Tossing, Turning, and Following

I couldn’t sleep at all last night
Got to thinkin’ of you
Baby things weren’t right
Well I was tossin’ and turnin’
Turnin’ and tossin’
a-tossin’ and turnin’ all night
I kicked the blankets on the floor
Turned my pillow upside down
I never never did before
’cause I was tossin’ and turnin’
Turnin’ and tossin’
a-tossin’ and turnin’ all night

  • Bobby Lewis, “Tossing and Turning”

If you’ve ever had a Bobby Lewis kind of night, Joseph is your brother!

Your mind is trapped in the problems of life, the struggles of the day. You just can’t stop figuring and re-figuring, hashing and re-hashing, going through all the “should’ves,” could’ves” and “I-wished-I would’ves”

If you’ve had one of those nights, Joseph is your brother.

He is also the patron Saint of cabinetmakers, candy-makers, engineers, immigrants, house hunters, travelers, pioneers, pregnant women, fathers, and married people. When my wife and I were once selling a house, someone told us to buy a statue of St. Joseph and bury it facing the road, in the front yard. I’m not ashamed to say that I bought one (I happened to be at St. Vincent Hospital in Birmingham, and saw one in the gift shop and thought, “it couldn’t hurt.”). I hid it in the storage room. Within a few weeks, after months of nothing, we had an offer! Thanks, Joe!

I didn’t see anywhere in my studying that Joseph was the patron Saint of insomniacs, but let’s say he is. He certainly knows what we’re going through on those tough nights. He might also be the ultimate “tosser and turner.”

Matthew, and Matthew only, tells us this story:

18 This is how the birth of Jesus Christ took place. When Mary his mother was engaged to Joseph, before they were married, she became pregnant by the Holy Spirit. 19 Joseph her husband was a righteous man. Because he didn’t want to humiliate her, he decided to call off their engagement quietly. 20 As he was thinking about this, an angel from the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, don’t be afraid to take Mary as your wife, because the child she carries was conceived by the Holy Spirit. 21 She will give birth to a son, and you will call him Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” 22 Now all of this took place so that what the Lord had spoken through the prophet would be fulfilled:

23 Look! A virgin will become pregnant and give birth to a son,
        And they will call him, Emmanuel.[a]

(Emmanuel means “God with us.”)

24 When Joseph woke up, he did just as an angel from God commanded and took Mary as his wife. 25 But he didn’t have sexual relations with her until she gave birth to a son. Joseph called him Jesus.

So, there he is. The man responsible for helping the Messiah to grow up, though he doesn’t know it yet. Up until now, everything was hunky-dory. He and Mary are engaged. In those days, that meant a little more than in our day. The marriage ceremony was just a “formality” (No pun intended). It was a public recognition of a private reality. In Joseph’s mind, in Mary’s mind, in the minds of their friends, they were married – they just hadn’t had the celebration yet.

Now, there he is, “tossing and turning all night.” His life has fallen apart with three little words – “Joseph, I’m pregnant.” He didn’t do it! He couldn’t do it. They hadn’t lived together yet! What would his family say? What would his carpenter-friends say, “How’s the little woman, Joe? Wink-wink-nudge-nudge!”

He loves Mary and doesn’t want to embarrass her; but, that’s the least of his worries. If this gets out, she won’t just be embarrassed – she might be shunned, or even worse, stoned to death in the public square! There’s no way he’s going to let that happen!

“I’ll just break it off,” he resolves. “I’ll say, ‘We just decided it wasn’t going to work out. We’re just two different people. We want different things out of life . . . but we’re still friends, it’s okay’.”

Joseph is cautious. He’s never been one to buck tradition, always doing what is expected of him. He’s a carpenter, for goodness sake! “Measure twice. Cut once!”

Then, maybe between “turning the pillow upside down” and “kicking the blankets on the floor,” he has a dream. Dream. Visit. Voice. Whatever.

“Joseph son of David, don’t be afraid . . .”

He could have stopped right there. What else do you need? A real-live angel tells you to not be afraid, what else are you going to do? You’re going to not be afraid! The rest is just “icing on the cake.”

“. . . don’t be afraid to take Mary as your wife, because the child she carries was conceived by the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you will call him Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”

Wait. What? Go back . . . Holy Spirit? . . . how does that happen? . . . I don’t get it . . .

“Joseph, Son of David, don’t be afraid . . .”

Just don’t ask. Just stop right there. When you wake up, Joseph, just remember these three things: Holy Spirit. Jesus. Save us from our sins.

Can you imagine the next morning? He’s more tired than when he went to bed. He’s been wrestling all night. Did he really hear what he thought he heard? Yes. Just below all the confusion, there is a sense of peace. Despite all the crazy – I mean, this is “Master’s-Level Crazy” This is “Noah-Building-an-Ark-in-the-Desert” crazy – he feels calm.

So what. Mary’s pregnant with God’s child. Makes perfect sense. All the guys down at the “Carpenter’s Local #1 Union Hall” are just going to have to shut the heck up! This is Joseph’s wife – not their’s. He loves her. And God told him to marry her!

And, it’s going to be okay. “Don’t be afraid” was echoing in his head.

We could have guessed it, though. Matthew told us, “Joseph was a righteous man.” Listening to God’s whispering or “angel dreams” was second-nature to a believing man like Joseph. God knew what he was doing. To raise a world-saving Messiah would take a huge dose of honor, integrity, and faith. It was Joseph’s virtue that would teach the boy Jesus to be a man of faith; a righteous man, just like his father.

That righteousness was real. It came with a price. Joseph “didn’t want to humiliate” Mary. Even though she had “sinned” in the eyes of the Temple, Joseph did not seek to judge her or punish her. Letting her off the hook my bring rejection and ridicule to him.

When he went to bed, she was a sinner that deserved punishment. When he woke up, he’d decided that he wouldn’t be the one to punish her. He was righteous and faithful, too righteous and faithful to hate someone for their mistakes. Joseph loved Mary and wanted to protect her. That takes character.

God can use someone like that. Whether he is a first-century Jewish carpenter, or a normal 21st Century Alabamian – God can use a person like that!

You see, God is not looking for perfect servants, just willing ones. God doesn’t want the most intelligent, most beautiful, most popular, or perfect. He just wants us. God simply wants people to be willing to listen when he sends an angel to say “Don’t be afraid.”

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