Here we are, on the Fourth Sunday of Advent. Christmas Eve is tomorrow and we are all waiting wide-eyed for the celebration of the birth of the Christ Child.
We all know the story of the Nativity, with shepherds and angels and Mary and Joseph and the Baby Jesus. And we can all remember the many years of being in or watching a children’s re-enactment of that blessed event:
• how one little angel’s halo was always crooked . . .
• how dashing the shepherds looked in their bathrobes with towels on their heads. . .
• Mary and Joseph kneeling around a manger filled with straw and some little girl’s doll . . .
• Singing of all those old favorite Christmas carols that told the Christmas story.
Today’s scriptures tell the Nativity story from another point of view – from the standpoint of Joseph, the father. But Joseph was not the father of Jesus. We all remember the story of the Angel Gabriel visiting Mary and telling her she would bear the Son of God.
Imagine yourself in Joseph’s place; here he is betrothed to a lovely young maiden, probably making him the envy of Nazareth. And all of the sudden, she is pregnant! Now, he knows he is NOT the father. In those times, when a couple was betrothed, the girl moved into the house of her intended. So it wasn’t as if she was living somewhere else and could have been carrying on with someone behind his back. Joseph intended to quietly dissolve the arrangement and send Mary back to her home.
But God had other plans for him. He may not have been the biological father, but he was being charged with bringing up the Son of God. No pressure there!!!!
The Bible generally does not give us a very good picture of father. Look at Herod, who slaughtered all the newborn male children out of fear; or Herod Antipas, who promised his daughter Salome anything, including the head of John the Baptist on a silver platter.
Joseph could have become one of those fathers. He had every right to be upset, after all, Mary was carrying another man’s child. But he didn’t.
Joseph raised Jesus to fulfill his destiny on earth. He showed him the kind of love that Jesus and God show us. He risked common opinion to do what was right, no matter what the consequences. And he had NO idea of what was going to happen to his little boy. He was the best stepfather he could be. I have a friend who married late in life and had three stepchildren. He swears to this day that Joseph is the patron saint of all stepfathers.
Joseph represents the type of father on earth that God is in Heaven. Jesus teaches us that we are to look to God as our father, redefining the laws of the times. Joseph showed Jesus the kind of love that comes from God. He shows us the kind of love God has for all his people, particularly those who are the least. And he risks everything to make sure that his Son is safe. Joseph was not the earthly father of Jesus, but showed to us the sort of love that God wants us all to show.
May we, like Joseph, know and show the love of God to each other this Christmas and always.
Delivered at Lindley Assisted Living Center, Athens, OH 23 on December 2007