The Fourth Sunday in Advent (December 19, 2010)

Joseph, the Father of Jesus

Lessons: Isaiah 7:10-16 Psalm 80:1-7, 17-19 (7) Romans 1:1-7 St. Matthew 1:18-25

Prayer of the Day: Stir up your power, Lord Christ, and come. With your abundant grace and might, free us from the sin that hinders our faith, that eagerly we may receive your promises, for you live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Text:

1:18 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. 19 Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly. 20 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. 21 She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” 22 All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet:

23 “Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel,”

which means, “God is with us.” 24 When Joseph awoke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took her as his wife, 25 but had no marital relations with her until she had borne a son; and he named him Jesus.

St. Matthew 1:18-25. New Revised Version Bible ©1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.

This week our Gospel lesson has for its focus Joseph, the father of Jesus. He is a surprisingly unknown player in the story of Jesus’ birth. In the annual Sunday School play, the role of Joseph is given to that older boy who is too shy and self-conscious to say much in front of the crowd, but whose family is very involved at the church, and it would be a slap in the face to not have their boy somewhere near the center of the stage. He only has one line (“Do you have a room to rent?”), and he spends most of the time either standing behind Mary, or following after her.

Joseph is often given a small role in the Christmas story because we tend to pay an inordinate amount of attention to St. Luke’s version of the nativity story. Luke isn’t very interested in Joseph at all – his story focuses on Mary and Elizabeth and angels and shepherds. There is hardly room left for Joseph.

But this is the year of St. Matthew, and St. Matthew is very interested in Joseph. It is from Matthew that we learn of Joseph’s righteousness and compassion. We read about how Joseph discovers that his betrothed is with child, and resolves to put her away quietly, so that she won’t suffer the pain of public shame.

It is from Matthew that we learn of Joseph’s faithfulness. The voice of God comes to him in a dream, informing him that the child in Mary’s womb is of the Holy Spirit, and part of God’s great plan for the world. It is a voice that could easily have been ignored, but Joseph chooses to believe that the voice is indeed God’s. He changes his mind, keeps her as his wife, and claims Jesus as his own son.

It is from Matthew that we learn Jesus is a descendant of King David, and the one through whom God’s promise to Abraham will finally be fulfilled. Luke’s genealogy (Luke 3:23-38) discounts Joseph’s role (calling him the “supposed” father of Jesus in 3.23), and goes all the way back to Adam – perhaps intending to tell us that just as God created Adam out of nothing, so also God became human in Jesus without the help of a human father. Matthew’s genealogy (Matthew 1:1-16) begins with Abraham, the father of faith who received the promises of God, and includes Joseph who believes God’s promises and claims Jesus as his son (legally making himself Jesus’ father).

This story just wouldn’t be right without Joseph. We are fortunate that St. Matthew remembers that part of the story for us. Joseph is a compelling model of faith. As the day for celebrating the birth of Christ draws near, I find myself thinking a great deal about Joseph. His righteousness and his compassion. His faithfulness. His role in the fulfillment of the promise God made so many years earlier to Abraham and Sarah.

As I think of Joseph, I pray: “God, help me to learn from Joseph, the father of our Lord. Help me to hear the voice of the Spirit when it calls out to me. Help me to hold to my convictions, not with arrogance, but with grace and humility. In those times when your Spirit calls me to repentance and new direction, give me the honesty and the courage to follow its lead.”

Such is the model of Joseph. Such is the life of faith. May God grant that such is the witness we offer.

Amen.

David J. Risendal, Pastor

Exploring This Week’s Gospel:

  1. Of the two Christmas stories, which is most familiar to Christians today? (You might want to read them for a comparison: St. Matthew 1:18-25, and St. Luke 2:1-20.)
  2. What is unique about St. Matthew’s account?
  3. How is Joseph’s faith an inspiration to people today?

Connecting with This Week’s Gospel:

  1. What do I admire most about Joseph, who served as our Lord’s father?
  2. When have I been turned around by one of God’s messengers?
  3. When has God used me to help another believer turn in a new direction?