One of my favorite Christmas stories in the Bible is right at the very beginning of the New Testament (Matthew 1) where an angle appears to Joseph in a dream.
"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. 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. 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. (Matthew 1:18-20)
Can you imagine what must've been going through Joseph's mind? We know from other parts of the Bible what Mary the mother of Jesus was going through. She was visited by the angel Gabriel, was "greatly troubled" at this visit, was bewildered saying "how will this be, since I am a virgin?" (Luke 1). But, in the end, Mary learns to accept this unbelievable event, embraces God's will for her and the savior of the world being prepared in her own body, and proclaims, "My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior" (Luke 1:47ff).
But, what about Joseph?
Mary was visited by none other than angel Gabriel (and it doesn't even say it was in a dream), and Mary ultimately felt a life inside her tummy that she certainly knew had no biologically reason for being in there. Mary, in other words, though might have been shocked at first, had every reason to believe in what was happening. It didn't really take a leap of faith on her part, and fittingly, Mary considers herself "blessed, for the Mighty One has done great things for me." God chose Mary to be the mother of Jesus, it was going to happen whether Mary learned to accept it or not, and how great it was that she was able to fully embrace it and praise God for such an unexpected blessing!
But, again, what about Joseph?
Back to the account in the first chapter of Matthew. At first, Joseph was doing everything he possibly could do to spare Mary of public disgrace. He was obviously disappointed. Maybe even angry. Had no idea why or how this happened. And, then, an angel appears in his dream. Not Gabriel appearing in real life. But an angel in his sleep, which he could have easily attributed to being one of his nightmares during this highly unsettling time. And, what happened in this dream? The angel told Joseph not to be afraid and take Mary as his wife, because the baby conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.
I don't know about you. But, I don't think I would have quietly woken up from this kind of dream and do what the angel told me to do - which is exactly what Joseph did (Matt 1:24). I would either disregard this as just a dream, or at least ask the angel not to leave until fully answering well-deserved questions I had for him (biological or spiritual in nature). But, Joseph simply got up, accepted, and obeyed (v.24).
Now, the best part of the story for me isn't really how Joseph responded. If you read it very carefully, it does not really say whether Joseph truly believed. It says he quietly did what angel told him to do. There is no praises and worship like what we saw with Mary. In fact, there isn't much more we know of how Joseph processed this event and Jesus being the savior of the world as he was raising up the boy Jesus. Maybe he really believed. Or maybe he was just a humble, obedient man.
What speaks to my heart the most in this story, however, is what Joseph was told by the angel who appeared in his dream.. First, "do not be afraid." And second, "what's being conceived is from the Holy Spirit."
I really don't think Joseph truly understood what was going on. And, it's often the same in our lives. We don't really understand what's going on. Both good and bad things happen. Some unexpected disappointments that disrupt our well-planned goals in our life. Or, sometimes, unexpected spiritual desires and longings in the deeper part of our soul that cannot be easily ignored. Either way, we are afraid of hardship we would have to go through if we decide to proceed with what was in front of us. It would be easier and maybe even smarter to go around the challenges ahead and take the safer and more predictable route. It might even be a socially more expected thing to do.
But, God, through the Holy Spirit, often does things that don't make any sense. Why would they? If things God does through the Holy Spirit make sense to us, how is he any more divine that us humans? What he does is supposed to be hard to understand. What is being "conceived" from the Holy Spirit must be different than what humans can conceive on their own. What God conceives is to frighten us, and therefore requires humility and faith as we accept and receive it into our hearts.
I wonder what my soul is feeling afraid of these days. I wonder what God is conceiving in and around my life that I'm not even able to recognize yet with my eyes. And, if I can see it better, and know that it's not merely a dream in my head, could I not be afraid and take it home with me.
Lord, I don't ask you to take away my feelings of being afraid. For what you conceive is supposed to frighten my lowly soul. But, I ask, when I do become afraid, because what you are doing is beyond my comprehension and strengths, remind me to look to you as both the source of these amazing conceptions and also of the power to make them happen. I want to witness what you are doing in and around my life. What only you can do. And, when they become ever so clear, may I sing like Mary so confidently, "my soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior!"