by Robert Brow (www.brow.on.ca)
Christmas was five days ago, and this Sunday is called Low Sunday because
it comes as an anticlimax. So our lectionary invites us to think about
Joseph the husband of Mary. Like us he had his highs and his lows. So I
am going to read to you an account of what happened to Joseph two thousand
years ago. When I have finished reading I am going to ask you to suggest
how Joseph's experiences relate to you. So listen to see how each event
might connect with your life here and now.
Over Christmas we have thought of the low of arriving in Bethlehem, and finding no room for Mary to have her baby. Then there was the high of the baby being born safely, and the low of having to wrap it up from the cold and lay it down to sleep in a manger. But then in the middle of the night the shepherds came running in, and told their story (Luke 2:8-18). That must have been a wonderful encouragement.
Joseph did not get much sleep that night, and early the next morning he had to face going to be registered as the Emperor had commanded (Matthew 2:1-4). The Bethlehem census officer opened his records, and asked him "Who are you? Oh, you are Joseph son of Jacob? I see you are from the royal line of David. Why were you living in Nazareth up there in the boondocks? Oh, there was no work here? And you the heir to the throne! Do you have any children? Oh, you had a son born last night? What is his name? Bring him here and I will register him, but you had better watch out. If Herod hears about this, he will have the child killed, and you too."
A week later, according to Jewish law, the baby was to be circumcised (Luke 2:21), and the Rabbi wanted to know what he was to be named. Joseph remembered the words of the angel in a dream less than three months ago. "Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins" (Matthew 1:20-21). The Rabbi asked a lot of awkward questions about Joseph's betrothal to Mary, and why he accepted her as his wife when she was already six months pregnant. That was very upsetting.
Two weeks later Joseph had to take Mary and the baby up to Jerusalem for the prescribed thanksgiving and purification ceremony (Leviticus 12:4). As they entered the temple a man named Simeon, who had been awaiting the coming of the Messiah, took the baby in his arms, and prayed a beautiful prayer saying he was now ready to depart in peace as he had seen the one who was to be "a light for revelation to the nations" and the glory of the Jewish people (Luke 2:25-32). But then he spoke ominous words to Mary. "This child is destined for the rising and fall of many in Israel . . .and a sword will pierce your own soul too" (Luke 2:34-35).
He had hardly said this before Anna, an old woman aged 84, came up "and began to praise God and to speak about the child to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem" (Luke 2:36-38).
Obviously their child Jesus had been recognized as the Messiah, and inevitably this would get to the ears of Herod the king. Everyone knew he was ruthless in eliminating anyone who could possibly threaten his power. But by now money was beginning to run out, and there was no work for Joseph as a carpenter in Jerusalem or Bethlehem. He needed to move away, but how and where?
Suddenly three magi (wise men) arrived from Afghanistan (or wherever). They said they had seen the Messiah's star in their own country, and been guided to Jerusalem. There they asked where this child had been born, and they were told it must be in Bethlehem. The star had then guided them to bring their gifts. The gold would take care of their needs to move anywhere. The flask of frankincense was from India and it could be sold for the equivalent of several thousand dollars. And the myrrh was from Yemen in Arabia. But where should they go?
That night in a dream an angel messenger told Joseph to leave for Egypt immediately. "Egypt?" That was where the children of Israel had escaped from out of terrible bondage. But right then he woke up Mary, and they moved off to the south in the darkness. It was just in the nick of time because by morning Herod's soldiers would arrive to kill any baby boy under the age of two.
In Egypt Joseph was a refugee but he was able to rent a nice home, and he even found some work so he would not have to deplete the gold he had hidden. The flask of frankincense and the jar of myrrh could easily be hidden, and they could be sold and used when needed.
Two years later Joseph heard that King Herod had died, and again an angel messenger came to say he could go back to their own country. They had thought of settling in Bethlehem, but he heard that Herod's son Archelaus was reigning in Jerusalem and he could be jealous and vicious like his father. Again an angel messenger told him to go back north to Nazareth, where he had previously worked as a carpenter. It was also Mary's home town.
But what would people of Nazareth say? "Oh you are back, Joseph? Where did you take that girl to have her baby? How come you accepted a woman who was already six months pregnant? Don't think you will get work here. Others have taken over your carpenter shop and tools." Well, as you know, Joseph was guided step by step to reestablish his business, more children were born, and eventually people found other things to talk about.
So how do the highs and lows of Joseph's life relate to you and me? He certainly had wonderful highs when the baby was born safely, and the shepherds came, and the gold and frankincense and myrrh arrived just in time. But he also had terrible lows. Mary in labor and no room anywhere in Bethlehem. Money running out, and the danger of Herod's soldiers arriving any moment. The terrible long journeys, and the meanness of the people in Nazareth.
Instead of me giving some applications which might not be relevant, I would like you to share how the highs and lows of Joseph's life might connect with your life.
Some responses that came from the congregation :
I suddenly had a terrible heart condition. I am grateful for the skill of the doctors who saved my life.
My daughter had a very dangerous time with her baby, and they had to move in a hurry.
I remember when we were so poor we didn't know where the next meal was coming from.
It was Joseph' s faith that took him through each situation.
I am grateful for gracious people like the innkeeper who found a way to solve my problem.
The same loving Father that cared for Joseph is our Father. He has a plan for us.
Do any of you remember vicious gossip like the people in Nazareth? Many
rolled their eyes, and nodded their heads.
Concluding prayer O God our Father, thank you for being with us in the ups and downs of the past years of our life. Like Joseph we know that you will be with us in the coming year. And just as he had the Holy Spirit and dreams and angelic messengers to guide him, we look forward to being guided when we are perplexed. So we thank you that we have all we need for the ups and downs of a wonderful new year serving in the kingdom of Jesus the King of kings and Lord of lords. .