Summary: Joseph was human, more human than we believe; he was the same as us. He had his own share of problems that we can relate to, problems relating to a tight knit community that was quick to condemn. Could we to overcome such difficulties.
This sermon was delivered at Holy Trinity, Ayr, Ayrshire, Scotland on Sunday the 18th December 2016; Holy Trinity is a Scottish Episcopal Church in the Dioceses of Glasgow and Dumfries.
Please join me in a short prayer from Psalms 19:14, “Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of our hearts, be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my strength, and my redeemer. Amen.
From our liturgical Calendar, we find that today is the four Sunday in advent, meaning that the theme and the readings for our service revolves around the annunciation … or the announcement of the birth of Jesus. … The pink candle for today is even known as the Angel's candle, however … our gospel reading from Matthew, focuses very much on Joseph, Joseph whom we know as the earthy father of Jesus … but not his paternal or biological father, … who we know as God himself, by the power of the Holy Spirit.
And this for many people over the years has proved controversial … as many people still deny the virgin birth. … I do not have a problem with that, because away back in Genesis 1 verse 1, the bible tells us that, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth”, and as an engineer, … I know that somebody must have created the earth and every living being on it, … so it is only logical that the only person that could do that, is God himself. … And if God created the “all the heavens and the earth”, then … to impregnate a virgin must have been fairly easy for him. It is as simple as that … I don’t understand the fuss.
Anyway, with that in mind, Mary was engaged to this Joseph, and this to me is where the real difficulties lie, because there is a lot of confusion here, with many of the Old Testament values being seriously challenged and disrupted.
0.2 Who was Joseph
And to understand this, we need to examine the character of Joseph to see what was going on … and this is not easy because from all four Gospels, we never hear Joseph speak, … and so many people conclude that he was only a support figure in the nativity story, however … there is a lot more to him than that.
But yes, we can assume he was the strong silent type in the background, he was a working man, an uneducated carpenter, but we also see a man devoted to his wife and his adopted child, so we can conclude that he was certainly handpicked by God somewhere in the story. … This then was a great honour, but an honour that did not come without its share of difficulties, much of which we can only imagine. … [BTW: Joseph and Mary were still sinners in nature, … they were human after all, … good law abiding humans, … good Jews … but they were still living under the Old Testament, because the New Testament had not been revealed].
We now pick up today’s Gospel reading.
And this is where we pick up today’s Gospel reading: Matthew 1 verse 18 says, “This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit”.
We are all used to this verse, we hear it every other Christmas, we may even like this verse, but oh dear come on, … read the last bit again, it says, “before they came together, she was found to be with child”. … “She was found to be with child”, full stop. Forget who the real father was for now, because if you think about it, that would put the kibosh on any wedding today. … So what about back then, in there strict Jewish community? Well, this is where the troubles arose, and to find out more we need to look at this Old Testament Jewish community for a minute, to understand the background.
1 The development of the Jew marriage.
… Now Jewish weddings back then, took place in 3 separate stages: first … there was the contractual stage, legal and binding, typical of being Jewish; second … there was the espousal stage, or the engagement period as we like to call it; … and thirdly there is the actual wedding and consummation stage itself, everything being kept very legal and regimented throughout.
1a Jewish marriages: the contractual stage
In the first stage, the contractual stage … the couple had little to do with the marriage; they had little say in it, because most marriages back then were pre-arranged, … and we can be sure that this betrothal was no different, or the bible would had said … so this means that the parents of both Mary and Joseph would have had all their prenuptials agreed ages ago, … it would have been all done and dusted, with a contract of some kind. … Which means Mary and Joseph grew up knowing who they would marry … and they wouldn’t dare question it.