Summary: Today, our Scripture tells of the third major party to the incarnation and his response to it. It is a story of courage that is told every Christmas season. But it is also a story we often miss because this hero of the story is usually in the background.
The Courage of Joseph
Every day for the first 10 months after Katrina, I would drive home on I-10 and there was an indelible image which would strike me. On a billboard just before I got off on my exit was the image of a female New Orleans police office submerged in water up to her neck, trying to stay afloat while helping a citizen stay alive and be airlifted to safety. There were other harrowing acts courage in the aftermath of Katrina: the citizens who took their boats and rescued literally thousands of people and took them to dry ground on I-10. The artist who used a beat up old truck to rescue 100’s and 100’s of people risking his own life amidst snipers and criminals. The doctors, nurses and health care professionals who stayed in Memorial Hospital trying to keep the ill alive for days without any help from the outside world. The firefighters, policemen and women who risked their own lives to maintain control of the city.
The thing about courage is that it’s hard to define but you know it when you see it. The Late Show with David Letterman is produced in the heart of New York City. It was Monday after 9/11 and Letterman said that the only reason he was back was due to the strength and courage of then Mayor Rudy Giuliani. In his opening monologue he said: "If you’ve been watching and you’re confused, depressed, irritated, angry, and full of grief and you don’t know how to behave and you’re not sure what to do, because we’ve never been through this before, all you had to do at any moment is watch the Mayor. Watch how he behaved. Watch how he conducted himself. Watch what he did. Listen to what he said. Rudolph Giuliani is the personification of courage. He’s an amazing man and far better than we could have hoped for." Courage. You don’t know how to define it but you know it when you see it.
We’ve been looking at the God encounters this Advent and several individual’s response to such an encounter. A God encounter is not something you’re looking for, yearning for, expecting or even thinking about and then God shows up. A God encounter is not you going to look for God. It’s when God comes looking for you and supernaturally makes an appearance in your life and calls you to him. First, we saw a God encounter Mary had when the angel Gabriel announced that she had been chosen by God to give birth His Son Jesus, who would be Savior of the world. When she questioned the angel about how this could happen, Gabriel responded, “For all things are possible with God.” And Mary chose to trust God when she said, “I am the Lord’s servant. May it be to me according to your work.” Last week, we looked at the shepherd’s encounter with God and learned that God encounters us in the ordinary moments of our lives. These shepherds heard the call of God while at work protecting their sheep, and left their flocks journeying to Bethlehem to see what God was about to do. Having seen the miracle of the Christ child, they “spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child…” And then they “returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.” As a result of their God encounter, they returned to God and their faith grew as a result.
Today, our Scripture tells of the third major party to the incarnation and his response to it. It is a story of courage that is told every Christmas season. But it is also a story we often miss because this hero of the story is usually in the background. In the Nativity scene he stands silently next to the manger. His name is Joseph and he seems to play a secondary role in the nativity story. We don’t even have a single word he speaks! The only other event we have recorded of Joseph is several years later when he takes Jesus and Mary to Jersusalem to worship at the temple. Then he disappears completely from the pages of history. And yet the courage of Joseph was what made it possible for the child to be born in Bethlehem and to survive the life-threatening early years of his life. Joseph was the man to whom God entrusted the task of protecting the mother and her child from the time she conceived Jesus until he grew up. And he was given the responsibility to mentor this child in the faith and into becoming a man of God.
Joseph probably thought his life was pretty well planned. His vocation was set and his marriage was all neatly arranged for him, as was the custom of the day. How he and Mary must have laid plans during the customary year of engagement before they would begin their married life together. The hopes, the expectations, and the hard work of building a home for Mary and him were suddenly all set aside when God encountered him. One of the most inspiring aspects of Joseph is that he was an ordinary, flesh and blood man. In the midst of this story of the miraculous birth of Jesus, one that features visitations from angels, we find this ordinary man powerfully used by God in His plan of salvation. That gives hope to me and I pray it gives hope to you as well. For one of the themes of the Bible is that God uses ordinary people to do His work – people like you and me (1 Corinthians 1:26-31).