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Joseph Sunday
A sermon preached by the Rev. Dr. Gale Davis on December 22, 2013
Advent 4 A
December 22, 2013
 
It is not often that the gospel lesson quotes the Old Testament lesson in the lectionary, but it happens around Christmas time quite often, and the readings this week is one such case. The gospeler Matthew quotes the prophet Isaiah. This is because it was important to Matthew to show the Hebrew heritage of Jesus, to stake the claim that Jesus was indeed the Messiah and that all the prophets of old were foretelling his story. Matthew was a good Jewish boy -- he wanted it clear to the Jewish people that Jesus was exactly the One they had been waiting for.
 
Indeed, he was marking the ancestry of Jesus by quoting his lineage all the way back to David, so that it would be clear that he was from the royal family and that his blood lines gave him the credentials that he needed to be seen as the Messiah. It is always interesting to me that Matthew even puts four women into Jesus’ lineage --Tamar, Rahab, Ruth and Bathsheba -- all of whom had some sort of unusual or even shady fact  about them. They were foreigners, or from a pagan family, or someone else’s wife or they tricked some man, but each became one who bore a grandfather of Joseph’s.
 
Which brings me to the main character in today's lesson -- Joseph. It was, of course, through his lineage that Jesus was able to claim to be descended from David. Once every three years, the lectionary lets us look at Joseph. We get John the Baptist twice in each Advent, every year, but Joseph only once every three years! I don’t think that is how I would have done it, I think he deserves more mention than that, but I am glad we get to hear about his struggle this year.
 
Joseph was engaged to Mary. In those days, engaged meant that her parents had probably negotiated with him to marry their daughter. It is thought that he was much older than she, but probably in some way a good catch in her parents' eyes. They paid a dowry for her to insure her place in Joseph’s family. Joseph and Mary may or may not have ever met -- so you can imagine how he was feeling when he heard that she was pregnant. He was an honorable man and not in need of a scandal or drama around his marriage, so he decided he would just quietly get out of the betrothal.  
 
But then it all happened -- and for me this is where Joseph becomes quite extraordinary -- for three reasons. First: he dreamed, and he had the courage to listen to his dreams and to follow them. An angel came to him in a dream and told him that it was the Holy Spirit who has fathered Mary’s child -- and that he was to marry her and become the chid’s stepfather. And that is what he did. He followed his dreams.
 
Secondly he became a stepfather. He accepted another’s child as his own, gave it his name, his lineage, and treated the child and his mother as though it were the most natural thing in the world to do so, as if he had planned it.
 
Thirdly: Joseph allowed his wife and his son to take center stage because he was a man of such deep faith. He was there as the one who made it all possible but quietly and in the background. He protected, supported and loved them so that they could take their place in the story of our faith. He made it all possible while not ever claiming the spotlight.
 
It is no wonder I think he got short changed in the lectionary, and it's sad that we only hear his side of the story once every three years!
 
For me, Joseph was not only a model father, but a model human being, one we could all do well to emulate. His faith was so deep that when he had a dream, and an angel appeared in it, he knew that God was speaking to him. He didn’t even question if it was really God or if he shouldn’t go ahead with his plan to put Mary aside. He did what God asked of him, trusting that it would all work out for the best. He accepted the child as his own, for the child’s sake, for Mary’s sake. I wonder how many of us would have the courage and trust in God to do the same? How many of us would even recognize that God comes to us in dreams? How many of us would take on another person’s child and claim it so unhesitantly? This was not like adoption as we know adoption, where he went seeking a child, as many of us do/have, but it was an adoption that came to him in a very unorthodox way, by faith.
 
And what makes me also like Joseph so much is the whole name confusion we hear in today’s gospel reading. It has always confused me that the angel told Mary to name the child Emmanuel (God with us), and the baby was, as we all know as the angel instructed Joseph, named Jesus, a common name in the first century Palestine, sort of like Bob or Joe or Brian. I wonder if this was Joseph’s way of saying Jesus is a human being? Tied to human lives, not just God at all, but a boy, his boy, part of his family.  He called him Jesus,  a very common name, a name which came, by way of the life he led and the death he died, to mean something so much more. Jesus is the name we have all come to know as “God with us”, even without being named Emmanuel at birth. 
 
Joseph was the first to accept the humanity of Jesus, while also recognizing and bowing to his mysterious and awe-striking beginnings. The unusual circumstance of Jesus’ birth gives credence to the fulfillment of the ancient texts about the messiah, hence the quote from isaiah. It took a man such as Joseph, well schooled in the faith, to recognize the circumstances he found himself in, as the fulfillment of those prophecies. It took a man like Joseph to accept the awe and wonder of such an incarnation while also being able to see the ordinary humanbeing in the child. Jesus, descended by adoption from David, Child of God by the power of the Spirit. How many humans -- men or women -- would have such an intimate relationship with God that they could recognize that combination when it presents itself? 
 
As we think about Jesus coming again, it might behoove us to learn to think as Joseph did, with eyes of faith. For when Jesus comes again, it will be as it was 2000 years ago, foretold in scripture, but it will also not be as we imagine it. Our faith will have to be alive with the ability to discern God’s voice in our dreams, our ability to accept as our own those who are from some other place and to use all our resources to make life not only possible for others, but to take delight in their place in God’s eye’s. 
 
Happy Joseph Sunday. I hope you will carry him in your heart far beyond this one Sunday every three years, for without him, the Christmas story would not have happened. Thank you Joseph for being the quiet, loving presence who made it all possible for Mary and Jesus to take the spotlight -- and to do God’s bidding. Amen!
Last Published: January 3, 2014 9:39 PM