A grade school class was putting on a Christmas play which included the story of Mary and Joseph coming to the inn. It just so happened that there were two little boys, rivals, who both wanted to be Joseph. And when the parts were handed out the one who did not get the part of Joseph was really bitter about it. And during all the rehearsals he kept plotting what he might do on the night of performance to get even with his rival who got the part of Joseph. Finally, the night of the performance, Mary and Joseph came walking across the stage. They knocked on the door of the inn, and the inn-keeper opened the door and asked them gruffly what they wanted.
Joseph answered, “We’d like to have a room for the night.” Suddenly the inn-keeper threw the door open wide and said, “Sure, come on in and I’ll give you the best room in the house.”
For a few seconds poor little Joseph didn’t know what to do, and there was silence on stage. But then, he had a brilliant flash; Joseph stepped in around the innkeeper and looked, first to the left and then to the right and said, “Ah, never mind, no wife of mine is going to stay in a dump like this. Come on, Mary, let’s go to the barn.” And once again the play was back on course.
Joseph was the husband of Mary and the step-dad of Jesus. In the Gospel of Matthew is where we find most of our information about Joseph. We see him trying to get a room for the night in Bethlehem the night of the birth of Jesus. We see him taking his family to safety in Egypt. But other than the time Jesus’ early childhood, he is not really mentioned. After the early childhood of Christ, he drops out of the picture except one other time when Jesus is 12 and even then he is not mentioned by name. We know he is a carpenter. Although the Greek word for carpenter teknon does not mean a wood worker exactly; the word is vaguer and means a builder or craftsman. Since most of the houses and buildings in Palestine were made from stone, it is reasonable to assume that Joseph and later Jesus were builders who worked with stone and perhaps wood as well. So Joseph was a builder, a regular guy who worked with his hands and came home dirty, sweaty, and tired at the end of the day. He was a fellow who was not much different than most of us here.
We are told that Joseph and Mary were engaged to be married. Being engaged in those days was not the same as it is in our days. Typically the parents of Mary and Joseph would have gotten together and made a contract, this was called the engagement. It was as binding as being married. Then Joseph would have a given amount of time to build his business to make sure that he could indeed support a wife and the subsequent children. No doubt Joseph knew Mary and Mary’s family and she knew Joseph and his family. They were probably family friends. We know from the account in St. Luke that Mary abruptly decides to visit Elizabeth in the hill country of Judea after Gabriel’s announcement to her. This is about the same distance as walking from here to far side of Orlando although unlike Florida the countryside in Israel was very hilly a lot of up and down. It might take a person three days; or it could take a week, depending upon how long and how fast one walked each day. So Mary leaves and everything, as far as Joseph is concerned is good. But then she returns some seven months later and things are not so good. They are not good because Mary is now obviously pregnant. By Jewish law adultery is punished by death; the woman and the man with whom she had been unfaithful were to be stoned to death. But what are we told next? We are told that because Joseph was a just man or a righteous man and he resolved to divorce Mary quietly. Keep in mind that Joseph probably knew Mary and knew her family. He would know her character and knew that she had not been having an affair with some other fellow in town. So how could she have become pregnant? Joseph would have immediately thought of her trip to the hills of Judea to visit her relative Elizabeth. During this time Israel was an occupied country. Bands of soldiers were stationed around the countryside. Joseph probably figured Mary had been raped on her way to Elizabeth’s house. He knew she was not an adulteress, yet, there it was. She was pregnant and some other fellow was the father. The covenant between her and him, between her family and his family had been broken. Not intentionally maybe, but it was broken. There was no adultery therefore there was no reason for stoning. This is why he did not want to disgrace her publically. He was a righteous and just man but still he wanted a divorce.
So far we see Joseph and we can understand him. He is a regular person one like you and me. Then the dream came we heard about in today’s reading. It must have shaken Joseph to his core. Like every other Jew he was more or less devout but now all of the sudden what he has been saying he believed was on the line. Did he really believe God that the prophecies of the Messiah’s coming were really true or not? If he did, well, then Mary could in fact be pregnant by the Holy Spirit. Intellectually he knew it, but how does all this work out in real life?
We are told in the Bible that a person who God considers righteous walks by faith; that is this person believes God, and we see Joseph did have faith. But just like you and me, faith doesn’t come necessarily with great fanfare and Bing, all of the sudden we are filled with faith that can move mountains. Like Joseph, it is the situations that happen to us and all the sudden we have to make a choice. Do we decide that we believe God, do we trust God, or not? It is our subsequent actions that show whether or not we have faith. We know Joseph accepted the message of the angel by faith because he took Mary to be his wife after all. He had made the decision to divorce her quietly but now he canceled those plans and brought her into his house. We aren’t told if they had a wedding feast, but probably not. Mary was already obviously pregnant. So what would be the point of the wedding feast at least in their neighbors’ eyes? Joseph and Mary, or so the neighbors would assume, had already celebrated. So, it was tough for both of them to miss the joy and celebration of a wedding feast. Joseph also had bear the false assumptions of people around him just like Mary did. But Joseph dealt with it. Just like men and women of faith have done before. People of faith follow God and do what He says and they do it in spite of what others may think or how they themselves may feel. He took her home and called her his wife. Further when the baby was born, he named the child Jesus which is the name the angel gave him. Joseph was an ordinary guy but he was good man who tried to do what was right just like most of us. But even beyond that he was a man who believed God and obeyed.
It is fourth Sunday of Advent and Christmas is upon us in just a couple of days. We will see more figurines of Joseph in manger scenes like the one in front of our altar here. When we see Joseph, we need to remember that he was man very much like you and me but who by God’s grace was able to deal with a very difficult situation. And when you and I run into our difficult situations we need to remember Joseph. When we are hit with an awful circumstance or suffering in our lives we, just like Joseph are faced with a choice. Will we trust God or not? Will we believe that God will take care of us like He has promised or will we get angry and despondent? The choice, just like it was with Joseph, is ours. May God who strengthened Joseph to accept what would have been a very difficult and embarrassing situation, may He help us to follow the example of this faithful man. Amen