,
but the expectations of the wicked come to nothing.”
Proverbs 10:28

Expectations carry a selfish slant filled with desires of self-fulfillment even when we think they don’t!

God’s Plans

Because God is inerrantly good, everything He is and does is good. What He has for us is good!

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD,
“plans to prosper you and not to harm you,
plans to give you hope and a future.”
Jeremiah 29:11

Hope and desire are the fuel of living passionately! When rightly placed they release God intention to the world around us. It is God who gives us the ability to dream, and the courage to dream again when dreams seem lost.

“Surely there is a future,
And your hope will not be cut off.”
Proverbs 23:18

Expect without Expectation

Here is where I make the leap! In knowing the goodness and love of God, I form presumptions of what I think the future should be. Rather than placing my trust in Him, with childlike simplicity, I begin to weave my own ending into the story line of not only my life, but of those around me.

My prime victims are those closest to me. It is  most unloving, however, to expect the best for them, while tightly gripping the confining strings of expectation around their lives.

Strings tightly attached!

Then there is the paralyzing opposite! Because of unfulfilled, self-directed expectations, I find a reluctance within me to expect again, a hesitancy to hope, and a fear of dreaming for the impossible.

Expecting without expectation requires living with

arms flung purposefully open,
a heart tenderized and welcoming to all,
a mind flexible to God encounters and initiatives,
and a no-holds-barred
“Yes” to God!

To fully expect, requires trust!

Trust

What allows me to release expectation is, undoubtedly, a confident trust in God who is completely trustworthy.

“For God alone, O my soul,
wait in silence, for my hope is from him.”
Psalm 62:5

It is right and good to expect God to be all He said He would be. I can expect with absolute assurance that He will fulfill all He has promised. It is on this foundation that faith rests.

“Faith is the confidence that
what we hope for will actually happen;
it gives us assurance about things we cannot see.”
Hebrews 11:1

Living expecting in His goodness, without expectations of predictable outcomes, is perhaps like walking a tight-rope blindfolded. Unknowing how far I have come or how far is left to go, without solid ground beneath my feet or structure to hold to, I hesitantly move forward.

God gives the assurance to let go of all expectations, while simultaneously whispering an invitation to hope. He opens the window releasing failure, disappointment and loss while allowing the breath of His Presence to enter with freshness.

When His word touches my heart, do I receive it, holding it gently, and examining it purposefully, before surrendering it wilfully at His feet? In this is the image of expecting without expectation. It is

receiving without clinging,
appreciating with owning,
possessing without controlling,
loving without manipulating,

“We Had Hoped”

“Our lives should be lived with expectancy.
Not necessarily with expectation,
because expectation tends to dictate terms…
Expectancy is the belief that God will do something.
Expectation insists He do it in just this way…”

– Mark Buchanan

(“Your God is Too Safe” – Pg 149)

Blind and deaf with expectation!

Two perplexed disciples walked the road to Emmaus when a “Stranger” joined their conversation:

“..we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel…”
Luke 24:21

Their expectation of Christ didn’t include betrayal, crucifixion, or the inexplicable empty tomb! The Source of all hope walked beside them. They neither recognized nor heard – blind and deaf by expectation! Until He broke the bread…

How oft I miss seeing The One beside me, because of expectation for a different way.

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