But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”
We stand now just one week away from celebrating Christmas, where we will remember that the Christ was once a child, placed in a feeding trough by his loving mother, The Blessed virgin Mary. But before we come to that scene. Before it unfolded in history, 2000 years ago, we have Joseph.
Joseph, betrothed to Mary, that is, engaged to Mary. Joseph would have the singular role and privilege of being the foster-father to The Son of God incarnate, the guardian of the infant Lord Jesus.
Before we get to the great mystery of the Incarnation next week, I want to pause here at Joseph.
There's four things we learn from this short passage about him. Four things worth taking note of, in order to understand the Lord Jesus whose birth we are liturgically waiting for, and – in case you've missed it these past few weeks – whose second coming we are actually waiting for.
The first thing we learn about Joseph is that he was a son of David. We learn this from the geneaology that Matthew gives at the beginning of his Gospel, tracing Joseph's lineage back through David to Abraham. And we also learn it in the Angel's message to Joseph in his dream, “Joseph, son of david, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife.” Son of David. This is an important point – because it was to King David, who lived and reigned 1000 years before Joseph's time, that God promised an eternal heir for his throne. The Messiah, the Chosen one would be King for ever and ever, was prophesied to be a descendent of David, as recorded in 2nd Samuel, chapter 7, and echoed throughout the psalms.
So before we even meet Jesus in the Gospels, we get this clue, from Joseph, that something is afoot. We see a descendent of David and are led to think, “David, eh?..the one from whom the Christ will come?”
Exactly. And even though Joseph was not the biological father of Jesus, he was the legal guardian, the adoptive parent, if you will. And the dignity and rights of this role were even stronger back then than they are now. In some ways, a legal, adoptive parent was considered to be MORE of a father, than a natural biological father. For instance, whereas a biological father could legally disown a son, an adoptive father could not. So even though Jesus didn't have any of Joseph's DNA, Joseph was every bit his earthly father. And therefore, Joseph's descent from David counts as Jesus' descent from David. Jesus, we see, is the fulfillment of the long awaited hopes of the future Davidic King. As adoptive father to Jesus, Joseph also has the naming rights. Not only will Jesus be called “son of Joseph” around town growing up, but It is Joseph, who, following the Angel's commands, gives Jesus is Holy Name. I'll be saying more about that name – Jesus – on the Feast of the Holy Name, two Sundays from now.
The second thing we learn about Joseph is that his character was Godly.
As the Gospel says, when Joseph found out that Mary had gotten pregnant, while they were still waiting for their own wedding day – well, before I say what Joseph did, think for a second what you would do? Imagine being engaged to be married – very excited for the wedding day. Your fiance starts acting a little strange. You start to think she's putting on a little weight, and then all of a sudden she tells you: I have something to tell you...I...um...I'm pregnant...BUT DON'T WORRY i've not been with anybody, it was the Spirit of God that did it.
How would you react??
You'd be furious and heart-broken, right? And no way would you believe what certainly sounds like a cover-up story.
Now imagine that you're a faithful Jew, and that the Law actually declares that someone like this should be stoned to death for what they've done. Or if not stoned, the rabbis had said, at least publically shamed and kicked out of the community forever.
At this point in the story, we're expecting Joseph to do just that.
And as we read, verse 19, Being a righteous man... we think, oh boy, Mary's got something coming. Joseph is gonna drop the law on her.
But then what does he do: Being a righteous man, and unwilling to expose Mary to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly.
Here we see true Godly character. Joseph would not disobey the law – he would not marry a woman he thought was an adulteress, but he also had mercy. He also showed love. He didn't drop the full weight of the law on her, he let her off the hook. He wasn't going to give her what he thought she deserved by way of public ridicule, he decided to be merciful, to let her go quietly. To breach the engagement.
In his righteousness, Joseph showed mercy. Just like God.
What a man! What a Godly man! Worthy of our emulation for sure: To be kind when we are hurt by the sins of others. To NOT give out the full measure of just deserts, but to give grace instead.
Joseph, Being a righteous man, and unwilling to expose Mary to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly.
The third thing we learn about Joseph is that he had great faith, and was willing to stand by it.
Think about this: In many ways Joseph is in a very similar situation as ourselves. Mary – who in this way is a symbol of the Church generally – Mary comes to him and tells him something that is, by all natural accounts, unbelievable. The Holy Spirit of God has made her pregnant?? This child will be special, will be the savior of the whole world, will himself be the Son of God. And Joseph's supposed to believe all this? Sure he has a dream about an angel, but this is a lot different than the Angelic appearances that we have elsewhere in this account. The Angel that Mary saw, the Angels that appeared to the shepherds, those angels were visible with the eyes, and their voices were heard with human ears. That would be pretty much unarguable, but Joseph just has this hazy dream while he's sleeping, and an angel appears to him. And maybe a dream could be trusted, maybe note. Then as now, dreams are interesting, but surely not definitive.
So Joseph is asked to believe what to his mind was surely impossible. To believe that Mary really did conceive as a virgin. That she had never known a man. That in fact it was God's miraculous bringing to life of an egg inside Mary's body, that had made her pregnant, and that this human being would be like no other, none other than God himself in fact, in that he would save mankind from his sins.
And how does joseph respond to this request?
With great faith.
Great trust in the incredible power of God, and trust in the testimony of his beloved fiance. Trusting her character so much, that he would believe her. Trusting God's character so much, that he would trust him even when presented with the impossible.
Joseph believes. And so he does not break off the engagement with Mary. But marries her. And protects her. And cherishes this promise that she has borne witness to.
What a picture for ourselves!
Because here we are, presented with a church who over 20 continuous centuries since she was first organized by her chief, Jesus Christ, is still today bearing witness to the incredible:
The creator God became incarnate!
God in fact exists in three persons, a trinity in unity!
The Son of God incarnate died for the sins of the whole world, and was raised back from the dead into an immortal, all-glorious body. He will come again, to judge the world. And those who trust in him, and are united to him through faith and baptism, they will be raised immortal in likewise glorious bodies.
This is a pretty tall-order to believe!
By human lights it is, in fact, preposterous.
But it is true.
And we are invited to trust. Invited to believe. Sometimes, God grants us some inward consolation of its truthfulness – like Joseph had in his dream, but sometimes not. Either way, we are asked to believe.
And asked to believe in such a way that we would stake our lives on it.
As Joseph did! No doubt he was worried about the ridicule he might receive from fellow villagers. No doubt he may have even been worried about being punished himself, as being complicit with an adulteress. But taking in stride all that the world might throw at him for trusting the message of God, he trusts it. Happy to take on the chin whatever comes his way as a result.
May we be found to have such faith!
Even when the world mocks us.
Even when friends distance themselves from us.
Or family disowns us.
Or our own hearts even doubt the course,
to be steadfast in our commitment. Steadfast in our belief. Like Joseph was.
So, three things we've learned about Joseph already:
he was of the line of David, bringing Royal lineage to Mary's son
He had Godly character, in that he showed mercy in his righteousness &
He had great faith
And the final thing I wish to illumine this morning, the fourth thing about Saint Joseph, is that he is chaste. That he was pure, and self-controlled sexually.
As the gospel says, ‘he didn't know his wife until Jesus was born’
There's actually something that needs to be clarified here: most all of the time English is very good at translating the original Greek of the New Testament, but every language has its own subtleties, and here we have one of them: when the scripture says ‘until’, in English we hear an implied ‘and when he was born, THEN he knew her’. And while it can mean this in Greek it doesn't have to. It can mean ‘until, and then all the more after’ -- like when Jesus says “I am with you, even to the end of the age” he doesn't mean he'll be with us and then he'll leave us at the end of the age. Of course not. Just so here in the gospel. And this has some relevance for us, because there is a strong tradition that the Virgin Mary remained a virgin her whole life long. In our day and age we scoff at this idea, but our scoffing comes more from our sex crazed culture than from our patient listening to the truths of the faith expressed in the scriptures. And unless you think this is just Roman Catholic teaching, Martin Luther AND John Calvin both believed Mary remained a virgin her whole life long.
But whether it was for many years, it was at least for the several months of pregnancy, Joseph did not have any marital relations with Mary, even after he had actually married her, having found out about her pregnancy.
And so we are in Joseph a man who has submitted his whole life to God, including that most powerful force - his sexual desire. And in this he is a model for us also. Ours is not a chaste age. 10 minutes of television will confirm the fact. And as a church we have let this foul air of the culture into our windows. We've stopped caring as much as our forefathers did about sexual purity. In thought as well as deed.
The great truth of the incarnation which we are on the verge of celebrating shows us that bodies matter to God. And as St.paul shows us in Corinthians, sexual sins affect us in our very bodies -- these temples of the Holy Spirit.
And in the Person of saint joseph we have this godly virtue of chastity and purity embodied.
Thanks be to God for this wonderful example,
And of chastity
As we approach Christmas and the lords coming -- let us with Gods help approach the manger, following in his blessed footsteps. Amen.