Have you ever marveled at Joseph?

Think about it. You are engaged and suddenly it is clear that your fiancé has been sleeping with someone else. You want to try to minimize her shame, but you want to call off the wedding. You‘re looking for a very quiet way to do just that. It‘s normal. It‘s also above board and honors the humanity of the other person. There will be no public shaming on Facebook: just a quiet break up. This makes sense to us. We can understand Joseph‘s story at that point. We get his reaction. Then something weird happens in Joseph‘s story. There is a dream that is clearly from God. He is told that the baby is real, but it‘s not from Mary‘s infidelity. The baby is from God, conceived from the Holy Spirit. He is a boy, and He will be a Savior.And at that point, all who really read this story want to say, “What?!” Think about that for a second. Joseph has no theological categories to understand this. In fact, it would seem to go against some key things he knew about God. How and why would God create a pregnancy? What does that mean this child will be? This is why many Jews and Muslims balk at this story; it just sounds too pagan. Joseph had to be swimming in questions, but he was convinced all this was from God so he moved forward. Instead of distancing himself from Mary‘s shame, he is now in the middle of it with her, seen as the father of a child conceived before marriage. And God does not defend their virtue to those around them. Only Mary and Joseph know the truth.Jesus steps out of eternity and into time and nobody really knows what‘s going on.

Even from His human conception, Jesus is experienced before He is understood . . . and this will continue throughout his life and ministry. People experienced Jesus interacting with them and doing what only God could do. His reality caused them to rethink what they knew about God. There was no systematic proclamation of what it meant for Jesus to be God Incarnate; there was no theological handbook given to Mary and Joseph to explain who this baby was. People encountered Jesus and experienced Him. After experiencing Him, they began to struggle to understand who He was and what that meant. His reality began to change their theology. Jesus came. Then, those closest to Him began to try to understand who He was and what the implications were. This is what happens in the gospels, because it‘s what happened in real life. Mark centers on the question, “Who is this man?”The New Testament is the recorded witness of people who experienced Jesus, and then they had to rethink everything. Because they experienced Him, they re-read Scripture in light of Him. For 300 years after Jesus‘ birth, the church struggled to find the right words to describe and understand the One they had experienced.

This struggle is the birthplace of Christian theology, as well as the birthplace for our creeds, which provide guides and boundaries for truly Christian reflection. How can we not be impressed with Joseph? His theological categories all smashed, he trusted God and moved forward. The disciples did the same, struggling all the way to understand who Jesus was, but moving forward. The Pharisees couldn‘t allow their experience of Jesus to move them to re-read Scripture and see if what Jesus said about Himself was true; they just couldn‘t. Sometimes knowing what we know now, we look back in time at Joseph and think, “Of course, he obeyed.” But reality requires a little more honest wonder about the faith of this man who stepped out amidst all the questions. Could you do the same? As you reflect on this week’s devotional topic, discuss how this might relate to you and your own spiritual journey.

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