Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yet did not want to expose her [pregnant Mary] to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly. But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.” (Matthew 1:19–20, NIV)
Three days before Christmas, a young couple retires for the evening in separate bedrooms to care for their restless toddlers. That night, in a dream, the husband sees a woman standing behind his children. This startles the husband until he makes eye contact with this woman. He realizes that she wasn’t there to scare him but to save and protect his kids. The husband is then startled awake at 3:00 a.m. by the sound of glass breaking—likely the sliding patio door. He jumps up, runs down the hall, and encounters a thick wall of smoke. He wakes his family. They run outside barefoot and watch as their house is destroyed. The Fire Chief arrives and tells them if they had been in the house forty-five seconds longer no one would have survived. Because this kind of fire sucks the oxygen out of the air, if you are asleep, you stay asleep. The seminary student ended his retelling of the account with, “That was the moment I gave everything to God.”
Christmas is when we especially remember angels. Gabriel appeared to Zechariah (father of John the Baptist), then to Mary at the Annunciation. An angel announced the birth of the Messiah to the Bethlehem shepherds and was joined by a great heavenly host. Renowned as these appearances are, these individuals encountered angels only once.
We rarely notice that angels came to Joseph—the human guardian and “father” of Jesus—three times. Each time Joseph, “son of David,” shows trust and obedience. First, this upright, would-be husband believed the angel’s instruction to take the pregnant Mary as his wife. This was a scandalous act to every righteous Jew, yet Joseph obeyed. Second, many months later, the Magi of the East had just departed and in a second dream an angel commanded Joseph to get up and flee to Egypt because King Herod would very soon seek to kill the child, Jesus (Matthew 2:13). Joseph obeyed immediately. Third, sometime later, while Joseph and his family were in Egypt, an angel appeared again in a dream and instructed Joseph to return to Israel (2:19–20). Joseph obeyed.
As perhaps the most exemplary father in all the Bible, Joseph was entrusted to guard Jesus. We may not receive direct angelic guidance as Joseph did, but we do have God’s sure Word and His Spirit. Each of us is called to listen, to trust, and to obey.