The feast of manifestation, or Epiphany, is traditionally celebrated the 12th day after Christmas, January 6. It marks the day the Three Kings arrived at the birthplace of baby Jesus, and welcomed him. They followed the star, and found their way, and celebrated when they arrived.
As the Christmas story tells us, the Prince of Peace had a stepfather, and his name was Joseph. Joseph appears to have been an ordinary man of his time. He was a devout Jewish man, faithful, hard-working, and he was betrothed to Mary, having taken her into his home. At the passing of a year, she would be his wife, and they would then be intimate and begin their family. But that ordinariness was interrupted, and Joseph was to endure a test of faith greater than most.
“Joseph” says Mary “I’m pregnant, and the father is God…no really…I have not been with a man…this is Heaven’s baby…God’s son…an angel told me so.”
Can you imagine?
And the story goes on:
Being the decent man he was, Joseph simply set out to quietly separate from Mary. He didn’t disgrace her, but he did seek to set her out of his home.
And then he rested.
And then he had a dream.
And in that dream he was told to trust Mary. To stay with Mary. To be a father to Jesus.
And he woke up.
And he did as he was told.
Yes. Joseph, this ordinary man, trusted a dream, trusted Mary, and acted in pure faith. His trust in the divine message brought to him in a dream was greater than his inability to comprehend his situation with his rational mind.
It must have been some dream.
Dreams like that happen. Experiences, visions, communications intimately delivered from the realm of divinity and spirit…ineffable, so they are called dreams. But they’re not really dreams, in the ordinary sense of the word. They are genuine, authentic interventions in an earth bound life—precious visits from that heavenly realm meant to encourage, assure, strengthen, and usually, to change the direction of one’s life.
It can be lonely to speak of them, because most dismiss such possibility of angels visiting, of spirits communing, of the divine directly approaching, as absurd. But Joseph trusted.
At Christmastime, we celebrate the birth of Jesus. We celebrate this holy teacher who came to reveal God’s unconditional love that dwells within us—the grace that is ours, eternally ours. We celebrate that we are loved, that we are precious and cherished, no matter our shameful stories, our broken ways, our humiliating past.
And with all the attention on newborns, it is not unusual to miss the quiet expressions of faith that surround new babies, expressions that provide the steady path for a child to do what the child was born to do—to be who he was born to be, to share what he was born to share.
Joseph’s decision to remain with Mary hints at what his child, Jesus, would teach us: that there is an eternal, heavenly realm communing with us regular folks, regularly, and love, true steady love, is our heavenly birthright. Joseph’s faith is the simple prelude to his son’s message that we will always be loved, and life will always be ours.
Joseph was incredibly brave.
I remind myself to be brave. To hang in there. To have faith and trust when every rational thought suggests otherwise.
Hang in there.
Hang in there with your broken heart. With your life numbing sorrow. With your fear. With your anxiety. With your depression. With your shame. Hang in there. Toss a lasso around the faith Joseph had. Pull it close to your heart, and lean in.
More. Lean in more.
No matter what happens, God is with you, you are loved, and it is going to be okay. You are God’s child, and you are loved, and you are meant to be extra-ordinary in your faith, not as some test or requirement, but for the peace that intimacy with divine love can bring.
Hang in there.
Faith stood witness to the love that was born on Christmas day. Sit down with that gift. It’s yours.
This column is dedicated to my son, Atticus, and his stepfather, Scott.