Why This Jubilee? Joseph

THE KIRK OF KILDAIRE PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH

CARY, NC

www.kirkofkildaire.org

A sermon preached by Joseph Welker, Jr.

Why This Jubilee? Joseph

Matthew 1:18-25

December 4, 2016

These notes are intended for distribution to members and friends of the Kirk of Kildaire Presbyterian Church family. While effort is made to give credit for work done by other, the notes may use material for which appropriate credit is not given. Also, the notes may differ from the actual sermon as it was delivered. Remember, sermons are meant to be preached and are therefore prepared with the emphasis on verbal presentation; the written accounts occasionally stray from proper grammar and punctuation.

Average Joe… if we had met Joseph that’s what we would have called him… In many ways, he was like most of the men in his village: a working class carpenter or stone mason… paying the bills, helping his neighbors…He had dreams of marriage and family like everyone else… Just an average Joe!

My image of Joseph is that of the quiet man in the manger scene holding a lamp over Mary and the baby Jesus on a dark night… keeping watch… just like every man whose wife gave birth…

What you don’t see is all that is going on inside this quiet man… his inner world had been in turmoil 9 months earlier… the events that led to that night were far from easy… and he had had a few sleepless nights… trying to decide what to do. What the right thing to do was in a very hard situation.

Joseph, Matthew says, was a righteous and just man… who wanted to please God and do the right thing… and it is easy to forget that this was far from easy… the pregnancy and birth. He looks so peaceful holding that lamp.

Months earlier, he had received the news that Mary was pregnant. “found to be with child”… is the way the translation put it. “Right”… “found to be with child”  — sounds like it just “happened to her”…  When was the last time you ever shared with someone that your wife, daughter, friend was “found to be with child”… Joseph  had to wonder… who the father was,  because he knew he was not the father…

We forget how hard it was for him… perhaps we think of him quietly accepting the news… but nothing could be further from the case. This news came out of nowhere… it is the news you never want to hear:  “My wife… my husband… my fiancé… has cheated on me…”

It is the news you hear in your life that causes your world to crumble…

This had to be so hard for Joseph: The wheels have just come off Joseph’s well ordered life. He had it all figured out… they had it all figured out… there was the betrothal… then marriage (sent out the announcements to family and friends, “save the date”) … then getting on with their lives in a small village.  That was the plan… They would live happily ever after….  Then he hears… that his fiancée Mary is pregnant.

How would you feel? We know how Joseph felt:  When he got the news he was angry… very upset.  I know that is now what our English Bible says… Our NRSV says, “when he resolved to do this”… translated elsewhere, “when he considered these things”… but both may miss the original… The same word for “consider” in Greek is also the word for angry… or very upset. I don’t know why English translations don’t say that… maybe they want to keep Joseph quiet… holding a lamp… a passive saint without feelings… but that is not what the Greek says… the Greek says he was upset… angry… and who can blame him!

One of the few Carols  (and there are very few) mentioning Joseph says it this way… called the Cherry Tree Carol:

When Joseph was an old man, an old man was he
He married Virgin Mary, the Queen of Galilee
He married Virgin Mary, the Queen of Galilee

And one day as they went walking, all in the garden green
There were berries and cherries as thick as may be seen
There were berries and cherries as thick as may be seen

Then Mary said to Joseph, so meek and so mild
“Joseph, gather me some cherries for I am with child”
“Joseph, gather me some cherries for I am with child”

The Joseph flew in anger, in anger flew he
“Let the father of the baby gather cherries for thee
Let the father of the baby gather cherries for thee” 

The question is, “what will Joseph do with his anger (or as a therapist might say, ‘how will he process his anger!’… his sense of betrayal”? What would you have done? What would a righteous and good person do?

What is Joseph to do? It’s not simple, is it.

He could go down to his friends at the synagogue and ask… and they might say, “Just do what the Bible says. You can’t go wrong if you do what the Bible says.” How about that for an answer… Which is fine until you read what the Bible says… Joseph’s Bible said, “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth”… sometimes called retributive justice. “I don’t get mad, I get even”…  What would this look like? Public shaming? Not sure… but when you are mad you will find some way to get even…  That’s one answer from his Bible.

There’s another… follow the law… the law of God… Do you know what the law said: I’ll tell you what it said: From Deuteronomy 22: “She is to be taken out and stoned to death in front of the people.”

That’s what the Bible says.  They call that equal application of justice. [i] You will treat Mary just as you would any other adulteress.

(I wonder if Jesus was thinking of this story when he encountered the woman caught in adultery… everyone was ready to stone her and he says, ‘Let those without sin cast the first stone’)

But think about this: If Joseph had followed the law of Deuteronomy… Jesus would never have been born.

So, what is Joseph to do. He is a good man, and he loves his Bible, and he knows his Bible and he has read his Bible…

Which has led him, I believe to another powerful verse of Scripture that seems to be the decisive one for him. It comes from Micah:What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, love kindness or mercy and walk humbly with God”…

He will make his choice based on doing justice and loving mercy…  because he believes God is at heart a just, loving and merciful God.

So he decides that he will not harm her, abuse her, expose her, ridicule her or demean her value, her dignity, or her with. I will protect her.” He will treat her with mercy because the prophet says that’s the way we should treat others… and because he believes it is in the very nature and character of God to be slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.

Joseph, average Joe, is one of the most undervalued and most amazing characters of the Christmas story.

Fred Craddock says, he is the first person in the New Testament who learned how to read the Bible. Like Joseph, we are to read it through the spectacles of the grace and goodness and the love of God.

If in reading the Bible you find justification for abusing, humiliating, disgracing, harming or hurting, especially when it makes you feel better about yourself, you are absolutely wrong.  The Bible is to be read in the light of the character of God. As my old friend own on the other side of the mountain in East Tennessee used to say over and over again:  “Well Craddock, I know one thing. God is just as good a Christian as we are.” That’s not bad; that’s not bad at all.

You know, Joseph is someone that gives me hope this Christmas.   He offers such a good example for us all… He reminds me that God uses the faithfulness of average Joes and average Janes to welcome the birth of Christ.

Again as Craddock says:

“The baby is not born yet; Mary is not even in labor; but it is Christmas already because of Joseph. Through an angel, God said to Joseph in a dream,  “I want you to marry Mary. I want you to go ahead and marry her. I want you to take care of her. I have chosen you to raise her boy.”

So please do not forget Joseph. God said, “Joseph, I want you to raise the baby. You feed the baby. You care for the mother. You care for the baby.”

Thanks to Joseph we can know that when Jesus is born, the man who will teach him, raise him, care for him, show him how to be a carpenter, take him to the synagogue, teach him his Bible, and teach him his lessons is a good man and he will do  right.” [ii]

I simply don’t understand why there are not more carols for Joseph… why we don’t sing about him more…

Joseph deserves more… so much more…  So I agree with Ann Weems who wrote:

Who put Joseph in the back of the stable?

 Who dressed him in brown, put a staff in his hand,

     and told him to stand in the back of the creche,

     background for the magnificent light of the Madonna?

 

God-chosen, this man Joseph was faithful

     in spite of the gossip in Nazareth,

    in spite of the danger from Herod.

 

This man, Joseph, listened to angels

     and it was he who named the Child

     Emmanuel.

 

 Is this a man to be stuck for centuries

     in the back of the stable?

Actually, Joseph probably stood in the doorway

     guarding the mother and child

    or greeting shepherds and kings.

 

 

When he wasn’t in the doorway,

       he was probably urging Mary to get some rest,

      gently covering her with his cloak,

      assuring her that he would watch the Child.

 

Actually, he probably picked the Child up in his arms

     and walked him in the night,

     patting him lovingly

    until he closed his eyes.

 

This Christmas, let us give thanks to God

     for this man of incredible faith

     into whose care God placed the Christ Child.

 

As a gesture of gratitude,

     let’s put Joseph in the front of the stable

    where he can guard and greet

    and cast an occasional glance

        at this Child

          who brought us life.

Amen.

[i] Insights adapted from Fred Craddock Cherry Log sermons p 5-6

[ii] Craddock Cherry Log sermons p 5-6

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