Christmas Through the Eyes of Joseph (8:30am)
Scripture: Psalm 146:5–146:10, Matthew 1:18–1:24
Many people know Joseph best through his ability to sell houses. It is said that if you bury a statue of St Joseph upside down in the yard, he can make the sale quickly. How this originated, or why he should be in the real estate business, I have no idea. It is not mentioned in scripture.
The Bible does give a glimpse of the man who served as dad to the boy Jesus. The first Christmas through his eyes did not begin as a time of comfort and joy. It started with shock and sadness, and no doubt some anger too. He loved and respected Mary - and now this baffling development. What would Joseph do?
We are told that he was a righteous man, a man of character. The season leading up to Christmas day was a test of character. Who was Joseph at his core? Who are we, when the pressure is on, when things don’t go according to plan - at least, according to our plan - when we feel let down or even betrayed? Do we lash out emotionally, or do we have the inner strength to act from our core values?
The word “righteous” can be off-putting. It seems severe, moralistic, and puritanical. Few of us would apply the term to ourselves. In context, it means, Joseph wanted to do the right thing. He was governed more by compassion than by legal requirement. St. Paul wrote in Galatians, “Love fulfills the law.” Guided by God, Joseph embraced Mary as his wife. And thus he accepted the child as his own. What seemed like very bad news was becoming very Good News, through God’s grace and one man’s obedient compassion.
Observe the respect he shows. Men, do we respect women? Or do we objectify them, neglect them, and call them names that diminish their humanity? Leaders set the tone in this regard, just as they do in race relations and attitudes toward people of other faiths, ethnicities, and sexual orientations. If there is a sudden surge in hate crimes—and there has been—guess what?
Men, in our own families and our sphere of influence we must set the tone. Joseph did, as he related to Mary, and as he set the example for the very special boy he would raise. Jesus, when grown, related to women with kindness and caring, no doubt influenced by the example of his earthly dad. Some have suggested that the church covered up this unique attitude toward women that Jesus tried to establish among his followers.
Recently our car broke down at the corner of Hovey and Adelaide. It turned out to be a broken axle. Strangers almost immediately stopped to help, pushing our car to the side of the road amidst lots of traffic. Then, some frat guys from the house we were parked in front of came to help. They refused to leave until the tow truck showed up an hour later. They were great guys. One of them mentioned that their frat house had been shut down for infractions. I looked it up online. Several people had written posts assuring readers that this fraternity was very respectful toward women. This comment appeared so often that I wondered if this had something to with the infraction and the closing down of the frat house. Maybe these young men had learned something important from the shut-down experience. Respect toward women is a Christian value.
Regarding the child, Joseph was an involved dad. He would lead the Holy Family when they fled for their lives as refugees from Herod’s ruthlessness. Making the dangerous journey to Egypt, he showed courage and responsiveness to God. Though the child was not his biologically, he made the child his own. Twelve years later we find Joseph and Mary searching frantically for the boy whom they had lost track of among a crowd of pilgrims. They found him in the Temple, learning from and teaching the scholars of Israel. Joseph also mentored his son, sharing carpentry skills with him.
As an adult, townspeople rejected his teaching, as they sneered, “Isn’t this Joseph’s boy - the carpenter? Who does he think he is?” Christ’s strength of character was mediated in part through Dad—Joseph. Biology - DNA - is less important than the willingness to be God’s person for your son or daughter or whoever has been given to you to mentor and nurture. In the largest sense, all children are my children. “Jesus loves the little children - all the children of the world”, regardless of skin color: “they are precious in his sight.” At Walmart’s parking lot we saw multiple fire trucks and police cars. What was going on, we wondered. Once inside it was obvious: police and firefighters were taking children shopping for Christmas. As I surveyed the scene I thought, This is the America I know and love. Children of different races being cared for by law enforcement personnel, often walking hand in hand. I chuckled as one large state police officer held up a small purple dress for a little girl from another country and asked, “Do you like this one?” It was truly heartwarming.
Though Christmas began on shaky ground for Joseph, it became good news of great joy, turning lemons into lemonade. More than once, he was guided by a dream. We are sometimes inclined to dismiss dreams as meaningless, or like Scrooge we attribute them to indigestion—a fragment of an underdone potato. Recall that Scrooge’s dream visions had a transformative effect, eventually. Joseph didn’t write off his God-sent dreams, and they helped save the life of his family. Are we open to spiritual guidance? Will we open our lives to Christ, and to God’s unexpected ways?
Our daughter in Hawaii texted me about a dream she had this week. She has never said or written anything like it, and she is not given to mystical experience. It happened close to the 5th anniversary of my mother’s death:
Larissa: Had a dream about Nana.
L: She was so happy and in her robe with her curlers. She was singing and super-happy. Then we got in the car and she was yelling at the pedestrians to "get out of my way." I haven't had a dream about her, really ever.
Me: Was she okay?
L: Yes, she was excellent. She had a golden glow coming from her. It was like the shiniest energy coming out of her. She was very, very happy and content. I guess joyful would be a better word. She was more than happy. It makes me want to cry thinking of it - happy cry.
What guidance is there in such a dream? It came to my daughter unbidden, and she shared it. It gave me a feeling of comfort and awe - mom is safe and happy, in a brighter world, and her suffering is done. She is with the Lord. “There are more things in heaven and earth,” wrote Shakespeare, “than are dreamt in your philosophy.”
No matter how Christ comes to us, at Christmas or any time of life, let us--like Joseph—be ready and eager to accept his word.