Thursday, December 16, 2010

Advent IV – Joseph Dearest, Joseph Mine – Sermon Thoughts on Matthew 1:18-25

Read the text - here: Matthew 1:18-25

Advent IV – Joseph Dearest, Joseph Mine – Sermon Thoughts on Matthew 1:18-25

Joseph lieber, Joseph mein, Hilf mir wiegen mein Kindelein
Joseph dearest, Joseph mine, help me cradle this child of mine….
To Listen to a beautiful setting and performance of this carol by Quire Cleveland click....

            Some of us might recognize this old German carol.  It is one of the few carols that actually name Mary’s husband Joseph, but don’t let that fool you.  The carol is ultimately not about Joseph.  After the first two verses Joseph disappears like he always does (the first two verses are a dialog between Mary and Joseph).  Joseph is perhaps the most neglected character in the traditional crèche.  Every Christmas we celebrate Mary and the shepherds and the angels and the wise men and through it all Joseph is the silent character who sits quietly, out of the way, besides the crèche. 

            This is because the story of Christmas we hear told year after year is taken primarily from the Gospel of St. Luke (with the 3 wise men from Matthew 2 added for good measure).  And in Luke, Joseph is a peripheral character.  But the Gospel of St. Matthew is different.  For Matthew Joseph is the central character, and Mary is the secondary character.  Matthew has spent the first 17 verses of chapter one establishing Jesus’ linage to Father Abraham and King David – through Joseph. And then the birth narrative itself is all about Joseph as are the episodes following the birth where Joseph has a series of dreams that inspire him to act to protect the baby Jesus by travelling to Egypt. 

            So what do we know about Joseph from the few verses that appear in Matthew and Luke about him.  The information is sparse, but what is there is important:
1.     Joseph is a carpenter (making farm equipment) and is originally from Bethlehem.
2.     Joseph is of the house of Jesse – which makes him a relative of King David and of course of Father Abraham.
3.     Joseph is probably older than Mary by at least 10 years.  It was highly unusual for working class men to marry girls their own age.  (Mary is probably between 12 and 14).
4.     Joseph begins the narrative engaged or betrothed to Mary.  This tells us that Joseph was a devout 1st century Jew who followed the laws and traditions of his faith.  The betrothal period was one year, during which time the bride lived with her parents while they finished assembling the dowry.  During this time the couple was technically married, but not permitted to be alone together – no physical intimacy between them would have been allowed. 
5.     Joseph is a righteous man.  When Mary turns up pregnant he resolves to do the right thing and put her away quietly.  This could have been a fatal condition for Mary. 
6.     Joseph is open to God’s direction.  Joseph has a series of dreams that reveal some of what God is up to, and despite the counter-cultural, counter-traditional nature of the instructions, Joseph does not question the Holy Spirit and acts in each case as he is instructed.  This is really the key to understanding Joseph.  Joseph is willing to act as he is led by the spirit – without fanfare and without anguish.

Finally note that in Matthew, Joseph names the baby Jesus – which in Hebrew is Joshua and which means “God Saves.”  And in case the choice of the name prompts the question – “how does God save?”  Matthew has an answer for that as well – “He shall be called Immanuel – God with us!”  God saves through God’s presence, by entering into the darkness of human experience and bringing the light of God’s love and grace into the darkness.  And this is a deep darkness indeed – go on and read the 2nd chapter of Matthew - (click here for Matthew 2)  and what do we find there – political intrigue, deceit, murder, suffering, pain, grief – deep darkness!  It is into this darkness that the baby Jesus Immanuel is born. 

The words of the refrain the carol mentioned above are as follows:
He came among us at Christmastide, at Christmastide, in Bethlehem.
Men shall bring Him from far and wide Love’s diadem:
Jesus, Jesus, Lo, he comes and love and saves and frees us!

Amen – Come, Lord Jesus!

1 comment:

  1. Beautiful, Blake! And the Musings are so informative. I thought of Mary so very young and pregnant and then I thought of the African girls who are sold to older men when they are 12 or so. They get pregnant and the birth of the child in so young a body often causes terrible damage. Their loss of bodily functions causes them to be sent back home where their parents will not allow them back in their houses. Thank goodness there are now new and special hospitals where the damage often can be corrected. Well, that's a horrible thing to think about in connection with Mary. Not Christmas thought at all.

    Thank you for the Musings. Martha