A Joseph Story

December 15, 2019 Advent 3

Matthew 1:18-25

Typically, I like to do a story sermon on Christmas Sunday. Since we’ll be leaving for Canada early Saturday morning, I won’t be able to do that this year. Yet as I worked at sermon preparation for this Sunday, it was a Joseph story that kept coming alive in my mind. So then, a story it is. But I also want to offer three notes of explanation before I begin.

First, we know very little about Joseph. In Matthew 13:55 there is a reference to Jesus as the carpenter’s son and we discover Jesus has four brothers and several sisters as well. But apart from the birth and childhood narratives, this is the only mention of Joseph and it’s an indirect one at that. It is thought Joseph likely died before Jesus’ crucifixion and maybe even before his ministry began. So any story about Joseph is going to involve a lot of conjecture.

Second, one of the commentaries I consulted stressed we tend to read these Bible stories differently than they were lived. In the case of the Christmas story, the doctrine and theology of the Incarnation is so intertwined with our reading, we have a hard time approaching this story without that lens in place. However, the concept of the Incarnation was one that came about after Joseph’s time. It’s one of our bedrock, foundational Christian principles, that Jesus was simultaneously the son of Mary and the son of God. The word made flesh. But this insight and

understanding developed over the years following Jesus’ death. Joseph was likely far more concerned not with Jesus’ nature but with the role he would fulfill in God’s plan.

And third, I listened to an interesting interview the other day.  The idea is that we act very differently in an emotional context than we think we will act from a removed theoretical perspective.  And they’ve done studies to prove this pretty conclusively.  This isn’t a new idea, but the studies they have done are so revealing.  It was another warning to reserve judgment. It is an unfortunate tendency of people who sit a comfortable distance from emotion or trauma to say, “Well, if it had been me, I would have…(!)”  The truth of the matter is that not a one of us knows how we would react in a highly emotional or traumatic situation unless we have been in that exact same situation before.  Joseph, in our story for today, is not operating in a detached and comfortably distant state, he is ground zero here and it is with that in mind that we approach him this morning.

Joseph paused with chisel in hand, peering closely at the valuable wood slowly taking on the shape of a yoke in his skilled hands.  He took a deep breath and sighed with weary contentment, a man well pleased with his lot and with his life.  This appreciative spirit rested easily on his shoulders.  Joseph was one who took notice of simple pleasures and his kind and quiet manner had long earned him respect and regard in his home community.

That evening he would see his betrothed and he anticipated these quiet twilight moments with his Mary, though the walk home invariably stirred up impatient desires for engagement’s close and marriage’s be