Isaiah 7, 10-14 + Psalm 24 + Romans 1, 1-7 + Matthew 1, 18-24
December 18, 2016 at St Peter and St William Churches in Naples, FL
He was a dreamer, this man the church puts before us just days before we will gather to celebrate the birth of this child called, “Emmanuel.” A man of few words. In fact, he is a man of no words. The Gospel never records anything he said, but it is rich with the record of what he does. The Joseph that Matthew gives us is a just and righteous man in love. He is a man of faith strong enough to believe that God might do something he never imagined. In the Joseph of Matthew’s Gospel, we see a man who faced a dilemma when the demand of justice was at odds with mercy. Does he assert the justice of his rights and dismiss her, or does he show mercy and take Mary into his home?
The Jewish/Christian community for which Matthew prepares his Gospel would have made an immediate connection with an earlier Joseph, the son of Jacob, who saved his family from famine in Egypt because of dreams. Both of them would meet their God in dreams that revealed how to protect and how to save their families. In fulfilling the instructions of the angel, Joseph gives the child a name common for those days; a name that means, “God saves.” In doing so, Joseph claims this child as his own.
With nothing to say, Joseph has plenty to do. From the few verses of scripture devoted to him, we can glean some extraordinary wisdom from this fearless and courageous man. He was obedient because he listened. When the will of God was revealed he took off for Egypt to escape Herod’s murderous rampage. When the will of God was revealed again, he went back to a safer place in Galilee far from his first home settling in a place often ridiculed by others called “Nazareth”. No pride in this man. One thing mattered, his vocation to protect and provide.
The limited knowledge we have of him leaves us to see someone who is selfless whose only thought was protecting and providing for Mary and Jesus. His devotion to the life of his family comes before all else. This loving and faithful man leads by example. He teaches us the truth that we all know: “Actions speak louder than words”. He works to provide, and in so doing, he sanctifies labor and gives the work of human hands a dignity that can make work a path to holiness when it is work done for others.
In Joseph we find a real leader, but not the kind of leadership we often see today. He is just because he does the right thing. He is righteous because he is right with God. This man who leads his family is attentive to God, and the last we hear of him is a story of a faithful father leading his family to Jerusalem for prayer at the Temple, and then he is gone with nothing more said about him. But this is enough to lead us to Bethlehem next Sunday.
Joseph can lead us there when we become just and righteous, when we learn from him the kind of obedience that means listening to God’s word and will. He can lead us there when we practice the kind of selfless love that leaves us focused on this one he named, Jesus. He can lead us there when our actions are more powerful than our words, and when we work more for others than for ourselves. Once more Joseph will lead us to the Holy Place where the Word of God becomes the flesh of human life, where the one they called the “the carpenter’s son, born in a wooden tough, will begin to work with wood from which and with which he will save his people.