Word of the Week

Waiting With Hope: Day 4- Joe Hensley

This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit. Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yet did not want to expose her 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. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”

All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”). When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. But he did not consummate their marriage until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus. Matthew 1:18-24

Joseph, the “step-father” of Jesus, did as he was asked. Although she was already pregnant, Joseph took Mary as his wife. I have to wonder whether obedient Joseph was also afraid or nervous. The angel in his dream asked him to do something risky and impractical, something he would not have done on his own.

On my own, I would not have chosen to have another baby. For months, my wife, Sarah, and I had gone back and forth about whether to get pregnant again. I should say, rather, that we went back and forth about whether I was game. I had legitimate reasons to be hesitant (at least they felt that way to me). We had two wonderful children already, out of diapers and able to feed themselves and sleep through the night. Did we really want to go through the whole infancy process again? With three children, we would consume more energy (the minivan purchase was inevitable) and produce more waste. It would mean one more college tuition, etc. On a more intense note, our second child had died in infancy a few years before due to a heart defect. Although we had taken a leap of faith bringing our third child into the world, I worried that another child could mean another opportunity for tragedy. I also feared, given the stress of my job, the demands of family life, etc. that I would not have enough inner resources to handle being “outnumbered” by the children.

Sarah was very patient while I wrestled. For her this was less about decision-making and more of a discernment process. Something very deep inside her (and maybe beyond her) desired another child. Eventually I realized that the depth of that longing was more profound and mysterious than the shallowness of my fears. My fears were not illegitimate, but they had no soul.
Joseph could have dismissed Mary quietly, the scripture says. He would have been within his rights to do so. He had good reasons. His dreamtime visit from the angel, though, convinced him to take a more mysterious path, to wait in hope that this impossible pregnancy was actually part of God’s plan. I could have dismissed my wife’s desire for another baby, but it just happened to be Advent. I was hearing the stories of Zechariah and Elizabeth, Joseph and Mary and angelic visitations. I kept running into references to pregnancy and trust. Something deeper than my fear whispered, “Do not fear.” Without any planning, we got pregnant again.

So began the wait for our next child. My impossible hope was not that the baby would come (I trusted that would happen) but that I would be ready. Although I had taken the leap of faith, I was not convinced that I would be able to handle the journey. Surely Joseph had also wondered, “can I do this?” even though he did what he was told?

As I watched Sarah’s body expand, I waited for confirmation to grow that I would have what I needed. In many ways that sense developed in me like an unborn, unseen child. There were signs that it was happening, signs of grace growing slowly. It was not morning sickness exactly, but there were mornings where I found myself awakened early by my anxieties only to have those fears be surrounded by a strange peace in the quiet darkness.

As we wait for Christ, we wonder if we will be able to welcome him when he arrives. We fear he may ask the impossible of us. We are hesitant to say ‘yes.’ The messengers of God, though, are speaking to our hearts, telling us not to be afraid, encouraging us to wait and be obedient as impossible faith takes form.

Let us pray:
O God  
who knew us before we were born, you believe in us before we believe in ourselves. Send messengers to us to remind us that your power, working in us, can do infinitely more than we can ask or imagine. Grant us to accept your invitation to care for the unborn faith growing in our hearts as we wait for the coming of our Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.


The Reverend Joseph (Joe) H. Hensley, Jr. works as a full-time priest at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in Durham, NC. He lives with his wife, Sarah, and three children (ages 11, 6, and 2). This Advent he is waiting for God to help him laugh (again!).