Joseph the Dreamer

Joseph, the Dreamer Advent 4 “A” Matthew 1:18-25

When I was growing up my Papa would so often look at me, sigh deeply and say, “Joseph, you are such a dreamer. You will never fit into this world if you don’t start being more practical. You are a son of David. More is expected of us because of that great ancestor.”

He’d say this to me because of many things I did that seemed to displease him. Instead of practicing my Hebrew readings from the Torah, I would dance and sing praises to the Lord out in the fields near our village. Papa thought that was so odd. He taught me his trade of carpentry, but worried that I spent too much time carving things like birds and even jewelry for my mother and my sisters. “Joseph,” he would say, “You need to learn how to build a wall, or make a table. Those are the things people need. Practical things. You are such a dreamer. Dreams will not get you food on the table.” When we would go to Jerusalem for Passover each year, Papa would get so annoyed with me because I would tell him how I wanted to move there and work at the temple to be close to God.

“What would you do, Joseph? Do they need carpenters there? Stone masons are what they need to keep building this amazing structure. Can you build these great porches and massive columns? Don’t be such a dreamer. Learn to be content with what you have, with who you are. You are a son of David. That is something to be proud of.”

God was going to send the Messiah someday. And he would come from the descendants of King David. That promise was sure. That’s what my people are taught. We believe it. God would become close to us through the Savior. Not so far away as it now is. But the wait is so long. Such suffering our people have had to endure, being over thrown by kingdom after kingdom. And now we live under the thumb of these Romans, a just people sometimes, but cruel in so many ways. “Why does the Messiah wait so long in coming to help us, Papa?” I would ask.

“Trust the Lord, it is God’s timing, not ours, my son,” he would say.

When I was 15, Mama and Papa began to talk of finding a suitable wife for me. I wanted someone who would understand why I made birds and sculptures, but how was I to tell that to my parents without hearing the familiar, you are such a dreamer Joseph. So I kept it to myself. One day, as Papa and I were building troughs to hold animal food, he told me they had found me a wife and the betrothal ceremonies would seal the decision. “Who is she?”

“Mary, who lives at the other end of the village. You know her brother from the synagogue. I am sure you have seen her. She comes at a bride price we can afford and from a good family. You should be pleased with the mating.”
“When can I meet her?”

“Tomorrow, we will sign the papers for the match. You will see her then.”

I could hardly sleep that night, wondering about her. What if she is not nice? What if she thinks I am not attractive? How would it be to lie with a woman? How would I know what to do? Would she understand me, see how I needed to be different? Would we have many children? Would I be able to support a family, a dreamer like myself?

The next day, our families met and signed the papers for the official betrothal. Mary and I were given permission to go on a walk together. She was lovely, not beautiful, but quite nice to look at. She didn’t seem disgusted by me, with my large hands and feet, so that was good. I needed to know right then if she would understand me, I couldn’t wait, so I took the risk to show her the spot on the hill where I kept some of my carvings hidden so Papa would not say again, “Joseph, you are such a dreamer.” I thought I might as well learn right away whether there was any hope for her to be a companion as well as a wife.

Mary liked them. She thought they were beautiful. She could not understand why I would need to hide such beautiful things. When I told her of my Papa’s objections, she really understood because she said sometimes she needed to keep many thoughts to herself about her own dreams because her Mama would tell her such talk was childish. By the time we returned from the walk, I knew we both were happy with the match our parents had made.

I only had a few chaperoned visits with her over the next six months or so. We had to wait a almost a year until the wedding and were warned to not lie together until after we were officially married. In some villages rumor was that that was okay after betrothal, but not ours. We did manage some time alone without our parents knowing, even shared some kisses. Those were wonderful. Then Mary left to visit her cousin Elizabeth in Jerusalem and was gone three months. I missed stealing glances at her around the village, but was glad that the wedding preparations were finally underway. I busied myself with adding on a room to the house that would be for Mary and me.

After Mary returned from Jerusalem and only a few weeks before our wedding, my Papa sat me down and told me terrible news. Mary had returned pregnant. Her father had told him the day before, telling him Mary had finally told them herself only the day before that. No, they did not know who the father was and Mary was not saying. What shame she has brought on her family! I could not take it all in. My Mary, having a baby. Someone else’s baby. I did not get the chance to be the first man with her! Papa reminded me that the law was clear about what needed to be done. She should be stoned to death for this adultery.

“Never,” I said. “Maybe she was raped. It might not have been her fault. Mary would not do this to me or her family.”

“Don’t be such a dreamer, Joseph. Now is not the time for such thinking. Be practical. Of course she did this. If she had been raped she would have said so. Even if she was, you do not want to raise such a child. We will find you another wife. Mary must be stoned.”

“No, never,” I screamed. And I ran up to the hill, to my secret place and wept till I could not anymore. Mary, what have you done? I could not have her killed. She understood me. What could I do? I decided what to do. Without telling my Papa, I went to Mary’s home with the papers for divorce. I would get them to sign them and end our union, without bringing charges of adultery against Mary. Her father, thanked me, but told me the shame of her condition would become known anyway soon enough, but he was glad his daughter would not be killed. We made arrangements to sign the papers the next day when my parents would have to be there. I saw Mary watching us from inside the house and she seemed different somehow. I did not understand, but saw the tears streaming down her face and she mouthed the words, thank you, and I think, I love you. I loved her too.

When I told my parents they were not happy with my decision, but said it was a just thing, a practical thing, nevertheless. They told me I was a man, now and they would stand by my decision and be with me to sign the divorce papers.

That night I had a dream. A dream of dreams. Never had I had such an experience. God spoke to me and told me Mary was pregnant with the Messiah. I should not be afraid to marry her, because it was all part of God’s plan. God needed me, that was clear. I was told to name the baby Jesus. If I named the baby, that would show everyone that I was establishing legal fatherhood over this child. But how am I to raise the Messiah? I am not rich. I am not of the family of the high priest, those closest to God. Mary is not either. Could I believe this dream, this messenger from God? I was a son of David, wasn’t I? But, maybe my Papa was right about me after all? Dreams get you no where. Isn’t that true?

“A dream! Joseph, a dream told you to marry Mary. What will we tell the neighbors? They will think you and Mary blasphemous, putting yourselves in the place of God and claiming God is working through you. I forbid it,” Papa said as Mama sat there and cried.

“Papa, you told me I was an adult, and this it what I want to do. You don’t have to tell people about the Messiah. They wouldn’t believe you anyway. You don’t even have to pay the bride price. I am sure her family will just be glad I will marry her and save their reputations. I am going over there right now to tell them the news. Dreamer, or not, this is what I must do.”

That was months ago. Mary and I are very happy. The baby is a fine boy. I named him Jesus as I was told to do.. We do believe God is at work through us. Why, we do not yet know. What our boy will become is up to God. But one thing is sure, I will teach him to dream. The world needs more carvings, and sculptures, and healers and dancers. The world needs to hear God’s dreams of love and forgiveness. Yes, my Jesus will learn these things.

And you, what dream is God asking you to follow? Do you know the love of God? Do you know how special you are to the Lord? God is not far away, but is with us. If God can use simple people like Mary and me then God can certainly use you to do great things. Maybe not big things, but great things if you do them with love. Do not be afraid to listen to your dreams, for they may be from God.

If anyone wants to borrow the story, feel free. Just let me know that you used it.

13 Comments

  1. I would like to use this as a major part of my sermon Sunday. I will credit you as the author. I post sermons on our congregation website and will credit you there as well as linking to your blog if that’s all Okay.

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    1. Oh, I am so glad it will be shared beyond my own preaching on Sunday. Yes on the credit. If you can link to my book as well as the blog I would be delighted. It is helping many people. I can send a direct link.

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  2. What a blessing! I’m at a time of very low energy (medical basis, not work), and this lovely story is a gift when I desperately need rest. It will be my sermon this Sunday. Is it OK if I name it “The Dreamer”? Thank you so much.

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      1. I’m in a tiny community just beyond the “limits” of Northern Virginia. Tiny congregation, all but one over 60, and a federation of a Lutheran and a Presbyterian congregation.

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  3. I would like to use this wonderful story “Joseph the Dreamer” in my sermon this Sunday. I appreciate your creativity, and how you make the story of the Messiah personal. Thank you so much for sharing it.

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  4. This story reminds me of a friend from high school if you change the room dreamer to passion. He was an avid runner which displeased his father. His father would always say to him when are you going to quit fooling around with this running nonsense and get a job. You will never be able to make a living running. Long story short, he eventually qualified to run in the marathon trial to make the Olympic team. He also wrote a book documenting the entire history of the Boston Marathon. He followed his passion and it led to his lifetime vocation. Follow your dreams and your passions.

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  5. Does anyone know how to edit a post after it has been posted? I submit this verbally and I always need to do an edit because of my New England accent.

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