Sermon preached on the 4th Sunday of Advent at the Church of St. Luke & St. Simon Cyrene: Matthew 1:(1-17)18-24
If you’ve ever decided to read the New Testament from the beginning, then you have opened your Bible to Matthew 1:1 and immediately run into trouble. It’s not a very exciting way to begin a story. “The begats” they’re sometimes called, from the way the old King James version of the Bible reads:
Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like the master of a household who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old.
That is precisely what Matthew says God is doing in this genealogy and in the birth story.
Now I said that if you skipped the genealogy you would miss a couple interesting things. The other is at the end, which reads:
…and Jacob the father of Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom Jesus was born, who is called the Messiah.
The genealogy ends with Joseph! So it’s all for nothing, isn’t it? Joseph wasn’t Jesus’ father, so that means that Jesus wasn’t really the Son of David.
That’s where the story we heard this morning comes in. The drama in the story is whether or not Joseph will choose to be Jesus’ father or not. Joseph has a choice to make. Will he, in essence, adopt this child who is not his own (although it would be a secret adoption—everyone else would have to believe that the baby was Joseph’s “natural” child)?
Joseph says “yes,” and, in doing so, provides the connection that makes Jesus a true Son of David.
Joseph has gotten short shrift over time. We don’t know much about him, really. He disappears from the Bible after the birth stories, appears to be gone from the scene by the time of Jesus’ baptism. Of course, even if Joseph had been relatively young at Jesus’ birth, he would have been in at least his late forties by the time of Jesus’ baptism (which happened when Jesus was about 30) and it would not have been unusual for him to have been dead by then. He would have lived out a normal lifespan for the time.
But, of course, we have received the tradition that Joseph was old when he married Mary, even that this was his second marriage and that Jesus’ so-called “brothers and sisters” were really half-brothers and sisters. These were stories that appeared in various apocryphal gospels whose agenda was to keep Mary a virgin for ever. Poor Joseph.
All of this seeks to conceal the truth. Joseph was Jesus’ Abba. As he learned to call God his Abba, it was Joseph he had as his model. It was Joseph who lifted him up and tossed him into the air so that he would squeal with joy. What a wonderful icon that would make!