December 22, 2013
The Rev. Leonard B. Oakes
A mother takes her 16-year-old daughter to the doctor. The doctor says, “What took you here today, Mrs. Rivera?” The mother says, “my daughter Jessica is having cravings, put on some weight and is sick most mornings.” The doctor gives Jessica a good examination then turns to the mother and says, “Well, I don’t know how to tell you this but your daughter Jessica is pregnant.” The mother says, “Pregnant?! She can’t be, she and I have always been together! Her daughter snapped, “I’ve never even kissed a man!” The doctor walked over to the window and just stares towards the heavens. About five minutes pass, the mother finally says, “Is there something wrong out there doctor?” The doctor replies, “No, not really, it’s just that the last time anything like this happened, a star appeared in the east and three wise men came over the hill. I’ll be a fool if I’m going to miss it this time!”
In the Old Testament reading, we learn about God giving a sign through the prophet Isaiah to King Ahaz of Judah: “Behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and his name shall be called Emmanuel” Biblical scholars tell us that Matthew presented Jesus as fulfilling the Old Testament prophecies and that such prophecy is the fulfillment of God’s plan.
Mathew’s version of Jesus’ birth at Bethlehem differs from that of Luke’s beloved story of a child born in a Bethlehem stable welcomed by humble shepherds and a choir of angels. Joseph is the central figure in this Mathew’s story. When Joseph learns that his fiancée is pregnant, he was alarmed because he knew that the law requires that Mary be stoned to death, because she would have been considered an unfaithful wife, and the baby would have been stoned to death with her. I wondered if how many will be stoned to death if that law applies here. During those times the penalty for adultery was death by stoning at the door of her father’s house as she had disgraced her father.
Since Joseph was a just man of great mercy, he offered to divorce Mary quietly so that he might not cause her unnecessary pain. Compassion enveloped his heart. And then in a dream Joseph learned that the child had been conceived by the Holy Spirit, and that he was to be the foster-father of the Christ, claiming him by naming him, and then rearing him. Joseph, through trust and faith in God, accepted his mission as the foster-father of the Son of God.
On three occasions an angel appears to Joseph in a dream. In each instance, the angel calls Joseph to action and Joseph obeys. He doesn’t have a speaking part. And that’s why I don’t like the part of Joseph when it comes to Christmas pageant. Indeed, if it were not for the fact that we can hang a bathrobe on the quiet boy at church and throw him up in front of the church in the Christmas play to represent Joseph, the man would have no real purpose at all. If you will be here on Christmas Eve, December 24 at 7 PM, you will understand what i mean. This is also why Fr. Jurek once said jokingly: “My favorite saint is St. Joseph. I can identify with him because I have no voice in my family. It’s my wife who’s the ‘speaker of the house.’”
During these appearances, the angel commands Joseph to take Mary as his wife, then the angel will tell Joseph to take the mother and child to Egypt to escape Herod’s wrath, and finally the angel will, at the death of Herod, tell Joseph to return to Israel. After each of the three angelic apparitions in his dreams, Joseph obeys the angel’s commands without question or pause. Obedience, prompt, simple, and obedience are the attributes of Joseph.
We pause to ask ourselves today, how can we take on the role of Joseph this Christmas by bringing the compassion and forgiveness of God into a difficult and strained situation? Each of us is called to be Joseph – to welcome God in our minds. Like Joseph, we need to trust in God, listen to Him and be faithful. We are here in this church, three days before Christmas, because, like Joseph, we are faithful, and we trust in God, His power and His mercy. Although we may face financial problems, job insecurity, family problems and health concerns let us try to be trusting and faithful like St. Joseph. Instead of relying on our own schemes to get us through life, let us trust in God and be strengthened by talking to Him in fervent prayer and by listening to Him speaking through the Bible.
But let us not forget that we are also called to be like Mary, full of grace, obedient to the will of God to be the mother of God’s Son.
Joseph and Mary had much doubts and fears when they were told of God’s incredible plan, but, in faith, they obeyed. Their “yes” to the Father’s divine plan and will was total and unconditional. Against all odds, against all human logic, they just believed. How deep is our faith, our belief in God?
Let us remain faithful and prayerful, imitating Joseph and Mary, the humblest of the humble, the kindliest of the kindly, and the greatest-ever believers in God’s goodness and mercy, and welcoming Jesus into our hearts and lives this Christmas. May it be our prayer my dear brothers and sisters in Christ, that we may be given the courage to forgive those whom we felt strange or have guilt in our conscience and allow the love of God to heal us and dwell among us. Let doubts and pride be bygones, and let peace and love embrace us. Amen.