You can almost hear the angel's whispered words.
Catching and dragging at his hair as they beat against his eardrums.
You can almost hear him turn over to drift back off to sleep.
The rustle of the bed and the covers. His breathing slightly interrupted.
How did he know this dream was for real, and no ordinary dream? That's what I want to know.
I guess when you know, then you know.
And Joseph knew.
There are a couple of things about Joseph that have really struck me this year.
First of all, the angel addressed him as "Joseph, son of David."
If you read a little further back in Matthew 1, we see that Joseph's biological father's name was Jacob.
But the angel called him "Joseph, son of David."
Joseph was the most recent in a long line of rightful kings. He was directly descended from Israel's greatest monarch, David the shepherd, David the warrior, David the man after the heart of God Himself.
After the exile in Babylon and the return of the Jews to their ancestral home after seventy years of waiting, the kings were never restored. They were clients, ruled by their overlords -- first the Persians, then the Greeks, and most lately, the Romans.
But David's line had not died out.
They existed still, a line of boys growing into men and continuing the line of rightful kings.
They had to know who they were. I mean, they had to.
I imagine every little boy hearing from his father the stories of David the King, shifted by now into legend. I can see them sitting at the fireside, hearing the story of how God chose David to be the king; how David slew a giant with only a stone, a sling, and the giant's own sword; how God blessed his kingship and made Israel prosper.
And I imagine each little boy hearing from his father that he was the latest in a long line of descendants, direct from David himself.
It's imagining that you are royalty and then discovering that it's very close to being true.
It reminds me of the Rangers in The Lord of the Rings -- kings in exile.
They knew they were the rightful kings -- but the time was not yet ripe.
They knew exactly who they were. Who their ancestor was.
So the angel's words would not have been lost on Joseph, the latest son of David.
Son of David.
The direct descendant of the greatest king of Israel was a carpenter.
The angel's words called up the dynastic, the ancient, the whispered words and dust on secret scrolls.
They have the murmur of conspiracy, of rebellion.
In a world dominated by Cæsar Augustus and the empire he has created, in a world where all resistance is futile, and eventually quashed -- the angel addressed a young Jewish man as the heir to the line of Israel's kingship.
Joseph would have known what it meant.
I imagine this was when he sat up in bed and looked with wide eyes at the angel.
Someone had just spoken the ancient into the present moment.
Joseph knew who he was, and suddenly, someone had called it out.
The angel told Joseph not to freak out.
I mean, he basically told him that.
Really, the angel told Joseph not to be afraid to marry Mary, because she was not unfaithful. The baby she carried was not from a man, but from the Spirit of God.
The angel told him what to name the boy, and Joseph listened well, but I imagine his brain was also spinning with everything he had ever learned about prophecy.
I imagine that he kept repeating to himself the words of Isaiah: The virgin shall conceive and bear a son.
He would have known what this meant.
He would have been filing through everything he knew about Jewish prophecy, which he would probably have been taught as a boy.
Messiah would come from the house of David.
He would be born of a virgin.
And I imagine Joseph didn't sleep again the rest of the night.
I imagine him pacing back and forth in his room, trying to wrap his mind around the fact that the prophecy was actually coming true, and that he was right in the middle of it.
He was walking around in it.
That's the thing about Story, with a capital S. We think it's all lovely and nice and a great thing to tell ourselves to ease the pain --
But one morning we wake up and discover that it's true, all of it, and that we are walking around in the middle of it.
The air around us is thick with destiny and purpose and the footsteps of something much larger than ourselves.
The wind carries a whisper of we-don't-know-what, but it bears the weight and portent of a great mystery.
Something about the light is different from here -- shot more with gold and silver. How did we never notice before?
We have woken up, and the Story is true, and we are in it. The air is heavy with it.
That's what happened to Joseph.
He woke up to see an angelic figure who told him that everything he'd ever learned, but maybe never taken really seriously, was true.
It was not a nebulous castle in the sky. It was not a figment on the breeze.
This was a real, live thing, and it was happening to him now.
I imagine that he was short of breath. I imagine that he cried.
I imagine that the next morning, as soon as it was decently light, he raced to Mary's house.
I imagine that he couldn't say anything. That he just gaped at her, and that somehow she knew.
She knew, too, that they were walking around in prophecy, in story, in every fairytale and every adventure story come true.
Because that's what it was.
All of creation held its breath as history came to a crux.
These two young people had heard about this all their lives, and suddenly -- it was happening to them.
What do you do when you realize that you are in the middle of the Great Tale?
Look at the cathedral of the sky and the jewel tones of the trees and the gold and silver light of the sun and moon and stars and oh my God, in every sense of oh my God, how can all this beauty be real?
Creation. The Story. The truth. The fact that we get to be in it.
All of it.
How is it possible that this is happening to us?
How is it possible that we get to be a part of this cosmic thing?
It's all our desires come true.
It's all our destinies fulfilled.
It's our identity named and renamed and reshaped and the coming true of all the things we always wanted but never knew we did, and the undoing of all the sadness, slowly but surely, unraveling like thread and being woven again into the great tapestry of grace and run-on sentences like this one.
It's Adventure and fairytale and Myth and Legend and prophecy and all of it -- and it's true.
All of it is true.
Every single last solitary inch and breath and goosebump.
We are breathing in the air of the stories and legends come to life.
All of our myths reek of this, the great Legend that actually came to life and came to pass and came to us to be with us.
God with us.
That's what they named Him, you see.
Photo by Becky Kozinski.