December 23rd, 2013

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Joseph is chosen too

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Scripture: Matt 1:18-24

Choosing to be Jesus’ father, wasn’t instinctive for Joseph. Before he had his dream, his choice, carefully made, had been quite different. Mosaic Law permitted him to, given Mary’s apparent offence, issue a certificate of divorce or have her stoned. He was an ordinary man trying to process messy emotions, yet he chose divorce over vengeance. He heart is revealed in his desire to divorce her quietly, without drawing attention to what had happened.  God, however, asked more of Joseph than Joseph had scraped together from the mess in which he was surrounded.  While he slept the angel in the dream instructed him:

(Georges de la Tour, Joseph and the Angel, 1640)

‘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. When Joseph woke from sleep he did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him.’

The bit that seems to be obvious about this, seems also to be the obvious lesson from Joseph’s life.  He did what he was asked to do.  Joseph was a just man, a kind man, a discerning man – and – he was obedient. His just, kind and discerning character led him to care for Mary, at least a little, in a horribly devastating situation.  It was his obedience however, that gave Jesus an earthly father.

We don’t often speak of Joseph as being chosen in the same way that Mary was chosen.  An angel appeared to her, they conversed together, she accepted.  Joseph had to wade through a devastating disappointment, was given a dream to set his thoughts straight and then he tagged along after Mary as best he could under the circumstances…we don’t think it deliberately, but once the dilemma is resolved he sinks into the background somewhat.  Let’s try to look at him differently today.

Joseph wasn’t just a respectful covering for Mary’s circumstance, Joseph was chosen to fulfill the role of father and teacher to Jesus.  The training of young children at that time, was the exclusive role of parents.  When we read the Proverbs saying: “When I was a son with my father, tender, the only one in the sight of my mother, he taught me and said to me. ’ Let your heart hold fast to my words: keep my commandments and live.  Get wisdom, get insight; do not forget, and do not turn away from the words of my mouth.’ it is because this is how teaching was done, intimately from parent to child, from father to son.

(Georges de la Tour, Joseph the Carpenter, c 1635-1640)

We aren’t given the particulars of Jesus’ early years, although all sorts of extra biblical stories exist, but we know how formative and vital those years had to have been.  Jesus needed someone to teach him justice, kindness, discernment  – and obedience.  Some days ago now, when we discussed Noah, we referenced the passage from Philippians 2, that Jesus became obedient, that he learned obedience.  It would seem straightforward now to acknowledge where that instruction began.  It was at the knee of Joseph who knew and understood what it was to obey.

It is reassuring that Joseph demonstrates his penchant for obedience two more times, listening to the angel in dreams in order to escape to Egypt and return safely to Galilee after the danger is passed.  It wasn’t just a ‘one off’ sort of obedience, it was his habit.  So although he doesn’t have a ‘speaking part’ in the nativity play, Joseph’s voice still carries well into Jesus’ life.

Lord Jesus, as we turn toward Christmas, turn our hearts toward you. Amen