Now 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. Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly. But 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. She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.’ All this took place to fulfil what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet:
‘Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
and they shall name him Emmanuel’,
which means, ‘God is with us.’
Today we turn our thoughts to Joseph. A man about whom little is known apart from two things, and those things are very important. Those things both answer the question ‘who are you?’
OK, that seems a big question, but if I asked you to tell me what you know about Joseph, even if you were a New Testament scholar, it probably wouldn’t take you very long to tell me. We tend to think of him as a bit-part actor. He marries Mary – at the right time, on instruction from an angel – and he was a kind man. We do not have his recorded words, we don’t hear about the adventures he had in life, apart from those attached to Jesus’ infancy narratives, and then he silently disappears from the narrative.
But when we pause to reflect on that question: who are you? When we home in on what we do know about Joseph, it doesn’t actually matter that we don’t have lots of detail. As what I want to draw out today, is the fact that, although what we know is very little in content, what it means is deeply significant – and that’s all that matters!
The first thing is that Joseph has this amazing hereditary. We hear that in the verses just before the passage we heard today. For many 21st century listeners, a long list of ancestors doesn’t really sound that interesting, unless we like family trees, and if we do listen to them in church, we might just find our ears prick in recognition at a few names, but quickly move on to what we think is the more interesting action that follows.
But to Matthew’s Jewish listeners, that genealogy was incredible. It reflects both greatness and grace. It shows Joseph’s kingly inheritance, his origins amongst the great patriarchs, and it also shows God’s amazing grace, of continuing the line through foreign women like Ruth and cunning women like Tamar. Joseph’s unique heritage gets him and Mary to Bethlehem where Jesus can fulfil the prophecy of the messianic ruler being born there.
Who are you? Joseph’s first answer is I am of the line Abraham, Ruth, and David. I shall bring Mary to bear her child, our son in Bethlehem, as foretold by God’s grace.
The second answer responds to the question in a different way. We already knew that Joseph is more than kind. His plan to let Mary discreetly disappear, rather than shamed by divorce at only betrothal, meant he was saving her life. Don’t forget that years later Jesus saves a woman from being stoned to death for adultery. The intervention of the angel we tend to conflate with the visitations to Mary and Zechariah but each one tells a different tale. The result is Joseph, like Mary, consents to serve God, in sticking with Mary, and raising Jesus as their son. Whatever whispers or querying looks this may garner, the answer to the question ‘who are you?’ is a man of faith, trust, integrity, compassion, love, strength of character. Joseph’s response and Joseph’s actions reveal the true depth of the man, that negate the need for multiple stories. We know all we need to know, about who this man is: in line with God’s plan, and one of great faith, love, and integrity.
Hope of the World!
Maranatha, come Lord Jesus!
Maranatha, come Lord Jesus, Light of the World!
We praise and thank you for the faith of Joseph,
We praise and thank you for his trust and fidelity,
We praise and thank you for his steadfastness and love.
May we too step into the roles you lay before us to live
May we too love and trust you and welcome Jesus into our lives
May our faith be ever strengthened as we cry, Maranatha, come Lord Jesus!
We ask this in your name, the one born in Bethlehem.