Posted by: skokiecentralchurch | December 8, 2013

2013.12.08 “The Journey: Walking the Road to Bethlehem – Joseph of Bethlehem” Matthew 1: 18 – 25

Central United Methodist Church

The Journey: Walking the Road to Bethlehem
Joseph of Bethlehem

Pastor David L. Haley

December 8th, 2013

The 2nd Sunday of Advent

Matthew 1: 18 – 25

 

The birth of Jesus took place like this. His mother, Mary, was engaged to be married to Joseph. Before they came to the marriage bed, Joseph discovered she was pregnant. (It was by the Holy Spirit, but he didn’t know that.) Joseph, chagrined but noble, determined to take care of things quietly so Mary would not be disgraced.

While he was trying to figure a way out, he had a dream. God’s angel spoke in the dream: “Joseph, son of David, don’t hesitate to get married. Mary’s pregnancy is Spirit-conceived. God’s Holy Spirit has made her pregnant. She will bring a son to birth, and when she does, you, Joseph, will name him Jesus — ‘God saves’ — because he will save his people from their sins.” This would bring the prophet’s embryonic sermon to full term:

Watch for this — a virgin will get pregnant and bear a son;
They will name him Immanuel (Hebrew for “God is with us”).

Then Joseph woke up. He did exactly what God’s angel commanded in the dream: He married Mary. But he did not consummate the marriage until she had the baby. He named the baby Jesus.”Matthew 1: 18 – 25, The Message, by Eugene H. Peterson

Last Sunday, we began our journey to Bethlehem by learning more about the second most important person in the Christmas story after Jesus, his mother Mary. Today, we have before us the other half of the human equation that gave us Jesus, his father, Joseph, the third most important person in the Christmas story.

This week I’d like to begin with the video with Adam Hamilton, introducing us to Joseph.  Let’s take a look. [Video]

So, how do we define greatness?

If we define it as tangible accomplishment, such as the building projects of Herod or the accomplishments of a Nelson Mandela, let’s face it, most of us have no chance.

But what if we define greatness in terms of character and virtue, attempting to do the best job we can at whatever job God gives us in life, including raising our children?  In that case, some of us just might have a chance.

We’ve already been introduced to Joseph by Adam Hamilton in the video; let me discuss briefly what I believe are some of the most important things to note.

First of all, how little we know about him. Doesn’t that seem like a shame, given how important he was to Jesus, protecting him, raising him? What little we do know about him, we know primarily from Matthew’s Gospel.

It is important to remember what we often forget, that there is not ONE Christmas story — as we see presented in Christmas pageants — but two, one according to Matthew and one according to Luke. And in significant ways, they are different.

In Matthew, the Christmas story is told from Joseph’s perspective; in Luke from Mary’s. In Matthew, Joseph is mentioned 8 times, Mary 3. In Luke, Joseph is mentioned 3 times, Mary 11. Mary doesn’t get a speaking role in Matthew; but in Luke she not only speaks but sings. Poor Joseph doesn’t get a single word in either Gospel. (Must have been the strong silent type, you know, like a Minnesota Lutheran)

Because of the differences between the two Gospels, there is a difference of opinion about where they lived. In Luke, Joseph and Mary live in Nazareth, then travel to Bethlehem for the birth. In Matthew, they live in Bethlehem. Or did Joseph live in Bethlehem, and Mary live in Nazareth? Was their engagement long-distance, arranged by their respective families? How well did they even know each other? They better have known each other well, because they were about to get a BIG relationship test, when it became known that Mary was pregnant.

Really, by now, aren’t you asking, “What’s with this whole sex thing – or lack of it – in the Christmas story anyway?” After all, there is a baby to be born. Last week, in Luke, we heard the angel’s announcement to Mary about a virgin birth. Quite surprisingly, Luke never tells us how Joseph finds out or how he reacts. When we next meet them, they’re on the way to Bethlehem – no big deal – there’s no hint that Joseph had a problem with Mary’s pregnancy. Should we assume Mary told him, and he believed her?

In Matthew, it is Joseph who raises the issue of adultery. Did Mary not tell Joseph what happened?  Did he not believe her? And how really did he expect to solve it quietly in a small town?  Since sex was tolerated for an “engaged” couple, why did he expect anybody would believe his accusation? By any toss of the coin, the shame would be on him, rather than Mary.

Taken at face value, one imagines a nasty scene; which, perhaps after the light of bitter experience, has generated a lot of talk? Indeed, it’s not hard to imagine that the walk home the day Joseph heard the news was one of the longest walks Joseph ever walked, as he wrestled with it, worked it out in his heart and mind. I’ve had a few of those walks in my life, haven’t you? Not in regard to a pregnancy (thank God), but after receiving, or on the way to deliver – bad news.

And there is the question – unanswered in the text, of whether Joseph was old or young. Once again, the reason he is often portrayed as old, is to take sex out of the picture; as Adam Hamilton pointed out, it may depend upon whether your crèche scene is Protestant or Catholic. And, once begun, the attempt to erase sex didn’t end there: not only did Mary have a virginal conception, the church later taught that Mary perpetual virginity, and that she herself had an Immaculate Conception, which by the way is celebrated today. I don’t want to offend anybody, but honestly, how could they make this stuff up?

And as to whether Joseph was young or old, one argument that he is old might be that he seems to spend all his time sleeping, which is when God speaks to him, like his OT namesake, Joseph of the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. (That’s a good argument, I’ll have to remember that. When Michele asks, “Are you sleeping again?” Nope, just working on my sermon, waiting for a message from God)

In actuality, in the Roman, Greek, Jewish and Christian world, the concept of a virgin birth was used to stress the interaction of the divine and human to bring into the world, one who would bring extraordinary gifts to the human race, an idea used not to address the biology of the mother, but the destiny of the child. So we should be advised, there is more going on in these texts than can be taken at face value. I like what Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan say about it: “It would be wise to presume that the ancients were as wise as we moderns are — when we are wise — and as dumb as we moderns are — when we are dumb.”  (Marcus J. Borg & John Dominic Crossan, The First Christmas: What the Gospels Really Teach About Jesus’ Birth, 2007, p. 127)

Whatever the case, for Mary’s sake, at whatever cost to himself, Joseph worked it out in his heart and mind, and became the husband of Mary and the earthly father of Jesus. And this is why Matthew tells us Joseph was a “good” man: not because he was righteous and followed the law, which under extreme interpretation could mean stoning. (As one wag once said, it was rarely enforced, because, for one thing, even in a land full of rocks they would soon run out.) Joseph was a good man, because despite what the law said, he did the “right” thing, showing compassion and mercy to Mary and raising Jesus as his own, even at the cost of embarrassment and humiliation to himself.

The final detail we learn about Joseph is through one word in Matthew’s Gospel, that he was a carpenter, as Adam Hamilton said, a “teckton.” Not an “archteckton,” just a “teckton.” What the word actually means is not exclusively carpenter, but maybe a stonemason, or perhaps a handyman, good with his hands.  I think we know the type.  In fact, after Jesus is born, I think one of the reasons Joseph may have moved his family back to Nazareth, was not only because of the murderous threats of Herod, but because the nearby city of Sepphoris was being rebuilt, and there was work to be found.

In the end, I like Adam Hamilton’s contrast with Herod the Great, who built for himself some of the most famous monuments of the ancient world: the fabulous seaport known as Caesaria, the Second Temple in Jerusalem, and yes, the Herodium; named after himself, if you can imagine that. And yet, most of his life, and after his death, Herod was hated.

As for Joseph, out of his meager toolbox, he didn’t build a single thing that lasted. What he did do was raise and protect Jesus, the most influential person the planet has ever known. We can only wonder how much Jesus learned from his father Joseph, not only about his Father in heaven, but about simplicity and humility and goodness and mercy. We can’t help but wonder if that Forgiving Father who forgave his Prodigal Son, Jesus didn’t learn from the mercy Jesus saw in his own Father.

The final time we hear of Joseph, Jesus is twelve years old. After that, no more. We can only imagine he died peacefully, in Mary’ and Jesus’ arms.  Ever since, St. Joseph has been the patron saint of those who give themselves to God, who live a costly faith and never receive, nor expect, any credit.

Who do we choose to be? Will we be like Herod, who spent his life seeking to win the praise of others in pursuing wealth, power, and material possessions, and who by his actions seemed to say, “Here I am, notice me!” Or will we be like Joseph, a humble servant of God, who never sought the limelight, but nevertheless was willing to say, “Here I am, God. Use me.”

Note to Reader:  This series, The Journey: Walking the Road to Bethlehem, was originally preached by Pastor Adam Hamilton at Church of the Resurrection in Leawood, Kansas, in 2010. 

It was made available as a series for other churches by Abingdon Press, and is available through them, (here), through Cokesbury, our denominational bookstore, (here) or Amazon.com (here). 

Adam Hamilton’s most complete presentation of each segment may be found in his book, The Journey: Walking the Road to Bethlehem. Note that it is available in multiple formats: hardback, Kindle, etc.

My sermons are my version, intended to go with the video presentation

watched in worship, which my sermon supplements, which you may view here: (Video)   

Finally, here is a Vimeo of Adam Hamilton’s original sermon (sermon)

 

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