Mt 2:13-15, 19-23
“I didn’t sign up for this.” I wonder if a thought like this ever crossed Joseph’s mind. After all, it was certainly true. Joseph didn’t choose to be in the position of the guardian of Jesus. He didn’t choose to be the father of a child that wasn’t his – the “father” of a child who had no human father.
Joseph didn’t choose this role. Instead, God chose him. When we first meet Joseph in Matthew’s Gospel we learn that Mary was betrothed to Joseph to be married. This was a legal arrangement that committed them to marriage, though they were not yet actually married.
Yet before that happened it was discovered that Mary was pregnant. We learn about the character of Joseph when Matthew tells us, “And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly.” Joseph was a just man. He kept the Sixth Commandment, and he wasn’t going to marry someone who had been unfaithful before they had even been married. However, in doing so he also sought to act in a way that protected Mary as much as possible.
While he was considering these difficult matters 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.” Joseph learned that there was far more to the story than sexual sin. Rather than being unfaithful, Mary had been chosen by God to be the instrument by which the Savior entered into the world. The child she was carrying was conceived by the Holy Spirit.
Understandably, we normally focus on Mary when we think about the incarnation – about how the Son of God was conceived through the work of the Holy Spirit. But this news transformed Joseph’s life in an incredible way as well. Joseph was being placed in the vocation of father to a child that wasn’t his. More than that, he was charged to care for Mary and her child who was the Savior sent by God.
Joseph would be more than just a father – a guardian. God had chosen Joseph because he was from the line of King David. As we hear in our Old Testament lesson, God had promised David, “And your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me. Your throne shall be established forever.” God was fulfilling this promise because for Joseph to take Jesus as his child made him part of the line of David. God was providing the Messiah he had promised in all of the Old Testament prophecies.
Joseph hadn’t chosen this. But he was a faithful man, and so we learn: “When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife, but knew her not until she had given birth to a son. And he called his name Jesus.” He obeyed God’s angel. He took Mary as his wife even though she was pregnant. Imagine what Joseph’s parents and friends must have though about this. Why was Joseph marrying this pregnant woman? Maybe the child was his and he had broken the Sixth Commandment. The angel’s command transformed Joseph’s life. But Joseph obeyed and kept God’s word.
At some point after Jesus had been born, Joseph and Mary experienced the visit by the magi. Gentiles from the east showed up offering homage to Jesus. They also brought expensive gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. What an incredible and amazing experience!
But Joseph’s role of guardian and care giver immediately took a difficult turn. Our text tells us that when the magi had departed, 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.” Alerted by the visit of the magi, Herod the Great was leaving nothing to chance as he sought to kill a potential threat.
Once again, Joseph was faithful. He obeyed the word of the Lord. He rose and took the child and his mother by night and departed to Egypt and remained there until the death of Herod. Caring for Jesus meant that Jospeh had to flee to another country and live in exile there.
God chose Joseph to be Jesus’ guardian because by doing so he fulfilled his promise to David. He provided the Messiah. And when Joseph took Jesus to Egypt, he became God’s instrument to fulfill what Scripture had said the Messiah would be. Our text tells us, “This was to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet, ‘Out of Egypt I called my son.’”
These words from the prophet Hosea describe how God had brought the people of Israel out of Egypt. Yet in Jesus they would be fulfilled in a new and better way. Through Moses, God had told Pharaoh that Israel was his son. In our Old Testament lesson God tells David, “I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son.” We learn that the Davidic kind is Israel reduced to one. He stood in the place of Israel, and represented the nation before God.
As the Messiah, Jesus was Israel reduced to one. But he was Israel carrying out what the nation of Israel had failed to be. God had told Abraham, “In your offspring all nations will be blessed. Yahweh would work through Abraham’s descendant – Israel – to be bring salvation to all people. Israel was supposed to be a light to the nations.
Yet Israel had failed completely. Rather than being a light to the nations, they had joined the darkness of nations’ paganism. Now, Jesus the Messiah was the Son who would fulfill what Israel was meant to be. He would be a “do over” for Israel, and so he had gone down to Egypt – to the place where Israel had become a nation in the exodus.
Like Israel, we often fail to be what God has made us to be. He has made us sons and daughters of God. He has put his name upon us in Holy Baptism and made us his own. Yet we do not live in ways that hallow God’s name. And we see this especially in our vocations – in the callings where God has placed us. As spouses, we speak angry words to one another. As children we disobey and antagonize our parents. As employees, we don’t always work as unto the Lord and not as unto man. As employers, we don’t always act in ways that are fair and understanding.
In our text we learn about how God used Joseph to bring Jesus out of Egypt. When Herod had died, an angel of the Lord told Joseph in a dream, “Rise, take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel, for those who sought the child's life are dead.” Joseph once again obeyed as the faithful guardian of Jesus. He returned and settled with his family in Nazareth.
God used Joseph to care for Jesus when he was young and helpless. But this role is not one that needed to be done forever. Jesus grew up, and by the time of Jesus’ ministry we no longer hear about Joseph. The safe presumption is that he had died.
Jesus no longer needed a guardian because he had arrived at the time when he would save his people from their sins. Just as Israel had passed through the Red Sea into the wilderness, Jesus passed through the water of his baptism into the wilderness of his temptation. At his baptism God said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” He identified Jesus as the servant of the Lord, just as he had called Israel through the prophet Isaiah.
Israel was the servant who had failed. But Jesus was the Servant who succeeded. Yet he did so in an unexpected way. We are reminded about this unexpected work by our text when Matthew says, “And he went and lived in a city called Nazareth, that what was spoken by the prophets might be fulfilled: ‘He shall be called a Nazarene.’” Though born in Bethlehem, Jesus was denigrated as being from Nazareth. This identification as a “Nazarene” teaches us that Jesus came to be rejected as God acted in unexpected ways.
Jesus was the Messiah – the descendant of king David. He was Israel reduced to One, and like Israel he was identified as God’s Servant. But Jesus had come to be faithful where Israel had failed. He had come to be faithful in a most unexpected way – a way that went to the cross.
Jesus was the Messiah. He was Israel and Servant of the Lord. But the Servant in Isaiah is also the suffering Servant. Jesus had come to atone for not only the sins of Israel, but for all people. He came to bear your sins. Isaiah’s words were fulfilled in Jesus for us: “Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed.”
Dead and buried in a tomb, it did not look like Jesus was the Messiah. After all, how could a Messiah be crucified by the Romans? It looked like he was a failure, just as Israel failed again and again. It looked like he was nothing more than a Nazarene.
But God had acted in the unexpected way of the cross to give us forgiveness. And on Easter he acted yet again to demonstrate this to all. On the third day, God raised Jesus from the dead. He vindicated Jesus as the Messiah, and as the true Israel who is the light to the nations. He is our light because in him we have forgiveness and victory over death.
Now, the risen Lord continues to give us this forgiveness through his Means of Grace. Through baptism you have shared in his saving death. In Holy Absolution, he declared you to be forgiven. And in the few moments, he will give you his true body and blood, given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.
Through these means Jesus forgives your sins, and the Holy Spirit strengthens you in faith. He strengthens you so that you continue in the assurance of forgiveness and eternal life. But he also does this so that you can live in ways that are true to God’s will. He does this so that you can live as the child of God that you are.
And this returns us to Joseph. In Joseph we find an example of what this looks like. Joseph was a just man. He was also a compassionate man. More than anything, we see that he was obedient to the word of God – even when this meant doing things that were hard. We find in Joseph a model that we can follow because God has called us to be obedient to his Word in this world.
We now seek to live in these ways because of what Jesus did when Joseph was no longer there as guardian. God used Joseph to care for the Son of God when he entered the world in the helplessness of a baby. Yet Jesus died in the helplessness of the cross in order to win forgiveness for us. Risen and ascended, he assists us through his Spirit so that we can live faithfully and obediently like Joseph.
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