The text for this week is here.
The Narrative Lectionary commentary and podcast from Working preacher are here.
I think most of us have a few sermons in our memory wherein the work of the Spirit is bright and memorable. I don’t mean sermons we heard. I mean, sermons we preached, delivered, wrote, sweated out, birthed. One of those sermons for me was about Joseph- about this passage- from December 2010. I went back and looked at it now, for the first time since. Some of it is a little me, but some of it is definitely the Spirit- shining on the text:
[This] is why Joseph is important, as important as Mary, maybe more. God could make a virgin pregnant out of nowhere. That’s no problem. If you recall what Gabriel says to Mary, “Nothing is impossible with God.” But God won’t raise up a heir to the house of David from nowhere. Jesus is adopted into the House of David through Joseph. Jesus becomes the fulfillment of God’s promises throughout the Hebrew Scriptures of a David Messiah… through Joseph.
Mary’s faithfulness allows Jesus to be born as the Son of God, but Joseph’s faithfulness makes the way for Jesus to be born into the line of David, which is what was promised over and over. And Joseph didn’t feel a baby moving inside him. Joseph didn’t get the full-blown angelic visitation. Joseph had a dream and then moved in faith, believing that somehow, in some way, he was doing what God wanted. Joseph raised Jesus in righteousness and taught his son what he knew of the law and the prophets.
We read about Mary, pondering things in her heart. But Joseph didn’t get to ponder. He had to act. Find a place for Mary to have the baby. Get the baby to Egypt so he doesn’t die. Teach the boy the lessons of faith. Find him when he wanders off. Teach him the family trade- shaping and creating from wood. Joseph’s faith is laid out in actions- actions that are at first obedience and, maybe, became love. We don’t see Joseph at the cross. Maybe he didn’t live to see what happened. Maybe he died wondering what he did it for.
It makes me wonder, then, what Joseph thought when he encountered Jesus in Heaven. “Son?” “Dad… welcome home.”
When you look at a nativity set and you see the glowing looks between Mary and Jesus, take a look at the man standing in the corner. Pay some attention to the man standing behind the manger. Charged with protecting and training the Son of God and having just helped his wife deliver a baby in a barn, he probably doesn’t look anywhere as tired or apprehensive as he should. But there he is, Joseph, a model of faithful action, in spite of doubt and fear.
Joseph’s faith adopts Jesus into the House of David. And through Jesus, we’re adopted into the House of God. Because of Joseph’s righteousness, because of his faith, all people ever after, including us, especially us, are able to understand and see that God keeps God’s promises. And if God keeps God’s promises, then we can believe in Immanuel… God with us.
It takes some serious ovaries to quote oneself to this audience, but there they are! I still think about this with regard to Joseph. You could take this Sunday to say more about the man behind the manger and his example of faithfulness.
One might remark that Joseph might have heeded the women of his own history- Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, Bathsheba (the wife of Uriah)- in heeding the dream and guidance of the angel. Knowing what God had done before might have made the confusing present easier to process.
Do you have time on Sunday to review that genealogy? The podcasters from Working Preacher suggest that genealogies tend to be boring, but that’s all in the perspective and the presentation. After all, if we are brothers and sisters in and of Jesus, then this is the history of your family and mine. Growing up in the South, I have been asked more than once who “my people” were. Sorting out who was related to whom and how was the regional pastime, during commercial breaks. Discussing what it means to truly be histories together, with all people, would be interesting sermon fodder in a church with a more open-ended proclamation time. In our history, there in Matthew, are torture victims, immigrants, persons who sold sex, adulterers, rape victims and rapists, torturers, illegal census takers, slave owners, and people who ignored the voices of prophets. How is God-with-us revealed through our mutual history and our responsibility for the body and the bodies?
Lastly, I’ve been thinking about the Eucharist and the words. I mostly say, “The body of Christ, given for you” when I distribute the host. However, I know some parishioners prefer “broken for you”. “Given”, for me, goes with the totality of incarnation and its fullness for atonement. What is the Immanuel that we witness in the sacrament (and sacramental) life of our congregation? Are there stories that might be shared from two or three gathered that might shed light on dreams, living in faith, and the lived experience of God-with-us?
What are your thoughts for the week?