The Fourth Sunday of Advent
The Rev. George Pejakovich
Matthew 1:18-25

IN THE FIRST CENTURY IN JUDEA, MARRIAGE CUSTOMS WERE SOMEWHAT DIFFERENT FROM TODAY. ALL MARRIAGES WERE ARRANGED, WITH THE PROSPECTIVE BRIDE AND GROOM NOT MEETING UNTIL THE BETROTHAL CEREMONY. THE GROOM’S FATHER WOULD SEEK OUT A GIRL FROM A GOOD FAMILY FOR HIS SON, AND THEN WOULD SIT DOWN WITH THE BRIDE’S FATHER TO WORK OUT THE DOWRY. ONCE THAT WAS SETTLED, THERE WOULD BE A BETROTHAL CEREMONY, AT WHICH THE GROOM WOULD POUR A GOBLET OF WINE AND OFFER IT TO THE BRIDE. IF SHE ACCEPTED, THEY WERE FORMALLY ENGAGED. THEN THE GROOM WOULD RETURN HOME TO PREPARE A PLACE FOR HIS BRIDE. THIS WOULD OFTEN TAKE A YEAR OR MORE, AND DURING THIS TIME THEY WERE CONSIDERED ESPOUSED; PROMISED TO EACH OTHER YET NOT MARRIED. THIS WAS MORE THAN AN ENGAGEMENT, SINCE IT COULD BE SEVERED ONLY BY A FORMAL DIVORCE DECREE. SUCH WAS THE RELATIONSHIP OF JOSEPH AND MARY WHEN JOSEPH DISCOVERED THAT MARY WAS PREGNANT.

BETRAYAL IS THE MOST PAINFUL OF EMOTIONS; THE ONE YOU TRUSTED HAS BROKEN THAT TRUST, AND THE DISAPPOINTMENT, ANGER, FRUSTRATION, AND HUMILIATION IS ALMOST TOO MUCH TO BEAR. FOR MANY, THIS LEADS TO A DESIRE TO HURT THE ONE WHO HURT YOU; TO MAKE THEM SUFFER AS YOU HAVE SUFFERED. IN HIS PAIN, JOSEPH HAD SOME DECISIONS TO MAKE. HE COULD HAVE PUBLICLY DIVORCED MARY, WHICH QUITE POSSIBLY WOULD LEAD TO HER BEING STONED TO DEATH. HE COULD HAVE BELIEVED HER STORY ABOUT HOW SHE GOT PREGNANT, BUT NO RATIONAL MAN COULD ACCEPT SUCH A CRAZY TALE. HE COULD QUIETLY DIVORCE MARY, AND TRY TO GET HIS SHATTERED LIFE TOGETHER AGAIN. BEING A GOOD AND RIGHTEOUS MAN, JOSEPH PUT HIS ANGER AND PAIN ASIDE, PUT HIS OWN SELF ASIDE, AND RESOLVED TO JUST LET MARY GO QUIETLY AND IN PEACE. HAVING MADE HIS DECISION, JOSEPH LAY DOWN HIS HEAD AND WENT TO SLEEP.

WE REALLY DON’T KNOW MUCH ABOUT JOSEPH, AND NOTHING HE HAS SAID IS RECORDED IN SCRIPTURE. WE KNOW THAT HE WORKED WITH HIS HANDS AS A CARPENTER OR STONE MASON, OR PROBABLY BOTH. ON OUR TRIP TO ISRAEL, WE HAD THE OPPORTUNITY TO VISIT THE CHURCH SITED ON THE PLACE OF JOSEPH’S WORKSHOP AND HOME; THE PLACE WHERE JESUS WAS RAISED. FOR SOMEONE FROM WHOM NOT A WORD IS RECORDED, JOSEPH HAS A VERY PROMINENT PLACE; HE IS, AFTER ALL, RIGHT THERE NEXT TO MARY AND JESUS IN EVERY MANGER SCENE. IT IS NOT WHAT JOSEPH MAY OR MAY NOT HAVE SAID THAT MAKES HIM SO IMPORTANT; IT IS WHAT JOSEPH DID. HIS ACTIONS ALONE ARE THE TESTAMENT OF HIS FAITH.

THINKING HIS ESPOUSED WIFE HAD BETRAYED HIM, HE RESOLVED TO DO WHAT WAS BEST FOR HER. PERHAPS SHE LOVED THE ONE WHO GOT HER PREGNANT, SO HE WOULD JUST LET HER GO SO SHE MIGHT FIND HAPPINESS WITH ANOTHER. SO RESOLVED, HE WAS ABLE TO SLEEP, AND IN HIS SLEEP AN ANGEL CAME TO HIM WITH THE WORD OF GOD. “DON’T BE AFRAID TO TAKE MARY AS YOUR WIFE,” THE ANGEL SAID, BECAUSE THAT CRAZY STORY SHE TOLD YOU IS THE TRUTH. THE CHILD IS FROM GOD, AND, THE ANGEL SAID, “YOU ARE TO NAME HIM JESUS (YAHWEH SAVES).” TO GIVE A NAME TO A CHILD IS TO CLAIM THAT CHILD AS YOUR OWN; IT IS THE ACT OF ADOPTION. JOSEPH IS TOLD TO ADOPT THIS CHILD, WHICH EVERYONE KNOWS IS NOT HIS, AND CLAIM HIM AS HIS OWN, AND RAISE HIM AS HIS OWN. WHEN HE WOKE FROM HIS DREAM, JOSEPH DID EXACTLY WHAT THE ANGEL HAD COMMANDED HIM TO DO; HE TOOK MARY FOR HIS WIFE, AND WHEN THE CHILD WAS BORN, HE NAMED HIM JESUS.

MARY NEEDED A PROTECTOR, AND JESUS NEEDED AN EARTHLY FATHER; AND JOSEPH, WITH HIS FAITH IN GOD, TOOK ON THOSE BURDENS WITHOUT COMPLAINT. HE TOOK MARY TO BETHLEHEM, AND WAS THERE AT THE BIRTH OF JESUS. HE ADOPTED JESUS BY NAMING HIM. HE PROTECTED MARY AND JESUS BY FLEEING TO EGYPT WHEN HEROD TRIED TO KILL THE CHILD. WHEN IT WAS SAFE, HE BROUGHT THEM HOME AGAIN TO THE SMALL TOWN OF NAZARETH, AND PUT UP WITH ALL THE YEARS OF SNIGGERING AND SCORN OF HIS NEIGHBORS, AND RAISED JESUS AS HIS OWN.

FROM THE EVIDENCE OF SCRIPTURE, JOSEPH WAS THE BEST OF FATHERS FOR JESUS. FROM WHERE DO YOU THINK, EXCEPT FROM JOSEPH, THAT JESUS GOT THE IDEA THAT A FATHER ALWAYS KNOWS HOW TO GIVE GOOD GIFTS TO HIS CHILDREN? WHERE ELSE COULD HE HAVE GOTTEN THE IMAGE OF THE FATHER RUNNING TO WELCOME HOME HIS PRODIGAL SON? WHERE DO YOU THINK THE TENDERNESS IN HIS VOICE CAME FROM WHEN HE SAID WE WERE TO ADDRESS GOD AS “ABBA” OR “DADDY?” THIS CAME FROM JESUS’ YEARS OF GROWING UP WITH THIS MAN, WORKING BESIDE HIM; A MAN WHO ABANDONED ALL HIS OWN PRIDE, WHO SET ASIDE HIS SENSE OF BETRAYAL AND FEAR TO GIVE UP HIMSELF TO BE A FATHER TO JESUS. HE GAVE EARTHLY LEGITIMACY TO THIS CHILD OF MARY’S BY THE HOLY SPIRIT, AND HELPED SHAPE JESUS’ LIFE AS HE GREW INTO HIS MANHOOD AND HIS MISSION.

IT WAS THE DECISION OF A LIFETIME FOR JOSEPH; ONE HE COULD NEVER HAVE EXPECTED TO MAKE. EVEN AS HE FADES FROM THE STORY, SO THAT BY THE TIME OF THE WEDDING IN CANA, HE IS NO LONGER WITH JESUS, HE IS, IN A SENSE, ALWAYS WITH JESUS, BECAUSE OF THE DECISION HE MADE THIS NIGHT AS RECORDED IN GOD’S WORD. HIS STORY IS ALSO OUR STORY, FOR A DECISION POINT LIKE JOSEPH’S WILL COME TO ALL OF US. EACH OF US, AT ONE TIME OR ANOTHER, WILL BE FACED WITH TRYING TO SORT OUT HOW WE ARE CALLED TO DO THE RIGHT THING IN A SITUATION WHICH, AT FIRST, SEEMS ALL WRONG. THAT IS WHEN WE MUST ACT IN FAITH, AND STEP UP AND DO WHAT IS RIGHT AND GOOD IN THE FACE OF ALL EARTHLY WISDOM AND ADVICE WHICH TELLS US TO DO OTHERWISE. WHEN WE ACT WITH FORGIVENESS AND HOPE AND TRUST IN GOD, THEN OUR WORLD CHANGES, AND THE GRACE OF GOD BREAKS INTO THE WORLD AGAIN.

THE BIRTH OF THE SAVIOR OF THE WORLD IS FULL OF STORIES OF MIRACULOUS WONDER; AND NONE MORE SO THAN THE STORY OF A SIMPLE CARPENTER WHO, IN TRUSTING HIS GOD, DID WHAT THE LORD COMMANDED AND BECAME A FATHER TO A CHILD NOT HIS OWN. AMEN

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