Friday, December 15, 2006

Christmas Dreams: Do Not Be Afraid

Behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take to you Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. (Matthew 1:20)
Matthew’s Gospel begins with the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the Son of David, the Son of Abraham. It may seem like just a list of “begats,” but it tells an important story, tracing the kingly lineage, and the right of Messiah to rule and reign. But before it leads us to Jesus, it first introduces us to Joseph:
Now the birth of Jesus Christ was as follows: After His mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Spirit. Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not wanting to make her a public example, was minded to put her away secretly.
Joseph begins this story with a dream, not the one with the angel, but the one that had already filled his heart with anticipation. He was pledged to be married, and his mind was busily preparing plans for their new life together.

But his dream was suddenly shattered, and his plans broken, when he discovered that Mary was pregnant, and he knew he was not the father. Now it appeared that Mary had been unfaithful and he had been betrayed. So he reluctantly filled his mind with different plans, and his joy was displaced by bitterness.

He had every right, under the law, to break his pledge and set Mary aside — if she had indeed been unfaithful to him. He might even have put her to public shame, except that he still cared for her, even though his heart ached. No, he would still put her away — his own honor demanded that — but he would do it quietly.

Joseph did not act hastily, but passionately pondered these things, his heart and his head debating whether to follow through with this intention. He was almost hardened to what he must do, when something unexpected happened:
But while he thought about these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take to you Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. And she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name JESUS, for he will save his people from their sins.” (Matthew 1:18-21)
“Behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream.” Before Matthew’s Christmas narrative is through, we will see this same declaration three times, at key moments.

It is easy to overlook the word “behold,” as if it was nothing more than a simple connective. But Matthew uses it very purposefully, drawing our attention to something important, something we are likely to miss if we understand things only in the natural. It is an indicator concerning something that was happening in the spiritual realm.

“Behold!” But what are we to give special attention to? “An angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream.” A messenger from God, for that is what an angel really is, was sent to Joseph in a dream. Dreams were often recorded in the Old Testament as a means by which God revealed His plans to His people. Now Joseph was having just such a dream. Not only that, but an angel of the Lord appeared to him in it.

It was a startling thing, a burst of brightness. The Greek word for “appear” means that this angel was radiant with light; and he came to shine in the shadows of Joseph’s troubled understanding.

The angel addressed him: “Joseph, son of David.” Here is the important connection to the royal lineage with which Matthew began his account. Joseph was legal heir to the throne which God promised would continue in David’s family line forever.

“Do not be afraid.” No doubt, Joseph was intimidated by this glorious appearance. Who wouldn’t be? But in the midst of the despair that had enveloped his heart, these words also brought a glimmer of hope: “Don’t be afraid—all is not lost!”

“Do not be afraid to take to you Mary your wife.” Here was the directive, and the anticipation that there was a future for Joseph and his beloved after all. And now came the understanding Joseph had been lacking and for which he was unprepared: “For that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit.”

So this was not about Mary after all, but about God. Mary had not been unfaithful to Joseph; God was showing Himself strong, and faithful to an ancient promise, for this was about Messiah: “And she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name JESUS, for he will save his people from their sins” (his name means “The LORD saves”).

Joseph’s former plans would be set aside, and he would grieve for them no longer; God had now revealed a greater plan. Joseph would still have his Mary, but now he would step into destiny.
Then Joseph, being aroused from sleep, did as the angel of the Lord commanded him and took to him his wife, and did not know her until she had brought forth her firstborn Son. And he called His name JESUS. (Matthew 1:24-25)
The dream of Christmas is that God steps into hopeless situations, shines the brightness of His glory and fulfills the promise of redemption in unexpected ways.



Let Earth Receive Her King
Let Earth Receive Her King
Advent, Christmas and the Kingdom of God
by Jeff Doles

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Available in paperback and Kindle (Amazon), epub (Google and iTunes) and PDF.