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"Joseph Resolved"

As I said, I am a carpenter, skilled with my hands, hardworking and honest. I build doors for houses; I craft tables and tools, yokes and ploughs. Wood is scarce so I measure twice and cut once; I reuse; I adapt. In a pinch I can work in stone or metal, but I like making things out of wood.

artwork "The Good Shepherd" by Sieger Koder

Matthew 1:18-25

December 18, 2022

Dr. Todd R. Wright There is not a lot in the scriptures about Joseph. So, we need to use our imagination. That’s what I will do for the next few minutes – imagine that I am Joseph on the night he encounters an angel of the Lord.

 

My name is Joseph. Let me tell you a few things about myself: You see before you a humble carpenter, but I am descended from Abraham and Isaac and Jacob; the tribe of Judah; the house of David! When Matthew wrote down my genealogy, he also included some of the women in my family tree: Tamar and Rahab, Ruth and Bathsheba, because each of their stories of bravery and boldness goes into making my story! As I said, I am a carpenter, skilled with my hands, hardworking and honest. I build doors for houses; I craft tables and tools, yokes and ploughs. Wood is scarce so I measure twice and cut once; I reuse; I adapt. In a pinch I can work in stone or metal, but I like making things out of wood. Work is hard to find in Nazareth – 400 people only have so much use for a carpenter – but the city of Sepphoris is less than 4 miles away and the rebuilding there has kept food on my table.[1] Mathew says I am a righteous man. Do you know what that means? I’m not sure I do. Maybe that I’m a decent guy. If you hire me to do a job, I won’t cheat you or promise more than I can deliver. And I’ll help you move your stuff or share my meal with you. Maybe he means that I live according to the law that God gave us on Sinai as a sign of love. He’s right. It guides my life like a straightedge. It helps me to do the right thing even when no one is watching. That’s ironic because you are probably hearing this story because of something that happened that cast my marriage to Mary into doubt and I struggled to decide what to do.

 

It happened like this: our families had negotiated our marriage contract, but the celebration feast was still a ways off, so we weren’t living together yet. I was working out of town a lot, so I hadn’t seen her for a little while when I got wind that she was pregnant. I was devastated! I wondered, “How could this be?” Was she in love with someone else? Or had someone forced himself on her – a stranger, or a soldier, or some other scalawag? While the circumstances weren’t clear, the law was. Deuteronomy says that if a man discovers that the woman he has just married or is about to marry is not a virgin, the men of the town shall stone her to death. It says, “so you shall purge the evil from your midst.”[2] I love the Law of God, but it can be cold, harsh, cruel even. Sometimes the straightedge cuts! I am no scholar, but I am a craftsman. I make things fit … and I could not make a clean joint between the law of Deuteronomy and the words of the prophet Micah. How was stoning my dear Mary doing justice and loving kindness and walking humbly with our Lord? I paced. I sawed. I sanded. I got distracted and had to start over. I did not know what to do. Obedience and compassion should not be at odds. The decision was like trying to split a log with a knot in it … and so I wrestled and wrenched, I sweated and swore, I prayed and pleaded. Finally, exhausted, I resolved to divorce Mary quietly. To not parade her in shame before the townspeople. To not pick up the first stone. To do everything in my power to keep her safe. There were whispers that this pregnancy was the work of the Spirit. It was crazy talk! God would never … Why would God do such a thing? Why involve her? Why make me choose? If it was God’s doing, she is not at fault and deserves mercy … God’s mercy and mine. But how could I know for sure?

 

God must have heard my question because that night an angel visited me in a dream. I swear to you – I heard the angel say, “Do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife.” I was startled by his words. I can admit I was shocked by her pregnancy. And angry. Mostly bewildered and brokenhearted. But the angel didn’t speak to any of those emotions. He said don’t be afraid. I can see it now. I was afraid – afraid for her; afraid of the secret getting out; afraid of vicious rumors; afraid of what this would do to my reputation; afraid I would make the wrong choice. I had resolved to dismiss her quietly and told myself that was mercy. But it was also fear – fear of what going forward with would mean; fear that I would not be able to do what would be necessary; fear that I could not love enough; fear that I would fail her and the boy. But that dream sparked something in me. It gave me courage. It may sound overly dramatic, but I embraced my role that night. After all, Mary will need a husband: She will need a husband to claim her as his wife. She will need a husband to protect her from those who would throw stones. She will need a husband to welcome her into his home and provide for her, but even more to believe her and love her! I resolved to be that husband, with God’s help! And the boy will need a father: He will need a father to name him and claim him, for without that he will never be accepted – not as Jesus (the one who saves), not as Emmanuel (God with us); not as anyone’s beloved son! He will need a father to teach him to take risks like the one I am about to take, for otherwise he will be tempted not to take them.[3] He will need a father to show him how to withstand the disapproval of others; to stand firm; to look for that deeper justice that the prophets of God demand of us, even when it’s unpopular. He will need a father to model what to do in situations like this one, when the decisions are difficult and pain abounds; a father who will be able to tell him to trust in God, to believe the impossible; to walk in faith. I resolved to be that father. May God help me!

 

So, there you have what I imagine to be Joseph’s story. You will have to decide whether it squares with what you know of him from scripture; whether it lines up with human nature; and whether it fits what you know of the way God works. More importantly, you will have to decide whether this is just an entertaining tale or a story that will mold your life, a straightedge for making difficult decisions and trusting God when the way seems impossible. If it is just “a tale / Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, / Signifying nothing”[4] then you can smile at me at the door and go home to a pleasant lunch and an afternoon nap. But if there is some truth here, then your nap may invite an angel visit, and there is no telling what you will be led to do next. Amen

[1] See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saint_Joseph#Professional_life [2] See Deuteronomy 22:20-21 [3] This series of statements is inspired by a portion of Alyce McKenzie’s sermon, “The Fear of Betrayal”, 12/1/10 [4] From William Shakespeare’s Macbeth, Act-V, Scene-V
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