Sunday, March 19, 2017

Sermon for the Feast of St. Joseph

                                                                                                St. Joseph
                                                                                                Mt 2:13-15, 19-23

            My introduction to being a father was rather traumatic.  This past Wednesday we celebrated Timothy’s sixteenth birthday.  Amy and I were reminiscing about what a difficult experience his birth was.  As I have mentioned in the past, two attempts to induce labor failed.  Next labor then went on for around thirty hours.  I came away from the experience with an understanding of how in earlier times mother and children regularly died in childbirth.
            Finally, Timothy was born and emerged into the world. I got my first look at my son … and thought Amy had given birth to an alien.  The labor had been so long that Timothy’s head been molded into a long cone shape.  The nurse assisting saw the look on my face and immediately assured me that everything was fine.  And as you can see today, she was right.
            We brought Timothy home and I will never forget how the realization came upon me that now there was this tiny human being who was completely dependent on me.  It fully dawned on me that life had changed forever.  The needs of this little person were now always going to come first.
            It also didn’t take long to figure out that while I was dad, Amy was mom.  She had a unique connection with our new born son and an aptitude that I didn’t have.  If it had been important to seek the welfare of my wife before the birth of our son, now it was even more necessary.  Being a father would mean putting my wife and son before myself as I worked to support Amy and care for Timothy.
            Today is the Feast of St. Joseph.  Joseph is always overlooked, always overshadowed. How could it be otherwise?  His son was the incarnate Son of God – conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary.  His wife was the one used by God to bring the incarnate Son of God into the world.  She was as the early Church called her, the Theotokos – the God bearer.  And of course all of this means that Joseph had nothing to do with the conception and birth of Jesus.  Initially, the only thing Joseph contributed was his lineage.  As a descendant of King David, when he took Jesus to be his own son, he made Jesus part of the line of David.  He made him into the son of David.
            Though overlooked and overshadowed, Joseph certainly did have a role.  He had a God given role that was tremendously important.  His role was that of caring for Jesus and Mary.  We hear it in our Gospel lesson this morning.  Matthew tells us that after the magi had departed, “Behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, ‘Rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you, for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.’”
            Joseph did as the angel commanded.  He immediately took Jesus and Mary by night and fled to Egypt where they remained until the death of Herod. And it turns out that this action not only protected Jesus, but also kept God’s word, for Matthew tells us, “This was to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet, ‘Out of Egypt I called my son.’”
            Obviously, Joseph teaches us about the vocations of father and husband.  But he also teaches up about vocation in general – about what it means to be in a calling where God has placed us. God has created vocations – offices and stations in life – through which he cares and provides.  And he puts us into these vocations in order to use us as his instrument. We become the means he uses to care and provide for those in our life.
            We learn from Joseph that service in vocation involves action on our part - action that puts the needs of others before ourselves.  It begins the very first time we hear about Joseph in Matthew’s Gospel. We learn that Mary had been betrothed to Joseph – a binding and legal agreement that preceded marriage.  However, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit.
            Joseph was a just man.  He was not the father of this child, so obviously Mary had broken the Sixth Commandment. Before they were even married, she had been unfaithful!  There was no way he was going to marry a fornicator. But Joseph was also merciful and not wanting to put her to shame, he resolved to divorce her quietly.   
            But as he considered these things, 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. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”  When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him.  He took Mary as his wife. But his wedding night was not what he had planned.  Instead, Matthew tells us that he did not have intercourse with Mary until she had given birth. And as commanded he called the child’s name Jesus.
            Joseph obeys God as he takes up the vocations of husband and father. This means putting God’s will ahead of his own.  Every time we hear about Joseph in the first two chapters of Matthew he is being told to do something.  In fact the commands use the exact same verb in Greek.  He is to take Mary has his wife.  He is to take the child and his mother in the middle of the night and flee to Egypt. He is to take the child and his mother and return to Israel.
            And it’s not just the big stuff.  We learn in the Gospels that Jesus is described as the “carpenter’s son.”  God the Father didn’t miraculously provide for Jesus Christ.  Instead, he gave him Joseph who worked as a carpenter each day in order to support his family.
            Joseph wasn’t only faithful in providing for the physical needs of his family.  He was also faithful in providing for their spiritual needs.  Luke tells us that Joseph brought Mary and Jesus to the temple in Jerusalem to offer the sacrifices commanded by the Law of Moses for her purification and to redeem Jesus as the first born son.  And then we learn that it was their custom to go up to Jerusalem ery year for the Passover.  Joseph brought his family every year to Jerusalem just as God’s Word directed.  Scripture tells us that Joseph was a pious and faithful father who led his family in the ways of the Lord.
            We know what Joseph did.  We are not told how Joseph felt about it.  But I think we can figure it out.  Joseph was a person like you and me.  He was a sinner.  There had to be times he didn’t want these roles. I’ll go out on a limb and say he wasn’t happy with the way his wedding night went.  I am sure that there were days he didn’t want to go to work as a carpenter.  Surely there were times he didn’t want to take his family to the synagogue or to go up to Jerusalem yet again.
            This was sin for sin is anything that violates God’s will in thought, word or deed.  But the picture that we receive of Joseph from Scripture – and the reason we take him up as a model of faith – is that he obeyed God in doing his vocation.   He put the direction of God’s word first.  He put the needs of Jesus first.  He put the needs of Mary first.  He carried out his role of being God’s instrument in providing and caring for them.
            Jesus told the disciples that the life of faith is one of service to others. He said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them.  It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”  This life is one of service to others because it follows Jesus who gave himself in service to us.
            Jesus Christ offered himself as the sacrifice on the cross in order to give forgiveness to his people.  He did it to provide forgiveness for the times you grumble about the responsibilities of your vocations and for the time you fail to carry them out.
            Jesus died on the cross as he bore God’s judgment against your sin. And then on the third day the Spirit of God raised him from the dead.  It is the Holy Spirit who has worked faith in Jesus Christ.  He has made you to be one who is in Christ.  And now the Spirit is the One who leads you to see in Jesus the reason that you serve others … just as Jesus said.  The love you have received through Jesus Christ’s sacrificial service, is the love you now share with others.
            For the most part, this doesn’t happen in spectacular actions that stand out to others.  But for that matter, neither did Joseph’s vocations.  He looked like a father providing for his family by going to work each day.  He looked like a father caring for the spiritual welfare of his family as he led them in hearing God’s Word and remembering God’s saving actions.
            Yet in doing so he was the means that God used to provide for Jesus and his mother. God is using you in the same way.  It doesn’t look big.  It doesn’t look impressive to the world.  But as the baptized child of God you are able to embrace God’s view of things.  In faith you can now see that in these ways of service you are actually God at work to care and provide for others. Nothing could be farther from the mundane when the Creator of the cosmos has taken you up as his instrument!
            And in Jesus Christ you have the reason you are able to do these things.  His service through cross and resurrection has given you forgiveness, peace and salvation.  His love has given you what you could never earn. And his Spirit now sustains faith and sets it in motion to love and serve where God has placed you.

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