Angels appearing in our dreams with a message from God is not something that we expect. My guess is that Joseph didn’t expect angels to bring messages to him in a dream every time he needed to make a decision. But Joseph was called by God for a very specific part in the unfolding saving actions of God. He was called to protect a child that wasn’t his own and take care of this child’s mother, in spite of the circumstances that could have wrecked his relationship with her. In this reading, we hear of three times when Joseph was attuned to hear God’s voice to fulfill his specific mission.
In the first instance, an angel came with an urgent message that Joseph’s mission was in jeopardy. Joseph first had to discern whether this angelic being was from God or the adversary. The message was extreme and required immediate action if the information was accurate. The actions of these political forces who were seeking to destroy the child he was called to protect were beyond Joseph’s ability to anticipate or to stand against. For Joseph, the actions given by the angel resulted in the fulfillment of Scripture. In our day, even if we don’t expect to hear from angels, we do expect to hear from the Holy Spirit. Our promptings from the Holy Spirit might not always so direct, urgent, or clearly anticipated in Scripture, but we, as church, still need to listen for messages from God and obey. From what, as church, is the Holy Spirit telling us to flee?
Joseph was waiting for the second angelic encounter. How else would he know that it was safe to return? What are we, as church, called to patiently wait about until the Holy Spirit gives us a clear message?
In the third angelic encounter, we get some insight into how Joseph was listening for God’s direction. Joseph used reason and intuition as well as supernaturally supplied information to plan his course of action. Joseph must have been relieved to learn that he was to take his family back to their homeland even if it was not exactly to the same place from which they had left. In what way are we, as church, called to return to our traditional ways of doing things, but with modifications that are sensitive to circumstances?