“Characters of Christmas 4. Joseph”

December 23-30, 2018              

Pastor's Ponderings Luke 1:5-7, 24-45

I have heard my neighbor, who is a nun, exclaim "Jesus, Mary, and Joseph" at a moment of exasperation--a moment when many people would "cuss".  Her outburst, of course intended to keep from cussing, is still significant, both as a "replacement" drawn from a life of faith, and to some degree as a prayer.  And just as we affirm that God come to earth in Jesus affirms that God "gets" us, because he experienced being one of us, so the "Holy Family" (as we refer to Jesus and his parents Mary and Joseph) has much to convey to us about being faithful in the face of challenges, and working hard to avoid misunderstandings, and recognizing when you can't "win" in the moment.

Being faithful in the face of challenges.  Joseph gets word that the woman he is engaged to is going to have a baby, and he knows he has had nothing to do with this.  What conclusion can he draw but that she cheated on him?  But because he cares about her, he decides not to make the “big deal” out of it that he is perfectly legally allowed to make, even as he plans to let her go since apparently there is someone else. He seeks to be faithful to her, even when it seems that she has not been faithful to him. And then the angel Gabriel visits him in a dream and tells him what is really true, in spite of the circumstantial evidence—yes, she will have a baby, but it is a gift from God, not a dalliance with some other guy. It still looks the same, but the underlying reality is NOT unfaithfulness on her part. And he is indeed “not afraid to take Mary as [his] wife”, because they have indeed been faithful to each other, and now in a profound way will be faithful to God in the face of it not looking like that.A part of this faithfulness is indeed working to avoid misunderstandings, and believing the best about each other, no matter what it looks like. 

As the story goes on, they journey to Bethlehem, by the legal compulsion of the Roman Empire’s census, and in Matthew’s version after Jesus is born they have to run away to Egypt for an unknown amount of time, for Jesus’ own safety.  They stick together, faithful to each other, and faithful to God, and recognizing that this is a situation when to “stay and fight”is absolutely the wrong choice.  Not all potential battles are battles that can be won.  Wisdom is to know the difference.  And in the long run, avoiding an unwinnable battle at that time makes it possible that the battle Jesus appears to lose as he’s put to death is then the war that is won—for them, for us.

Jesus is the reason for the season, as the saying goes, which is absolutely true. Christmas is named after Jesus Christ. But Jesus wouldn’t have survived much past being born without the faithfulness of Mary and Joseph.  Mary and Joseph are crucial to the story—and as we learn from their examples, crucial to our own story, and our own celebration of Christmas.




GOSPEL                  Matthew 1:18-25

18Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. 19Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly. 20But just when he had resolved to do this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” 22All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet: 23“Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel,” which means, “God is with us.” 24When Joseph awoke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took her as his wife, 25but had no marital relations with her until she had borne a son; and he named him Jesus. 


GOSPEL                  Luke 1:26-56, 2:1-20

26In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, 27to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28And he came to her and said, ‘Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.’ 29But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. 30The angel said to her, ‘Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. 32He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. 33He will reign over the house of Jacob for ever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.’ 34Mary said to the angel, ‘How can this be, since I am a virgin?’ 35The angel said to her, ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God. 36And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. 37For nothing will be impossible with God.’ 38Then Mary said, ‘Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.’ Then the angel departed from her. 

39In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, 40where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. 41When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit 42and exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. 43And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? 44For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy. 45And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.”

46And Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord, 47and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, 48for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; 49for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name. 50His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. 51He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. 52He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; 53he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty. 54He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, 55according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever.” 56And Mary remained with her about three months and then returned to her home.

21In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. 3All went to their own towns to be registered. 4Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. 5He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. 6While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child.7And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.  

8In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: 11to you is born this day

in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. 12This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.’ 13And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying,                                                      

14‘Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!’ 

15When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the 

shepherds said to one another, ‘Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has madeknown to us.’ 16So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. 17When  

they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; 18and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. 19But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. 20The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.