Joseph, The Family Man

 Luke 2 - Christmas Eve

A little boy was sick in the days before Christmas and didn't get to go to a department store to tell Santa what he wanted for Christmas. So, he was asking his father if he could go tell Santa or maybe call him up. He told his father he wanted a bicycle, a sled, a cowboy suit, a set of trains, a baseball glove and roller skates. His father told him that was a pretty long list. He said that Santa would probably check his book to see if he had been good. To which the boy replied, "He won't have to check. I'll just take the roller skates."

Father's are important people in the lives of children. They come to their fathers asking them to do lots of things for them. Joseph was an important part of Jesus' life, but very often Jesus is seen as growing up with a single mom. For many years in early Christian art, Joseph was not part of the nativity scene, or if he was part of it, he was depicted as sleeping or off in the background like an uninterested 3rd party.

In the December 19th issue of Time magazine there was a very good article about Joseph, written by David Van Biema. The subtitle of the article read, "Scripture downplays even his Christmas role, but Joseph's relationship with Jesus has inspired generations to explore his hidden virtues." The writer of the article mentions a book that was published in 2000, written by a pastor, entitled The Forgotten Man of Christmas: Joseph's Story, and between the article and the book title it really got me to thinking about Joseph.

I never really paid that much attention to him. Most Lutherans and Protestants don't. Oh he was part of the Christmas story, but aside from the few times he is mentioned in the Bible, he is really a forgotten man. In the early Christian church he was recognized as a saint, but was not a very popular one. It was in the late 1300's that Joseph really came into his own, as we say. It was a time of famine, the Hundred Years' War and the Black Death. "The church itself was ill, increasingly corrupt and at one point contested by three persons claiming to be pope. Families were warped or ripped to shreds, with elite class suffering a particular crisis of affection: to avoid having many children who would then divide their estates, noblemen waited until they were quite old before taking young wives and producing much younger sons."

This sounded like the Joseph story. That is, Joseph was always thought to be older than Mary. There isn't much about Joseph in the Bible, but other readings of the day outside of Scripture described him as an older man. So, clergy of the day thought then to propose Joseph the carpenter as the paternal model for what would eventually be called the nuclear family and the Holy Family-and much, much more.

The clergy did not add to the biblical story, like some Apocryphal books (those books written during a time between the last Old Testament books and the first New Testament books), but they concentrated on the implications of the Egyptian exile of the family and Jesus' unknown life in Nazareth prior to his ministry. Joseph was older, but very much a man of strength and dedicated to his family.

These clergymen of the 1300's "styled Joseph as a figure who would help navigate the crises of the family and the church: as a protector, a nurturer." The image of Joseph really became powerful and eventually brought about the term "Holy Family" and became a "church staple and transformed Joseph as a member of that family from a nobody into one of the world's most powerful personages." There was the Trinity, and then the 'earthly trinity" of "Jesus, Mary and Joseph." And Joseph's importance leaped across the ocean as the New World developed and he was the patron saint of both "New Spain" and "New France." He remains the official saint of Catholics in Mexico and Canada.

The depiction of Joseph in art also changed and he was now depicted as older, but a young model of that and he was portrayed as "a vigorous, really "studly," Joseph." And in 1955 Pope Pius XII traded on Joseph's identification as a working man, decreeing a second feast day for him on May 1st to compete with the communist May Day galas.

Yet today we Lutherans still don't pay much attention to him. It is chiefly in the Evangelical and Black churches where Joseph gets recognized for his role in the family. We Lutherans need to pay more attention to Joseph. We in the Lutheran church are sadly lacking male participation except in certain areas of the church like property and maintenance. Most of the boards of Trinity have no males on them or just one or two. More women attend worship than do men. There are many reasons for this, and I've preached on some, and quoted a book as a source, Why Men Hate Going to Church.

But tonight I'm just going to point out the implications of how powerful a figure in the family Joseph was, even though not mentioned specifically. It is by deduction we can see just how important he was.

Even though most of the attention of the birth story goes to Jesus (rightly so) and Mary and how she was picked by God, we overlook the fact that out of all the men in the Jewish world God had to choose from, he picked Joseph. Joseph was open to listening to God and following what God asked him to do. Joseph was a decent man, even before visited by an angel he was going to save Mary embarrassment and end their relationship quietly since he discovered she was pregnant, and not by him. Once God asked Joseph not to do this, he agreed to do what God wanted: and stay with Mary and marry her-even though Joseph himself might be ridiculed.

Mary needed a protector. Mary and the baby needed a strong individual who would listen to God and follow God's instructions. Joseph watched over Mary during her pregnancy, got her safely to Bethlehem (the road to Bethlehem from Nazareth was anything but safe), and when there was no room for them in the Inn, he was the one to prepare a place for them in the stable for Mary to give birth and prepare some swaddling clothes and a place to lay the baby Jesus.

He certainly was alert to any strangers. After all they were just in a stable, vulnerable to all sorts of folks who didn't have the best intentions. So, don't you think when all these Shepherd's show up that he would have been protective and questioned them and why they were there and what they wanted? Of course he did.

Joseph also saw to it that he and Mary followed the proper rituals of their faith and brought Jesus to be circumcised and named "Jesus" 8 days after birth. Then 40 days later they had to go up to the Temple in Jerusalem for purification and presentation of Jesus to the Lord. Joseph was intricately and intimately involved in all this. He was present in all this. He was part of all this. He didn't just send Mary and the baby. He accompanied them. This is an important model for men.

We also know that Joseph listened to God through an angel who warned of King Herod's intent to find and kill Jesus, and Joseph followed instructions to move to Egypt. This was no easy trek, and it meant immediately giving up their home, his trade, and moving. It meant that this man had to trust God. Joseph moved his family to Egypt, but only because he was a man of God who listened to God and heeded the warning.

Then we know that Joseph taught Jesus a trade. We know he was part of raising him. We know that Joseph and Mary went to Jerusalem every year for the Feast of the Passover and they took Jesus with them. We have the wonderful story of when Jesus was 12 and was teaching in the temple and his parents thought he was with them in the caravan on the way back to Nazareth. When they discovered he wasn't, they went back searching for him and found him in the Temple where he was wowing the elders with his understanding of the Scriptures and his answers.

And after this incident is the last we hear of Joseph. But we know Jesus "grew in wisdom and stature and in favor with God and men." Jesus wasn't born an adult. Jesus wasn't born knowing everything he needed to know. His father and mother were part of his learning and growing.

And so it should be today. Fathers and sons, fathers and daughters should grow in understanding together. Fathers should be part of the spiritual growth of their children. Fathers should not just let the children and mothers go off to church on their own.

Joseph is a wonderful model. If even Jesus needed an earthly father to guide him, to make sure he grew in wisdom regarding God and God's involvement in the world, certainly fathers today should take a more active role than they are. Joseph wasn't just a protector and provider, he was also a man of God who listened to God and followed what God asked him to do.

So, I say to you men tonight, you fathers AND you grandfathers, or those of you who are uncles and fulfilling father roles for your nephews and nieces, I say to you, that God is calling you to be all that you were called by God to be. Look to Joseph as your model. He was a man, a worker, a provider, a protector, even portrayed in art as a man, not a wimp, BUT he was foremost, a man of God. God chose him for the role of father. God chose you men to be a father. And from the moment Joseph was chosen by God, he LISTENED to God. He made sure he was in a good relationship with God so he could do what God wanted, and raise his children so they would know God and God's love and to know to turn to God for guidance. But he didn't just send them off to learn it. He went with them so that he himself could further learn. He wasn't an absent father when it came to matters of the Spirit, matters of his faith.

There may be men who think they are men because of all the typical things we attribute to being a man, but unless any one of you as a father is involved in the forming of the faith of your children by being at church with them, involved in the work and growth of Jesus' church on earth, you really aren't the man you think you are.

Just look to Joseph the father of Jesus. If you think you have a difficult job raising your children, just think of what it was for Joseph, raising the son of God, plus his other children. Think of the hardships he had to face, not having anywhere near the amount of money any of you have to get by on. Not having the kind of transportation you have. Not having the kinds of tools you have. Still, Joseph was a man of God FIRST.

So, I say to you men, look to Joseph as your model. Help each other in your lives as men of God. And I say to all the women, help the men know the male role models we have in Scripture by knowing them yourself. Don't make the men fit into women's roles. Men don't have to give up being men to come to church, to be known as a man of God. They just have to add to who they already are.


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