Not Your Average Joe(seph)

Fourth Sunday in Advent: Not Your Average Joe(seph)

Joseph is sometimes overlooked in the Christmas story.  But the way that he responded to the news of Mary’s pregnancy was admirable—he had the courage to do what the angels asked him to do, and he stuck with Mary when it would have been easier to abandon her.  He found the strength to obey because of the assurance of God’s presence with him (“Emmanuel”) when things got difficult.    

Speaker: Pastor Stephen “Tig” Intagliata
Main Bible Passage: Matthew 1:18-25


18 Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed[b] to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. 19 And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly20 But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” 22 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet:

23 “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
and they shall call his name Immanuel” (which means, God with us).

 24 When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife, 25 but knew her not until she had given birth to a son. And he called his name Jesus.

I don’t know about you, but most of the time when I think of the Christmas story and the events surrounding the birth of Jesus, Jesus’ father Joseph doesn’t stick out in my mind.

I think more of Mary, and the visitation by the angel Gabriel who told her that she was going to have a child, even though she was a virgin, through the power of the Holy Spirit, and that child would be none other than the son of God.

And I think of Mary’s song, the Magnificat, and its powerful and subversive words of God bringing down the powerful and lifting up the lowly, filling the hungry with good things and sending the rich away empty.

And along with Mary, I think of the angel announcing the news of Jesus’ birth to the shepherds.  And I hear the voice of Linus from the Charlie Brown Christmas quoting Luke’s words I am bringing you good news of great joy for all people; to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, Christ the Lord.”

Maybe it’s because I was raised on the Charlie Brown Christmas story that Luke’s version of Jesus’ birth is more embedded in my mind than Matthew’s version.  And because of that, I’ve tended to overlook Joseph’s role in the Christmas story.

But when you hear and then ponder on the passage from Matthew about the angel appearing to Joseph in a dream, and then read on farther to what transpired after Jesus was born, it’s clearer than a starry night that Joseph is no average Joe.

The role that Joseph plays in the story and the way that he acts is way above average.   He’s not the attention-seeking type, but he deserves more of our attention than we usually give him.

How is Joseph not your average Joe-seph?

First, it seems like every time he sleeps, an angel shows up in his dream.  In Matthew’s version of the birth of Jesus, angels appear to Joseph no less than four times!

In our scripture today, an angel instructs Joseph to take Mary as his wife because the child within her has been conceived by the Holy Spirit. Then, after the visit of the Magi or wise men,

An angel tells Joseph in a dream to take the baby and his mother and flee, because King Herod is trying to kill the child.  So the family leaves Israel and become refugees in Egypt.

Yesterday at the party for our Afghan friends and Steve and Cindy Fogleman’s house, Steve and Cindy gave a recap of the Christmas story and the origins of Santa Claus in St. Nicolas.  They did a wonderful job of sharing the gospel story without being preachy, and at the same time pointing out connections with Muslim beliefs, like the belief in the virgin birth of Jesus.

I also appreciated how they highlighted the fact that Jesus and his parents were refugees, connecting with our Afghan friends own stories of being refugees who are now living among us.  So thank you Steve and Cindy for hosting that great event yesterday—I believe that everyone truly felt welcomed and appreciated.

Now back to Joseph’s dreams and the angels.  The third time is after King Herod dies, an angel gives Joseph the ‘all clear’ message to head back home. 

And finally, as they are returning home, due to the new danger posed by Herod’s replacement, Joseph is warned in a dream without details, and decides to take the family settle in Nazareth instead of returning to Bethlehem.

So anyone who has had angels speaking to them four different times, especially in such a short time span, is not your average Joe.

And here’s a second reason why I believe that Joseph doesn’t fit the bill of an average Joe:

Look at how he responds when he hears that Mary is with child, knowing that it wasn’t him who got her pregnant.  It says he was a righteous man and he was unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, so he planned to dismiss her privately.

This speaks volumes about the kind of man that Joseph was.  Lots of guys in this situation would have no doubt taken the public shaming route, telling everyone that Mary had committed adultery, what an unfaithful and sinful woman she had been.

The Jewish law as outlined the Old Testament book of Deuteronomy stated that such behavior faced the consequence of being stoned to death, like we see happening in the 8th chapter of John’s gospel, where the religious leaders bring a woman caught in adultery to Jesus, telling him that she deserves the punishment of stoning.

And then Jesus says that well-known line, “let he who is without sin cast the first stone” and they all went away empty-handed.

And just as Jesus does not condemn this woman and shows her grace, Joseph does not condemn Mary but shows her grace as well.  In fact, the Greek verb for “put her away” can also mean “forgive”, so it could mean that Joseph was willing to forgive Mary for what he thought was an act of betrayal to him.

Human nature is such that we want to condemn, we want to blame and shame and others instead of forgive them and help preserve their dignity and restore them to community.

I’ve heard lots of stories of what happened in some churches when a teenage girl became pregnant.  The leaders of the church would make the girl get up in front of the entire congregation and confess that she had had sex before marriage.

She would be shamed, face discipline and have her reputation destroyed, while the guy who was responsible for getting her pregnant would remain anonymous.  Wow—talk about lack of grace, injustice and misogyny!

Hopefully this kind of treatment doesn’t happen as much as it used to.  But there’s still a whole lot of blaming and shaming of women in the church today, often when there is a situation of physical or sexual abuse, and the woman reporting it is not taken seriously, or told to be quiet or submissive, often by men in church leadership, and thus her voice is silenced and her situation not dealt with.

If Joseph were a leader in the church today, it seems like he would be the kind that would listen to women’s stories, own up to any part he played in the situation, show grace and help preserve the woman’s dignity and respect.

So Joseph is not your average Joe because 1) of his encounters with angels in his dreams, 2) how he treats Mary with respect and grace,

And a third way he’s not average is that he did what the angel told him to do, every time.  Let’s admit it; a lot of us guys have trouble submitting to what others want us to do.  We want to be our own bosses, we want to call the shots, we like to be in control.

That’s part of what society tells us and conditions us to be a “real man”.  We have this tape inside us that says “no one’s going to tell me what to do!”.   I call the shots, and control my own destiny.

But Joseph didn’t conform to this stereotype of manhood; instead he submitted to the angel’s instructions to take Mary as his wife, instead of divorcing her.

And if you think about it, doing what the angel said to do and stick with Mary made Joseph’s life a lot more difficult and challenging than if he would have just put her away quietly as he had originally planned to do.

We can relate to that in some way, right.  I mean, even without the angel, there are times when we are tempted to take the easier road and run away from a relationship when things get hard.

Whether it’s with a friend, or a sibling, a parent or a spouse, there are times when we want to throw in the towel and walk away.  Now there are legitimate times when this needs to happen for our sanity or for our safety.

But there are other times when hanging in there and working things out is the right thing to do, even though it’s the hardest thing to do.  And this is what our not-so-ordinary Joseph does.

Our friend Skye Jethani writes an e- devotional that I subscribe to called “With God Daily”, and one of the devotionals this week (Dec. 15) was called “Joseph’s Choice”, based on our scripture passage today.

Jethani asks the question:

“I wonder if Joseph felt more at peace before or after the angel’s message?  Before the angel came, he had an honorable solution to his problem and one that would get him out of this mess.  After the angel, his life became far more difficult, not less.  God was asking him to sacrifice his reputation and his family’s and venture into an uncertain future with a disgraced teenage mother and an illegitimate child.

He went from choosing what was easy to choosing what was harder.  Despite his fears, doubts, and concerns, Joseph trusted God…

 Many contemporary Christians have accepted the false idea that a life with Christ will be more comfortable (and) easier …than a life without him.  What we find in the new testament, however, is the complete opposite.  Those called to be with Jesus suffered, sacrificed, and often died. 

And then Jethani poses another question:

What gave Joseph the faith and courage to choose the harder road?  It was the assurance of God’s presence, through Emmanuel, “God with us” 

Joseph knew that in the hard road that he faced ahead, that he wouldn’t be going it alone, but God would be with him. The same God who sent Jesus as Emmanuel would accompany Joseph in his relationship with Mary and would go with them through all the twists and turns in their journey, both literally and figuratively.

So as we prepare to celebrate the birth of Jesus, Emmanuel, let’s remember the example of Joseph, who was not your average Joe.   When we sense that we hear God telling us to do something, let’s have the faith and courage to obey him, even if what he’s asking us to do seems a bit risky or crazy.

And when we’re faced with situations where are tempted to put people down or put them away, let’s do our best to show them respect, dignity and grace, and do all that we can to restore and preserve our relationship with them.

And let’s always remember that we are never alone but God always goes with us.  AMEN.

Michael Card:  Joseph’s Song 

“Father show me how I fit into this plan of yours?  How can a man be father to the Son of God?  Lord, for all my life I’ve been a simple carpenter.  How can I raise a King?”