Rev. Sharon Prentis
22nd December 2013
Joseph’s Role in the Christmas Story

He was a young man who worked hard at a trade he learnt from childhood. Like his father and his grandfather before him, he was a carpenter: a worker with a humble trade, one that supported his family and more importantly, he had a good name – a solid reputation in the community. He was happiest around wood; there was something honorable about wood. Though he was young, barely 19 he had the strong shoulders and callused hands of an older man. His family were not on the highest rungs of the social ladder, but he was respectable. Now all that was in jeopardy. He remembered when he first learned that Mary was pregnant. It was the most terrible shock. They had been engaged since children, it was expected that they would go through the Jewish ceremony of marriage when she was 14 and now this. She had betrayed him, his family and brought shame upon her household. Joseph knew the penalty for such behaviour was death and he didn’t want to bring that on her family, nor see such a terrible fate befall her. He would quietly divorce her. Maybe someone would take her in, at least her and the baby she was carrying would be alive. He fervently tried to plan. He would leave her somewhere, she would have her baby and he then would move on to somewhere else alone. It would be done quietly to avoid embarrassment. Yes, that is what he would do. Then Joseph has a dream; a divine encounter with an angel that goes against all that he has ever known – all his expectations. Yet, he cannot deny that this must be Yahweh: the God of Israel has a plan that involves him, Mary and countless others. Can he really be a part of the great plan of God?

We know that Joseph was entrusted to be Jesus’ father. He was neither a rabbi nor a scribe nor one of the leaders. He had two qualifications in the Christmas drama – he was a descendent of David and, for some reason, he was God’s choice. In many ways, Joseph is someone with whom we can all identify – a common man who was obedient to God’s will for his life against all the expectations and laws of the time.

However, his role is significant. You see, the culture at the time would have called for Joseph to publicly divorce Mary as soon as he found out she was pregnant. In fact, it is likely that some members of his community would have demanded the highest penalty… her death. A normal punishment for suspected adultery was stoning. But Joseph was faithful to God going against the cultural laws and expectations. He had the courage to stand up against the social conventions.

What does this tell us? Well, it tells us about Joseph’s integrity, that he was willing to let go, to let go of his reputation, let go of the expectations of his culture and his traditional, of ideas of what should be. He was prepared to stand up for the vulnerable and allow the righteousness of God to be his standard. We learn from his example that we too need to be prepared to do that: to let go of our own expectations and allow God’s justice to be evident. That presents a challenge because it means coming to an understanding that Gods ways may not, and indeed do not always fall in line in what we think for it says in Isaiah, “my ways are not your ways, nor my thoughts your thoughts”. To the culture at that time, the actions of Joseph may have seemed foolish, but to those who are willing to follow his example and surrender their wills to the will of God. The faithfulness of Joseph in this story is not simply doing what is right: it’s a way of fulfilling God’s plan for humanity.

God’s grace was working through Joseph – a young man. You see, Grace sets aside the ideas of how things should be and instead offers an insight into righteous, truth, love and other possibilities of the kingdom of God.

God puts the emphasis on righteous relationships instead of ritual. On sacrifice instead of what is seen to be the norm. That is why a humble carpenter became part of one of the most significant events in history. Joseph shows us that obeying God is always the right thing to do.

It does bring about the question of How do we react when our expectations are turned upside down? Dare we consider the possibility that somehow God may be in it? Or that God can work through the circumstances to fulfil His purposes? Even if when they are challenging and make no sense? Joseph does exactly what the angel of the Lord commands.  We learn from him the importance of trusting in God’s will and the risk of carrying it out.

Joseph was not concerned about the ‘public disgrace’. Sometimes accepting God to dwell among us may result in others not understanding. He is the God who steps outside of our expectations and our thinking. To follow Him means realising that we do so to embrace what the German theologian Bonhoeffer calls costly grace.

As Bonhoeffer writes, “Costly grace confronts us as a gracious call to follow Jesus, it comes as a word of forgiveness to the broken spirit and the contrite heart. It is costly because it compels a man/women to follow Christ and bear all that it may entail.”

Joseph embraces Gods grace by naming the baby Jesus. By naming him, he does two things: he publicly admits he is the father and secondly, brings the child into the lineage of a David. By being obedient we open the door to God’s greater blessing.

May the grace of The Lord Jesus be with us all this season.