DON’T FORGET JOSEPH!
This is a sermon for Christmas Eve. Pastor Jim Kniseley presented this sermon at the 11:00 candlelight communion service at Resurrection on December 24, 2007. The gospel reading is Luke 2:1-20.
Dear Friends in Christ,
In these few minutes of our Christmas Eve Meditation, I’d like us to remember the most overlooked and unheard from character of the Nativity Story: Joseph. Joseph, the stepfather of Jesus, an unsung hero in many ways, a silent saint, the one Roman Catholics officially call “Guardian of our Lord.”
We know of Joseph through only two books of the Bible: Matthew and Luke. Matthew and Luke don’t agree on their facts concerning Joseph. Luke says he was living in Nazareth before he was betrothed to Mary and that the angel Gabriel spoke to him in Nazareth. Matthew, on the other hand, implies that Luke was a resident of Bethlehem and was temporarily displaced hoping to return to Bethlehem but changed his mind when Herod’s song was placed in charge of the area that included Bethlehem.
There are certain facts concerning the first Christmas that some folks might be their lives are true. Don’t bet!
· What is Joseph’s work? A carpenter? All of the tradition of Joseph and Jesus being carpenters hinges on one question asked when Jesus his adulthood preaches at Nazareth. The question was, “Is not this the carpenter’s son?” The Greek word could also be translated “artisan” or “stonemason”, and so the carpenter’s trade is just a wise guess…
· How did Mary travel to Bethlehem? On a donkey you say? Perhaps. But the Bible doesn’t say so. It is legend! (By the way, this year at our Living Nativity we had a new twist on the Christmas Story. The one who is really pregnant is the donkey).
· Was Joseph an old man betrothed to a young teenager named Mary? This is not stated in scripture. The tradition of Joseph being an old man began in the 2nd century in a gospel attributed to James the Less. The 5th century “History of Joseph the Carpenter” says Joseph was widowed at age 89 and Mary became his ward when he was 91…the Roman Church has been so concerned over the years to make sure that Joseph in no way could have been the natural father of Jesus…
The message I share this night comes out of good Lutheran tradition. Martin Luther often took one of more of the characters of the Christmas Story and delved into what they were thinking. Luther preached Advent and Christmas messages for 30 years and he was not afraid to let his mind soar when considering the Christmas story. You and I have to be a bit careful in not always taking Luther literally in some of his speculations. For instance, he must have been playing with his congregation when he suggests that the reason the Wise Men took so long in getting to Jesus was that God turned the star on and off to encourage or discipline the Wise Men!
Luther is very serious when he says that he does not question if God could make a star to point the way. The real important question, says Luther, is why would the God of the Universe care enough to do so for mortals?
We too tonight ask: why would God humble himself to lie in the feedbox of a donkey and to then hang on a cross?
Joseph is like us in so many ways. He is not perfect, but God uses him. In the genealogies of Jesus that both Matthew and Luke present, we learn that the Holy Family has some rascals and scoundrels in their family tree. But God uses this family anyway.
When Joseph learned that Mary was pregnant and he knew that he was not the father, he could have followed the letter of the Hebrew law, denounced her and she would have been stoned. He thought rather to divorce her quietly and only changed his mind when the angel Gabriel came to him. Just think, Mary the mother of Jesus, was at first judged by her own husband to be a loose woman…
When Gabriel appeared, Joseph had nothing to go on. Save the Word of God, and he accepted it. We believe that a less than God-fearing man would have said it was just a dream.
On this Christmas Eve, I invite you to simply believe that a miracle took place in the birth of the infant Jesus. To try to explain it too closely takes away the awe and holiness of it. It is totally, entirely, completely, and absolutely the work of God. The Child is a gift of God’s grace. A new spirit was released into the world with the birth of Jesus. It’s a mystery beyond our understanding…
I’m reminded of a little girl, dressed as an angel, in a Christmas pageant, who was told to come down the center aisle. She asked, “Do you want me to walk or fly?” Those present felt as though she almost could fly. FRIENDS IN CHRIST, DON’T EVERY LOSE THE WONDER AND MYSTERY OF CHRISTMAS.
Peter Marshall has written, “When Christmas doesn’t make your heart swell up until it nearly bursts and fill your eyes with tears and make you all soft and warm inside then you will know that something inside of you is dead.”
Frederick Buechner writes of the Christmas Story:
“As for myself, the longer I live, the more inclined I am to believe in miracles. I suspect if we had been there at the birth of Christ, we would have seen and heard things that would be hard to reconcile with modern science…But that is not the point. The gospel writers are not really interested primarily in the facts of the birth. They are interested in the significance, the meaning for them of that birth. When a child is born, we who love that child are not interested in the facts of the birth. Rather, we are interested in what the birth means to us and how for us the world never again will be the same. Our lives are charged with new significance. When Jesus was born, the whole course of history was changed. ‘And this shall be a sign for you. You shall find a babe wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.’”
Tonight, dear friends in Christ, we dare to approach Bethlehem with Joseph and Mary and the angels and the shepherds, in search of Jesus. This night at Resurrection Lutheran Church, Jesus wants us to find him and he is offering himself to us in the way he determined. This night the sign is the bread and the wine, the promise of salvation. We are saved through the life, death and resurrection of the One born long ago in a little town called Bethlehem.
The significance of Jesus’ birth and of the sacrament tonight is this: we are forgiven, we are loved.
Thanks be to God. Amen!