Log in

No account? Create an account

Previous Entry | Next Entry

Advent IV: Joseph's "Yes"

Advent IV – Matthew 1:18-25
Joseph’s “Yes”
In today’s Gospel, we hear the story of the Birth of Jesus Christ from Joseph’s perspective. This is sometimes referred to as The Annunciation to Joseph. There is little written in scripture about this most important surrogate father. If this were the birth of a common child, we need not hear from Joseph about it. Yet this is no ordinary birth. It is the birth of Christ Jesus the Messiah: The Son of God, begotten by the Holy Spirit, the Incarnation when God became flesh and dwelt among us. This is also a story about a man’s strength of character.   
Now, we know from Luke’s Gospel that Mary had found favor with God, and, through the power of the Holy Spirit, had conceived in her womb the Son of God. Mary returns from visiting her cousin Elizabeth carrying this child that is not Joseph’s. What did Joseph think when he saw the expectant Mary? How did Joseph feel as he saw the faces of others who had seen Mary, a mother-to-be, but not yet living with him as his wife? Interestingly enough, we never hear from Joseph. Ever. But we should consider that when God chose Mary, he picked Joseph also. Joseph’s “Yes” is just as important as Mary’s. It is Joseph’s response to what happened that tells us he said “Yes” also.
For a closer look at Joseph’s part in this story, we can examine the Jewish tradition regarding Marriage. Marriage was deemed too noteworthy a step in life to be dependent only on the affairs of the heart. Often, these relationships were arranged through the parents or a “matchmaker”. The initial step was considered to show intent through an engagement. We know nothing about how long Joseph and Mary were intended for one another.  But later, that intent was forged into a stronger union through a betrothal declaring these two were now husband and wife. The woman would continue to live with her parents for months, up to a year before then going into her husband’s house. Mary was to consider Joseph her husband from that time on, in all manners except that which leads to family. On that, they must wait. Furthermore, this pledge was binding. The relationship could only be terminated by divorce. And should the husband die before the woman had entered his home, she would be considered “a virgin who is a widow”.  
Matthew tells us Joseph is a righteous man. We could suppose many things from this word “righteous”—maybe that Joseph was a good and gracious man, practical, honest, and hardworking, who was reverent in keeping the laws and tradition of his faith as a descendant from the house of David. Matthew doesn’t say that. What he does say is that even though Joseph may have felt disgraced and could not accept as truth what Mary told him had happened, he did not want to subject her to public scorn and ridicule. In Jewish Law, Mary could have been deemed an adulteress and stoned to death for her infidelity. No, instead, Joseph seeks to handle the matter quietly for her sake, and for his own. Here we learn more about Joseph. He displays tenderness and charity as a man of compassion. Without an accusation from him, there could be no trial or any action taken against Mary. 
Once Joseph resolves to dismiss Mary quietly, then God must act and Joseph must respond. God does not intervene until such time as Joseph had decided for himself what he thought he must now do. An angel of the Lord visits Joseph in a dream and confirms Mary’s story, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins”. Joseph awakens, and contrary to his first inclination, he did as the angel had commanded.   Again we learn something more about Joseph. He is open to mystical experiences, even being divinely inspired. 
You are to name him Jesus”. In the Jewish tradition, it was the father’s right to name his child. Joseph assumed the role of the legally recognized father of Jesus, adopting him as his own by naming him. The name Jesus means "Salvation of Jehovah" or "Jehovah is the Savior. Through his active obedience to God, Joseph completed the Davidic line foretold for the Messiah. His active obedience is the response that God sought to complete that which was foretold by the prophet Isaiah (7:14): “Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel”. 
Sometime when I read stories in the Bible about people responding to a Call, I am amazed at the immediacy of their response. There are no questions. None of that “Yes, but…” stammering that might accompany the momentary wonder of “Why me”. Instead, they rise up and do as they are commanded. I myself now understand a little bit about responding to a Call. Others around me thought I wasn’t listening or paying enough attention to stop to listen for that still, small voice of God. My family and friends have been waiting on me. But when the call was given to me and, more importantly, was born in me, I did rise up to now respond in obedience, which is why I am here with you today. 
In closing, I want to share with you a quote from Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German theologian. Bonhoeffer said, “No one wants to know about your faith or unbelief. Your orders are to perform the act of obedience on the spot.” As I noted earlier, we don’t hear Joseph’s words during all this; we only have his actions to show us he heard God, and responded to the call given him. The little that we do know about Joseph is a testament to the strength of his character and his trust in God. His story helps us to know that, as Bonhoeffer says, we too can be obedient to God.