From Trial to Triumph in 4 Steps By Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins Advent 4 (2016) “… Mary, was engaged to be married to Joseph…Joseph discovered she was pregnant…Joseph, chagrined but noble, determined to take care of things quietly so Mary would not be disgraced. While he was trying to figure a way out, he had […]
From Trial to Triumph in 4 Steps
By Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins
Advent 4 (2016)
“… Mary, was engaged to be married to Joseph…Joseph discovered she was pregnant…Joseph, chagrined but noble, determined to take care of things quietly so Mary would not be disgraced.
While he was trying to figure a way out, he had a dream. God’s angel spoke in the dream: “Joseph…don’t hesitate to get married…She will bring a son to birth, and when she does, you, Joseph, will name him Jesus…
Then Joseph woke up. He did exactly what God’s angel commanded in the dream: He married Mary [and after the baby was born], he named the baby Jesus.”
Mary has become pregnant, before she was married and the person to whom she is engaged is not the father. It’s an absolute scandal. It can ruin Mary’s life, and it’s no piece of cake for Joseph. In an honor/shame society, his honor is very much bruised in this situation.
What’s he to do?
He loves Mary, but she’s pregnant and that wasn’t part of the deal.
He’s hurt to think she might have betrayed him. And what if she didn’t? What if she has been victimized, coerced, forced…then he would be hurt to think someone he loved had been harmed. Either way, he must be heartbroken.
We have a pretty sanitized version of the story, but when Joseph gets news of it, all he knows is that his fiancée is pregnant and not by him. He had some stuff to work though.
He’s embarrassed. What will people say? What will people think of him? What will they think of the woman to whom he had given his heart?
He’s grieving. He’s losing his family that has barely begun. He’s losing a life that he was counting on sharing with someone. Joseph is facing a lot of pain.
I don’t know much about Joseph; I can’t even prove that he was an historical person. I do believe that Mary had an unplanned pregnancy that put her life and security at risk, and that grace miraculously brought something beautiful and powerful out of that situation, and according to the story, Joseph was a conduit of that grace.
In any case, Joseph represents the emotions and challenges that come from receiving difficult news, and he also represents the possibility of working through it all to experience something creative and life-giving.
So, what does Joseph have to teach us today?
Joseph DISCOVERED that Mary was pregnant.
Sometimes we don’t want to go to the doctor because we are afraid of bad news.
Maybe we don’t want to get on that darn scale or check our bank balance.
Maybe we don’t want to admit we have a habit that is hurting us.
But we can’t solve problems we won’t face. And so, discovery is the first step to overcoming a problem. Discovering that there is a challenge, a difficulty, then gives us the chance to work on a plan for addressing the problem.
Joseph didn’t enjoy his discovery, but learning what needed some focused attention enabled him to formulate a plan and make things better going forward.
Joseph DECIDED to take action.
The text today says he “determined” to take care of things.
That first step…taking that first class, turning in that first job application, showing up for that first 12 step meeting, deciding to make that doctor’s appointment, choosing to be open and honest with the counselor, making up your mind to invite God into a situation, deciding to pray again, to worship again, to summon hope from the depths of your soul again…that moment of decision opens the door for miracles.
Doing something, not something rash or ill-considered, but doing something constructive feels better than doing nothing. The treatment that doesn’t work still feels better than not trying. The interview that didn’t result in employment still feels better than not making the effort. The workout that didn’t magically melt away all the pounds still leaves us in better condition than being sedentary.
But guess what? Sometimes the effort does pay off! So, not only does trying feel better than not trying, but sometimes, trying leads to success. After Joseph discovered the problem, he decided to do something.
Joseph DREAMED of possible, healing outcomes.
The story says that while he was trying to figure things out, Joseph had a dream.
It was a beautiful dream. In this dream, Joseph didn’t lose his family. In this dream, his love for Mary was more powerful than the social customs and mores that had been transgressed. In this dream, he would give her child a name, and love it as his own. In this dream, he would choose love and dare to form an unconventional family, and he would face an uncertain future because love was worth it. Love makes a family, and he would have his!
Joseph discovered a challenge in his life, and he decided to do something about it, and he dreamed of how it might work out for the good for everyone concerned.
Joseph DID what his dream indicated was possible.
Learning there is a problem, deciding that we want to address it, dreaming about how it could turn out all mean very little if we then don’t take action.
Joseph dreamed of working through the issues with Mary, of keeping his family together, and of facing the unknown future with courage and hope, and then he proceeded to do just that. He chose to act as if the dream could become a reality.
He learned there was a challenge.
He decided that he would face it somehow, that he would do something.
As he was trying to figure out exactly what to do, he dared to dream of ways that things could get better.
And then, he followed the dream and actually did the work of embracing Mary, naming and providing for the child, and moving forward with his new family into the future.
Whatever the issue, if we will face it, make a decision to deal with it, dream of possible solutions, and then work the plan that comes from the decision and the dream…we will feel empowered, and we might even find ourselves victorious over the challenge.
Discovery, decision, dreaming, and doing…
That’s the practical application of the Joseph story for us today. It’s a good reminder that when we are facing a challenge, we have tools to navigate the challenge.
I’ll end with a story, if I may. You see, about 63 years ago there was a challenge in Oklahoma that had to be addressed.
In 1953 the OKC Zoo needed funds to get their first ever hippopotamus. Gayla Peevey had recorded a song, “I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas.” The zoo used the popularity of the song as a fundraising campaign to get “a hippo for Gayla.” The campaign raised $3k (which is over $27k in today’s money) and they bought Gayla a hippo, which she immediately donated to the OKC zoo.
The zoo discovered a need, decided to take action, dreamed of success, and then did what they could to make the dream come true. Trial to Triumph, and my favorite Xmas song to boot!
/Song: “I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas”/
And this is the good news! Amen.
© Durrell Watkins 2016
Thank you, God,
For the power of decision,
For the encouragement of dreams,
And for the actions that can help our dreams come true.