The Obedience of Joseph
A Homily for Christmas II
January 5, 2020
All Saints Anglican Church, Prescott, AZ
Text: Matthew 2:19-23
Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of our hearts be always acceptable in thy sight, O Lord our strength and our redeemer. Amen
Some of you know about my little adventure this past week. My hope and plan had been to go for a long drive and visit a couple of places around Arizona that I am yet to see, to have some time to think, and relax a little after the busy-ness of the holiday season. I often find these drives peaceful, life giving, relaxing, and joy-filled. They give me time to listen to music and think about life. I had all these lofty and romanticized visions of my time away, to draw nearer to God, and find some quietness.
The Lord and my car conspired to make different plans for me – and if I am honest, what I really needed to be reminded to rest in the Lord always.
As I got close to my first stop my battery light came on, as a good millennial the first thing I did was google what this could mean and google faithfully told me that it was most likely my alternator dying. Having had more than one alternator die on me, once in inner city Chicago, I knew that this would not be the fun day I had envisioned. Being the resolutely independent person that I am, I turned around and started to drive home. As time passed more and more lights on my dashboard came on, telling me that, in all likelihood my battery was draining.
As I got close to the 17, I decided it would be unwise for me to see what would happen if I pressed on, so I stopped and called AAA and waited. I sat in my car reading, trying to relax.
As the time passed I started to get more panicky. “How am I going to do these things I had planned?” “Wait, alternators are expensive, yikes!” “I had such a perfect budget for this month, there goes that!”
Somewhere in that wild train of thought, I also realized the Lord was calling me to simply trust him, trust that everything will be okay, and be vulnerable and ask my friends for help. I’d like to say that after all the ways I’ve seen God’s faithfulness in scripture and in life, I am amazing at trusting Him, and after experiencing the incredible love of this community and the friends I’ve made around town I’m better at asking for help, but I am more often than not bad at both of these things.
Yet God calls us to depend fully upon him. So this question confronts us, we are asked, time and again – will we trust God with he little things? Will we trust God with the big things? Will we trust God with our finances? Our health? Our friendships and relationships? Will we respond if God calls us to move across the county, across the state, across the country? Across the world?
As the new year begins – these are the good questions to ask ourselves. Sure, it is good to resolve to lose some weight, to be better with our money in 2020 than in 2019, to spend more time with family or friends, or to delight more deeply in God’s great creation, or whatever resolutions of betterment we have made – but as Christians one of the chief things we need to ask ourselves is are we faithfully trusting the Lord in all of our lives? With every aspect or are these just fanciful ideas in our mind?
In some ways, I think it is easier to trust God to do big amazing things like moving us into other cultures or across the country or the world, but harder to trust God when we hit a little bump in the road, like a dead alternator.
I would like to be able to tell you that I handled my little adventure with all the grace in the world, I’d like to say that as the panic swelled in me, I took a deep breath, smiled and said “yes, Lord, I know you’ve got this,” sat back and read my book while I waited for the tow truck. But instead I very much felt the sentiment of St. Theresa of Avail when she penned “Lord, if this is how you treat your friends, no wonder you have so few!”
Theresa, wrote this pithy little statement after falling into a stream and nearly getting swept away. She complained to God and God’s response to her was “Do not complain, daughter, for it is ever thus that I treat My friends.”
We want life to be easy, and we want sanctification, that is when our sin, our brokenness, and our struggles are removed to be without a struggle, but it rarely is, in more likelihood, as we grow, we are called all the more to step out in faith, and trust that the Lord is good in the storms, and trials we are faced with, and though he seems to be calling us into something hard, and something mysterious, he is calling us into something good, into deeper intimacy with him, into a life of joy-filled Faith. Such is the case with Joseph, the husband of Mary, the mother of God who was incarnate in Jesus Christ our Lord.
In our gospel passage – Joseph the carpenter takes centerstage. We know very little about this man, and if it were not for his position, he would be an unimportant blip in scripture, but we do know that he faithfully set to raising Jesus as his own, in fact later when Christ starts his formal ministry and returns to Nazareth, everyone wonders how this son of a carpenter could presume to teach with such force, and such knowledge.
We know from when he finds out that his fiancé is with child that he was a righteous man and most likely a kind man. We can only guess what his reaction might have been in finding out that Mary was pregnant. I do not think that it would be farfetched to assume that if he was not righteous and kind, and if the angel had not intervened he would have not only put Mary away he would have put her to public shame, but even here we are forced to hypothesize based on scant evidence from the text and what we know of the culture of the time. But scripture tells us he was righteous, and implies that he was kind.
It has also been hypothesized that Joseph died sometime between Jesus’ birth and the commencement of Christ’s public ministry. This is because once Christ’s ministry starts we hear nothing of Joseph, though we occasionally hear of Mary, and of Jesus’ siblings.
The final thing we know about Joseph was that he was obedient to the Lord – obedient to the Lord’s calling in his life. We see this first, when he learns of Mary’s pregnancy, and the angel of the Lord tells him to take Mary as his wife because she had conceived from the Holy Spirit.
As we consider Joseph, we first must take care not to read the skepticism of our age into the text, but recognize that heaven and earth seemed much closer to the people of Christ’s time than to us. That is to say – miracles happened, it was natural to see God interacting with the world, and prayer worked. Skepticism is such a strong force in our current culture, that we even see it infiltrate the church, and in how we approach scripture, and all of life. We do not imagine that an angel might come to us with instructions, and just as we do not imagine that the flutter on the water is an angel flying over.
I once heard a story of when two of my undergrad professors were out golfing. One was the head of the biology department, and the other a theologian. As they walked along – they saw a ripple across pond, the scientist said, “oh, look a minnow!” I suspect with a bit of excitement. The theologian responded, “yes, perhaps, but it could have been an angel.” In our modern times, we tend to forget how deeply interlaced the world of angels and demons, of the Holy Spirit and our soul, of God and man are and so, though the world may scoff, miracles still happen, and prayers still work, just as powerfully as they did in the time of Christ.
None-the-less, in the world of Christ, the immanence of all this was much more prominent, much more real in the minds of men and women, and so to hear of Joseph’s obedience to the angel is not all that surprising. Yet, it is hard to believe that Joseph was totally calm about the situation he found himself in, for it was not as though the Lord was calling him to something simple. Still, having experienced the angel of the Lord he faithfully stepped out and cared for Mary well, cared for her as a good husband and soon to be father would.
Then sometime after the famous registration of the first Christmas Joseph is told to flee to Egypt, by another Angel, for the sake of the new born baby, for Herod sought to kill the child. Again, Joseph forsook his home, and presumably left behind all that he knew and fled to the foreign land as the Lord has commanded him. Again, we can only imagine the fear that he had. It is scary enough to move across country – I can’t imagine running to land with a vicious tyrant at your back who wants to murder the baby in your care.
And now we meet him yet again. The vignette that we read today is the last time he is mentioned by name as being actively involved in the life of Christ. Yet – Joseph sets for us a model of faithfulness, a model of trusting the Lord’s calling in our lives.
He had taken for himself as a wife a woman who was pregnant with child, he lived by faith that as the Lord had said to him the child was conceived of the Holy Spirit and not out of immorality, he had fled to Egypt on the command of the Lord, and now he is returning. Do we have this faithfulness? Are we willing to step out and believe what the Lord has called us to?
As we think carefully about the passage we read this morning we see that Joseph perfectly blends two amazing things – he was faithful to God’s call and was faithful to the duties that scripture set out for him. We can easily do one of two things – we can know what it means to be a good father, a good mother, a good husband, or a good wife, a good presbyter, a good man, a good woman, or a good Christian – and the spirit will never bend what this is – but we can become so ridged in this calling that we don’t do it out of love, but out of some harsh sense of duty. Or we can become so obsessed with being spirit driven that we lose site of the simple call to obedience to the word of God.
Joseph does not lose sight of this – No, the Lord tells him to return to the land of Israel and Joseph obediently follows this command. Yet he hears that the child may still be in danger in Judea, and so he goes to where he knows it will be safe.
We often find ourselves wanting to hear from the Lord all the time on all things, and we can over correct. We can either – become obsessed with this, needing spirit driven answers to every little question – or we can give up, never pray and never ask for the Lord’s guidance.
A better way is the way of Joseph – know what it means to glorify God in our calling – are we good at math and numbers, then use that to the glory of God! Are we a good writer? A good thinker? Do we play music well? Do we serve our community? Then do those things to the glory of God!
Scripture outlines perfectly clearly what a good and sound Christian life looks like, so we are called to become saturated with scripture so that we have guidance at all times. One of my favorite prayers is the prayer for Advent 2:
“blessed Lord, who has caused all holy Scripture to be written for our learning; grant that we may in such wise hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that by patience and comfort of thy holy Word, we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life, which thou hast given us in our savior Jesus Christ. Amen.”
In other words – dear Lord – may your word so saturate our life such that it is our life and love and total strength for us in all things, such that it is our very sustenance and food for living.
But what of the big choices and crisis that we face in our life? We are called to start with prayer! Back to my thoughts on skepticism of our age – a simpler example of starting with prayer: if we have an ache, a pain, if we don’t feel well, so often the first thing we do is call the doctor. Friends, as Christians the first thing we should do is pray! Yes, call the doctor! Please don’t be one of those folks that forsakes modern medicine, do both! And then the doctor gives you antibiotics and you feel better, give thanks for the skill of the doctor and to the Lord for his faithfulness in healing you! It is not an either or.
And here is the key: pray always about all things. Pray for the Lord’s guidance through the day, that the Lord would introduce you to the people you need to meet that day, that the Lord would guide you, that the Lord would show you what the day holds.
Joseph models for us the perfect balance between being completely faithful to the prompting of the spirit and knowing what scripture says our duty is. This is what we are called to in our day in and day out.
As the new year starts, perhaps a better place to start than the resolution to eat more vegetables, or floss more is to simply ask God to help us all become more faithful, to be more aware of when and how we fail to live in a way that glorifies him, to learn from these times to trust him all the more with every aspect of our lives.
My friends, we live in a scary and tumultuous world, but we serve a good, and faithful God. When we hear of rumors of war, and of war, of natural disasters, and famine, and when life throws us a curve ball, when we have hardship and heartache, let us not grow despondent but trust that the Lord has all things under control.
To end my story – I safely made it back to town, because I drive a lot, I have a fairly robust towing plan from AAA, several friends, including several of you offered to help me, and did help me, and all has worked out and on Saturday I drove my little car to Kingman without incident to visit old friends from college who were in Vegas for the weekend. In the end, despite myself, God revealed to me and reminded me of His faithfulness in all things.
God reveals to us in scripture and throughout our lives, time and again that he is faithful, he is good, he has given us guidance on how to live, and will faithfully provide for us, even when we behave as rambunctious and faithless children. So in this coming year, may we grow to trust in His provision all the more, may we give all things to Him in prayer, may we become all the more saturated in His word, and may we walk with the faith of Joseph, the husband of Mary, the mother of God, Jesus Christ our Lord – in obedience to the word of God, in love for those who are in our lives, and in faithfulness to the prompting of the Holy Spirit.
In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost. Amen.