Concerning Joseph (Matthew 1: 18-25)
Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly. But just when he had resolved to do 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 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.’ All this took place to fulfill what had been
spoken by the Lord through the prophet: ‘Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel,’
which means, ‘God is with us’. When Joseph awoke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took her as his wife, but had no marital relations with her until she had borne a son; and he named him Jesus.
Matthew 1: 18-25
May the words of my mouth
And the meditations of all of our hearts Be acceptable in thine sight
O God, our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen.
We don’t hear much about Joseph in the Bible. After our passage for this morning he pretty much disappears. We know he was related to the illustrious King David. We know he was a Carpenter–a tradesperson which would have put him squarely in the Middle Class of his time and local economy–and we know that he was chosen by God to be the foster father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Beyond this, we know nothing.
What are we to make of this strange scarcity of information? We can be certain that if Scripture mentions him at all he is crucial to God’s overall message to us–as if there were something we could learn about the New Life in Christ in particular in our contemplation of Joseph. But far more conspicuous in the Scripture’s dealing with this quiet man is its silence concerning him. We know little to nothing–after this passage and a few unimportant references–Joseph fades from
view. It is almost as if the Holy Spirit calls our attention to him only to make him disappear–as if there were a lesson for us to be learned in the absence of details, itself.
One might go so far as to say that if Joseph is important at all, from a Scriptural point of view–it is not so much because of what he accomplished himself–but because of what he allowed others to accomplish. Perhaps the true greatness of Joseph, then, lies not so much in the great things he, himself did, but in his ability to not be an obstacle to great deeds–his talent for getting out of the way.
Consider our Scripture lesson. Joseph, an unassuming and unremarkable man, suddenly finds his recent bride to be “with child”. He does the math–and to put it mildly, finds that it doesn’t ̧add up. He has been betrayed. We learn that this Joseph is a righteous man and does not want to expose his recently beloved to public disgrace. He plans to divorce her quietly. At this point, however, an angel of the Lord appears to him in a dream, revealing the true nature of this event, its origin in God–and its role in God’s greater plan for salvation. “She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus,” the angel says, “for he will save his people from their sins”.
Matthew rounds out our passage by telling us simply that: “When Joseph awoke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him”. But what was it that the angel commanded him to do? Well, in essence, the angel commanded him to not do something–to not divorce his wife, to not
abandon the child–to not put his own feelings and hurt, and sense of betrayal and even pride– before the will of God.
Indeed, think about how Joseph must have felt. Didn’t he have a right to be angry, to be hurt? The circumstances surrounding this birth were irregular, to say the least. Wouldn’t he be a laughing stock–a source of gossip–among the village wits and wags? Who would believe that it was the Holy Spirit who conceived this child? What is truly remarkable in Joseph is that he chose not to indulge himself in these feelings. What is truly remarkable is that over his own agenda–he chose God’s agenda.
Consider your own life. Consider how often true greatness and true virtue consists in self- restraint. What we do not do is as important–and perhaps if we are to hear the Word of God in the brief story of Joseph–it is even more important at times–then what we actually do do.
How many times are we faced with a choice between clinging to our own concerns and edifying a larger whole? How many times must we decide between indulging ourselves in our own lesser qualities–and the larger task of learning to live together peacefully and fruitfully. Perhaps the lesson to be learned in the story of Joseph is that there is true strength and greatness in learning when to get out of the way–when to be silent–when to sacrifice our lesser needs to God’s greater plan of salvation and reconciliation–and New Birth.
Now let’s be clear. We are not talking about martyrdom–at least not a cheap
martyrdom. God does not call us to a life of disgrace and self-abuse. Indeed, Jesus came to set the captives free–not to bind them in more subtle chains. The point to be made is that in not doing something–Joseph allowed something greater to happen. In abandoning his own agenda–he embraced God’s agenda–that is, the Christ child.
In closing let us consider that the season. Once more, our Savior is born–and our deliverance has dawned. Friends, God has Promised salvation and a New Heaven and a New Earth–let us let our lesser selves fade from our own views that our higher selves–all that is best and brightest in us–might dwell securely in the Kingdom of God in our midst–let us, like Joseph abandon what is old and passing away–and embrace the Christ child. Amen.