When they had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. “Get up,” he said, “take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.”
So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt …
After Herod died, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel, for those who were trying to take the child’s life are dead.”
So he got up, took the child and his mother and went to the land of Israel. (verses 13-14, 19-21)
I am often tempted to think of Joseph as an unnecessary character in the birth stories of Jesus. The Christ child is, of course, central, as is his mother, Mary. Then there are shepherds, sheep, wisemen, camels, donkeys, the Inn Keeper, and, with sinister intent, Herod – all of these stand out in my memory. So often I simply see Joseph quietly on the sidelines, merely completing the tableau at the manger.
But not so. Matthew helps us appreciate the crucial role the Lord had for him to play in the unfolding story. And so much of it occurred as he slept! The Lord used dreams to give timely instruction to Joseph, each time interrupting his sleep with angelic messages.
Two of those visitations are recounted here. Each time the angel starts with the command “Get up!” Since Joseph is sleeping at the time, the instruction is very mundane and simple: “Wake up! Rouse yourself from sleep! Get out of bed!” Interestingly this same word is used in other places to do much heavier lifting. It is one of two words used in the New Testament to speak of rising from the dead – resurrection! That’s not the meaning here, it’s much more commonplace. Yet I can’t help but hear echoes of that larger meaning ringing in the background, for the child, central to these events, will years later give the same command to a lame man at the Pool of Bethesda, then immediately claim that he himself “raises the dead,” just like the Father (John 5:8, 21). Such power in this word when used by the Son of God himself.
The angel’s command, “Get up,” is followed by the further command, “Take.” Joseph is to “take” the child and his mother out of harm’s way, escaping into Egypt, and then later return back home into Galilee. It’s not enough to simply “wake up” – there’s an action to be accomplished.
Each time, Joseph does exactly what he’s commanded. Each time Matthew, in his narrative, repeats the same words, telling us “he got up” and “took.” Each time Joseph, through his obedience, is used by the Lord to keep the baby (“Immanuel,” “God-with-us”) safe.
It makes me pause. Am I as quickly responsive to the Lord’s commands? Do I “get up” and do the thing he’s calling me to? Am I obedient like that? I immediately know the answer. I’ve got so much more to learn from Joseph.
There is, of course, an earlier encounter with an angel in a dream. When Joseph, horrified by Mary’s pregnancy, decided to divorce her quietly, he fell asleep exhausted, and found himself visited by angelic presence, telling him to “take” Mary home as his wife, and name the baby, Jesus. As Matthew completes that narrative, he carefully uses the same “get up” word to tell us that Joseph awoke, and then did what the angel had commanded him – he “took” Mary as his wife (Matthew 1:24).
So much of this story, it turns out, hinges on Joseph’s quick obedience.
Oh, may I likewise be so faithful.
Lord, I want to be as readily responsive to your voice as was Joseph. Prompt me to “get up.” Strengthen me to “take” action. As you direct. To your glory. Amen.
Take stock: How quick are you to obey the Lord’s promptings? Reflect. Is there anything getting in the way? How can you be more responsive?
Photo by Wolfgang Krzemien: https://www.pexels.com/.../close-up-shot-of-an-angel.../