Some of my most meaningful understanding of what it means to follow Jesus don’t come from Jesus; it’s a strange thing to say, especially at this time of year, but it’s true.
Rather than coming from Jesus, some of the most meaningful insights I’ve gained about how to follow have come from the stories of faithful folks who didn’t completely know what was going on, but followed anyway.
Joseph isn’t the first person we think of when we’re trying to grasp what it means to follow Jesus. He disappears from the scene as quickly as he appears. Mary is important enough to make it into the creeds, but Joseph – not so much.
Yet, if there was ever an example of faithful following, it was Joseph.
Mary comes to him with the news that she’s pregnant, not the easiest news to either deliver or accept. But she doesn’t stop there. She adds that it was through the power of God’s Holy Spirit.
Right… Okay… Best thing to do is end this all quietly. A discreet divorce. Seems like a plausible, human response. I can understand that.
Then Joseph gets a visit from an angel who tells him Mary is telling the truth. She really is going to bear the one who will be called Son of the Most High. Trust me Joseph, the angel says. Trust her.
He does; and instead of sending her away, he marries her.
But then the angel leaves and Joseph is alone with a pregnant wife.
Following Jesus is always easier when there are angels around. We have a significant spiritual experience. We make a commitment. We’re bold and excited. We think, I can do this. I believe this.
There may be others around us who are feeling that same way. They’ve taken on a new spiritual challenge. Made a new commitment. Maybe even their initial commitment to Christ. They’re energized and confident. They’re all in and ready to follow.
And then the angel leaves.
Joseph helps me understand what it means to follow after the angel leaves. He reminds me that the angel may be gone, but the promise still stands. The Son of the Most High will come; his kingdom will have no end. God will make God’s home among God’s people, living with them and wiping every tear from their eyes.
Joseph stood on that promise. He trusted Mary. He trusted God. He stood on that promise, regardless of what his family thought, regardless of what his community thought. Even when it meant fleeing to another country, he stood on that promise.
When the angels leave and I feel alone with my commitments, when those commitments feel too big or their weight feels greater than I can carry, I look to Joseph. I recall the way he claimed the promise that he would soon witness the birth of the Son of the Most High. His trust enlivens my trust. His faithful following empowers my own.
There are those around us who need to hear a hope-filled word this Christmas – some quite possibly for the first time. Others may have heard that word, but now the angels are gone and following Jesus is suddenly a whole lot harder. As I look to Joseph to inspire my own following, I pray that each of us will be a Joseph to someone in our family or our community – or even beyond. Following Jesus isn’t easy; but the promise still stands.