Readings: Isaiah 7:10-16; Matthew 1:18-25
With today’s gospel emphasis on Joseph, we might consider today ‘Stepdad Sunday’ – here’s a few ‘dad jokes’ in honour of Joseph:
I was addicted to the hokey pokey…but I turned myself around.
I don’t trust stairs. They are always up to something.
Did you hear about the racing snail who got rid of his shell? He thought it would make him faster, but it just made him sluggish.
What’s a vampire’s favorite ship? A blood vessel.
I know a bunch of good jokes about umbrellas, but they usually go over people’s heads
When does a joke become a “dad joke”? When it becomes apparent.
Joseph’s Role in the Christmas Story
Today’s gospel ought to make us consider Joseph’s role in the Christmas story. Whether you believe in a literal virgin birth or not, Matthew the storyteller wants it to be clear that Mary’s pregnancy was in some way due to God’s Spirit. We are led to believe that Joseph is not the biological father of Jesus and the angel’s message is meant to calm Joseph’s concerns and to frame Jesus’ birth within the larger context of the story of God’s love for humanity.
Let’s try to put ourselves in Josephs’ shoes for a moment: He is a young man excited about his upcoming marriage, anticipating the blessing of children, planning celebrations with family and friend. His whole life is laid out in front of him. And then, it all changed.
Joseph’s World is Broken Open
His dreams were shattered by the realization that his fiancée was pregnant. How could she do this to him? Anger, self-pity, pain – all could have moved him to lash out at Mary. He undoubtedly loved her, but he didn’t feel he could live with this reality. There was a provision in Judaic law that allowed for a woman guilty of adultery (which Mary presumably was) to be punished by death…or, he could ‘dismiss’ or ‘divorce’ her quietly to spare her life and them both the shame. So, he decided to take the route that would spare her shame (and possibly worse) by privately divorcing her.
An angel, however, points out that Mary’s pregnancy is the work of the Spirit and is part of God’s transformation of the old age into the new. He was to be named, “Emmanuel,” meaning ‘God with us’ and would take away the sins of the world. By ‘sin’ I believe the author is including all things that estrange us from God and all the works of evil in the world. Jesus would confront evil and injustice and show the world a better way, a way of equity, dignity, peace, and justice. He would do this by incarnating God’s presence – revealed in the name ‘Emmanuel’ that translates as, ‘God is with us.’
What Does Joseph’s Story Mean for Us?
Let’s take a minute to consider what this name means for us. Some would rightly point out that God’s presence is a comfort in the context of grief. Knowing that we are truly not alone when dealing with pain and loss is of immense value to the suffering. But I wonder if there’s more to it than that?
Matthew indicates he’s got something more on his mind by using this name as he cites Isaiah 7:14. In Isaiah’s day, his country was facing a significant threat by a hostile Empire. However, the birth of a child demonstrated (to king Ahaz and all those taking notice) God’s intent to save the nation from Assyrian domination. The name “Emmanuel” and the expression “God with us” signal both that significant social transition is about to occur, and that the community can live through the anxiety of transition because they believe that God will carry them through.
Looking for Signs?
It’s been a difficult few years for so many in our world. So many personal losses, so many catastrophic events around the world, so many reasons to be fearful and anxious, so much transition. I wonder if we can take a step back for a moment to consider:
What signs has God given us that we are not abandoned in this season of challenge and change? Let’s take a few minutes to name them together…
(Blessings of food and shelter, health care workers giving their all to the task at hand, parish coming together around new leadership, new ideas, baptism last week reminding us of God’s gifts of life and love…etc.)
We are Signs from God?
Can we also consider that we are the sign that God has not abandoned God’s world? Us, the Church? The embodiment of Christ that proclaims peace and forgiveness in Jesus’ name? A community of people that love and care for one another, and for God’s world? A people that resist the temptation to fear and despair, to complain and become bitter, a people of hope and joy and light, though darkness may be all around us.
The Church doesn’t have the status it once had. We don’t have the numbers, the finances, or political influence. Our society is in transition, as is the Church. We no longer have what we once had, our expectations of the future may need to get shifted.
But that doesn’t mean that God isn’t in charge or has lost interest in us. Joseph’s world was flipped upside-down when he discovered Mary was pregnant. His dreams and expectations cast aside at this unwelcome news.
Joseph a Model of Faith
But the angel admonished Joseph to embrace his role as Mary’s husband. Joseph responded positively to the admonition. Matthew thus presents Joseph as a model for all who encounter the message of Jesus through the church. Joseph was face to face with an unlikely manifestation of the Realm of God. And he put his trust in God’s Word and would quietly be the supportive presence necessary for God’s work to be accomplished in Mary & her Son.
As we move into the Christmas season this week, may we be on alert for discerning the signs of Emmanuel – the instances when God’s realm breaks into the world. And may we come to see, more and more, how we are called to be those signs.