The Hero’s Journey is that adventure each of us takes to discover and live into being who we really are. It’s not about who we think we ought to be or who our parents or society want us to be, but rather who God dreams us to be.
“Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way,” begins Matthew in today’s Gospel reading. And then he tells us about a man who embarked on a hero’s journey because of a dream.
Joseph was a carpenter living in Bethlehem. Most likely he lived in a house more like a complex, with brothers and sisters, cousins, uncles and aunts – a large, rambling house with dozens of rooms built around a courtyard. He was betrothed to a beautiful young woman named Mary.
But the unthinkable happened, a catastrophe of epic proportions! Mary got herself pregnant! Was she raped? Was it adultery? It didn’t matter. She had become tarnished, unacceptable as a wife. Joseph would have heard about the tragedy from somebody official – the matchmaker, perhaps – or the rabbi. He would have been devastated and shamed, more because he and his family had chosen somebody unsuitable than because of his personal feelings.
I imagine Joseph being a man of prayer, and so I see him wrestling with what to do, praying about it all day and long into the night. He decides to quietly end the betrothal. Let Mary’s family deal with the situation, sending Mary away, perhaps, to relatives in another community.
But, if we pray about something, often the unforeseen happens. Pray and God answers.
An angel appears to Joseph in a dream. And Joseph listens to this voice from God. And, as is true for so many of God’s holy people before him, the answer to Joseph’s prayer begins with a name change. “Joseph, son of David,” the angel calls him. Now, King David was pretty far back on the family tree, and I don’t imagine Joseph ever got named as any relation to him. Not until that day.
Then the angel presents the unthinkable choice. “Do not be afraid,” says the messenger – “Do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”
The hero’s journey often begins when we are on our way to doing something else. And so it is with Joseph. Following the directives in one dream leads to another, and more directives. Pretty soon Joseph is on the run from dangerous political forces. Then he is caring for a tiny family alone in a strange land. Then he is traveling again, to a region nearer home but still alien to him. Far away from family and friends, he finds his destiny. He is the man who provides for and protects the Holy One of God. Not a famous carpenter in the home of his birth, but the one who cares for the Messiah.
Today, think about your own hero’s journey. What have you taken up? What have you learned? What have you let go of? How and for what do you pray? And how are you answering God’s call to become the person God dreams you to be?