17 - What Joseph Saw, Dec 22, 2019

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Hebrews 11:9-10, 17-23, 32-40

Matthew 1:1-25

It says that while Joseph was pondering his intention to divorce Mary, his betrothed, an angel of the LORD came to him. Understand, this angel was sent to him from the Child in the womb of Mary, his betrothed, for that Child was Himself the LORD of that angel. The angel, it says, came to him in his sleep, in a dream. Then, it says, Joseph rose up from his sleep. Are we to take this as nothing more than a narrative of events, or might there be a spiritual meaning to Joseph’s sleep, his dream, his rising up from sleep?

For, something happened to Joseph in his dream. It happened to him just as the WORD of the LORD happened to the prophets when the LORD came to them in a vision—as in a dream. Joseph saw something in his dream, his vision. And it changed him completely! From a troubled husband, he became, shall we say, the first of the LORD’s faithful who honored and magnified and cherished the Virgin Mary as the All-Holy Mother of the very LORD God whom he worshipped and whose WORD was the light of his path, the lamp to his feet! What did he see?

I believe he saw the same mystery that Moses saw, and the Psalmist and all the prophets of Israel, when the WORD of the LORD—the very same WORD of the LORD who was now incarnate in the womb of Joseph’s betrothed—happened to them in a vision, the same mystery the centurion and the soldiers who were with him saw at the Cross (Mt 27:54), the same mystery St John saw when he entered the empty tomb of the LORD, such that when he saw, it says, he suddenly believed what the Scriptures had said of the Savior (Jn 20:8-9). Joseph saw the same mystery the holy apostles saw when the risen LORD came to His disciples and opened their minds to understand what the Scriptures were saying of Him, that it was necessary for the Son of Man to be crucified and rise again on the third day (Lk 24:44-45).

What Joseph saw, I believe, was what they all saw: the mystery of God hidden from the ages and the generations, hidden now in the Blessed Virgin’s womb, about to be made manifest in the flesh, in space and time, to those who receive Him, the mystery of Christ in you, our Hope of Glory! (Col 1:26-27)

Joseph fell asleep and came into this dream not unlike the apostle John coming into the Savior’s empty Tomb. In his dream, the Angel of the LORD appeared to him as the Angel appeared to the myrrhbearing women at the Savior’s empty Tomb. Should we say, then, that the dream of Joseph corresponds to the Tomb of the Savior?

Joseph slept as did Jacob long ago; and, like Jacob, Joseph had a dream that was surely the same mystery revealed to Jacob in his dream, when he saw a ladder reaching up to heaven and angels descending and ascending. (Gen 28:12) He saw the mystery of the LORD’s Sabbath Rest, His Tomb. Like St John in the empty Tomb, Joseph saw in his dream the mystery of God and he suddenly believed. He rose up from sleep as from death and immediately set out to do as the angel directed him; that is, as the Child, the LORD, in his Beloved Lady’s sacred womb, commanded!

What Joseph saw in his dream I think is given in our Scripture lessons this morning. We can see it ‘hiding’ in the generations of Our Savior’s human ancestry. When we look at this genealogy within the mystery of the Gospel, it suddenly comes into view as the ‘sacred Tomb’ of the LORD.

For example, it says: “Salmon begat Boas from his wife, Rahab.” Rahab was a Gentile and a harlot from Jericho! “And Boas begat Obed by his wife, Ruth.” Ruth was a Gentile. “And David begat Solomon from the wife of Uriah.” Solomon was the child of David’s grievous sins of murder and adultery.

The prophets saw idolatry as spiritual prostitution and fornication, an adultery of the soul (cf. Eze 16:15-35). The very ‘stuff’ of our fleshly life is in our sexuality. When we give ourselves to the sexuality of this fleshly life, our soul falls from her spiritual essence and becomes fleshly. Like Esau, she sells her birthright; she exchanges the uncreated life of God that comes from and returns to the Father for the biological, sexual life of the flesh that comes from the dust and returns to the dust. She becomes one with a lover who is not her LORD, her true husband, and so she receives into her heart a sexual, carnal life whose hidden essence is death. Sexual immorality is so devastating because its essence is idolatry; and idolatry destroys the soul because its essence is death. Sexual immorality destroys the soul’s capacity for true intimacy because it destroys the soul’s integrity, her natural virginity. It cuts her off from those she loves in her deep heart. From her head to her feet, it covers her with wounds and bruises and putrefying sores that will not close and heal. (Isa 1:6) It paralyzes her (Dt 32:36 LXX); it puts her into a spiritual sleep, the sleep of death. She becomes a corpse and her heart shrivels and becomes hard and brittle, like a stone, like a corpse.

Can you see, then, how the LORD’s command to Joseph not to divorce Mary his betrothed proclaims that the LORD is coming to His faithless Bride, Israel, not to condemn her but to heal her in His great love for her? Can you see how His Beloved Virgin Mother folds the faithlessness of Israel into her pure and most blessed virginity so as to heal Israel’s idolatry and all its devastating consequences in the flesh (Eph 2:15) of her Beloved Son, the LORD God incarnate, the True husband of Israel?

In the wonder of Christmas—and Holy Pascha!—we see the LORD coming in His tender compassion and mercy to His Bride in the Cave—the cave of the human heart. Yes! Inside the cave of our idolatrous heart is the Sacred Cave of the Virgin cleansing our defilement by her purity! If we enter the Cave of Bethlehem, we enter the Tomb of the LORD’s Pascha, we descend into the Holy Font of our Baptism, and we come out of the darkness of this world; we passed over into the uncreated Light and Life of God on the other side. We come into the Garden of Resurrection, the Garden of Eden!

We enter the Cave, the Tomb of the LORD, the mystery of God hidden from the ages and generations, and we see rising before us the glistening walls of the Heavenly City! O, but dear faithful, does not the soul know, as she looks upon the Gates of that City, whose Cornerstone is the unfathomable mercy and compassion of the crucified and risen LORD God of Israel, does she not know intuitively that she cannot enter that City until her heart is broken, until the stone that covers her heart with bitterness and anger has been rolled away and she descends into those depths where she opens onto this LORD God of Israel, her true husband?

Surely, she sees in that moment what Joseph saw in his dream, what the centurion saw at the Cross, what St John saw in the Tomb. Surely she sees what love her heart could contain, but cannot until she is broken in the love of the most merciful Mother of the merciful God! I wonder if this is why all who draw near the Cave begin to shake with fear and trembling. O, but is it not a fear and trembling of longing that wakes us up and calls us to come forth into the Light and the Life of the uncreated love of the LORD God and His most beloved Holy Mother?

I believe that this love is the essence of that faith by which all the OT saints lived whom St Paul speaks of in our epistle lesson this morning. This faith is the luminous glory that radiates from the Holy of Holies in the Heavenly City whose foundation was built from the foundation of the world by God on His Holy Mountain, Golgotha! In this faith, God becomes one with us in the exquisitely tender and beautiful wonder of the Holy Virgin, His Beloved and All-Holy Mother! In this Faith, the WORD of the LORD calls out to our heart, calling us to draw near in faith and love, because He wants to give sight to our spiritual eyes, hearing to our spiritual ears. He wants to bind up our broken soul and raise us up into the joy of the LORD’s love for His Virgin Mother and of the Virgin Mother for her Son.

So, this is Christmas! Yes! This is the true Christmas, a holy Exodus inward into the cave of our heart to find the mystery of God, Christ in you, our hope of Glory! Christmas brings out into manifestation the beginning of our healing, for God is with us in the flesh, in our death! Raising our minds on high, dear faithful, let us go in spirit to see with Joseph, with the Centurion, with St John the holy Virgin hastening to the Cave, the cave of our heart, to give birth to the only Lover of Mankind, Our Great God and Savior Jesus Christ. O LORD, glory to Thee! Most holy Theotokos, save us! Amen!