In which Saint Joseph is an example for us of faith toward God and love toward others. As are all of the saints. And when we remember that, and leave it at that, we honor them most. (After the jump, of course.)
We’re taking a break of sorts. While this is still the season of Holy Lent, and we are gathered because of that, the calendar tells us that this is the commemoration of saint Joseph, Guardian of our Lord. Today, we heard the traditional reading for Saint Joseph – The angel appearing and telling Joseph not to be afraid to take Mary as his wife. The new hymnal recommends the one about fleeing to Egypt – portions of which are heard on the Second Sunday after Christmas, and on Holy Innocents Day, for those years where the First Sunday after Christmas is December 27. We hear that one a lot. We don’t hear the one about Joseph’s plans regarding Mary’s … situation. But on the day when we commemorate the faithfulness of Saint Joseph, and the part he played in God’s plan of salvation, it seems appropriate.
Joseph, we are told, was a just man. He could have had Mary stoned for adultery, and whatever man she was running around with as well. Of course, there was no man. Perhaps she tried to explain this to him, perhaps she knew it would sound too fantastical. Joseph, not wanting to shame her publicly, offered to divorce her quietly. She would be shamed for her conduct – lots of quiet wispers behind her back – but not killed. The angel appears and tells him that she has not been unfaithful to him. This is a part of God’s plan. God didn’t ask if Mary and Joseph were ok with all of this, but then, he knew that Mary and Joseph were the sort who would accept his – very strange – will for their family.
Think about getting married to the one you love. Now imagine a baby from God being thrown into the mix before the wedding. What had once been a bright future together is now a future of uncertainty to say the least. There will be the unplanned pregnancy, the birth at the world’s most inconvenient time, the flight to Egypt to save Jesus life, and the return, eventually, to Bethlehem, no better make it Nazareth instead. All of this in the first couple of months or perhaps the first year. Jesus came quietly into the world, but not quietly into the lives of Joseph and Mary.
Mary would forever be called the mother of God. Scripture itself says she is blessed. Joseph is the upright one who stepped aside, as it were, from his bride and let her be the one through whom Jesus would be born. After that birth, he would quietly act as father to Jesus. The three knew. But it wasn’t the sort of secret you tell even close relatives. He piously watched over Jesus, conveying his mother safely to Bethlehem, and then Jesus to Egypt, Nazareth, and into adulthood. Joseph was the one who provided money for the family to survive. And then he disappears. We have no mention of him after Jesus is twelve. Tradition says he died at some point before the ministry of Jesus. Events in scripture would seem to support this conclusion, and no other ideas have ever really been offered. We don’t know that much about him. Only that he was a just man.
And in that he is the model for all earthly fathers. As we sang “our Father by whose name, all fatherhood is known.” God didn’t just randomly pick the title Father in the new testament, as if to say, “Hey, this kind of fits the sort of person I am. Let’s just use that.” God created fatherhood back in the Garden of Eden, when he made Adam husband, and gave to him a wife, and said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth.” And he created family to be a type of the relationship he has with his people. That’s why, when Jesus gives us the name of the holy Trinity, he says, “Father, Son and Holy Spirit”. And It’s why the prayer that the Christian prays begins “Our Father, who art in heaven.” God is our true Father, and we are his true children. What does this mean? It means that earthly fathers are a reflection of our true father in heaven, not the other way around. Now, earthly fathers are a dim reflection at best. There is not one who is perfect. No one raises their children without sinning, without making mistakes. And in this sinful world, there are those fathers who abuse their authority as father, and hurt their children. This reflects badly on the true Father, our heavenly Father, who always acts in love. It’s not a perfect system. Not because God created it badly, but because we live in a sinful world, a sinful world of our own making, and the people that God chooses to serve as fathers are sinful as well. They make mistakes. They even sometimes hurt those entrusted to them. Earthly fathers need forgiveness, too, just like mothers do, children do, just like anyone does. But this is the model God has given us for who he is. Father. Earthly fathers are supposed to point us to our heavenly Father – our true father. As such, they are given the task of providing, protecting, and teaching us about the one who is our true father.
Joseph is the example in scripture without equal. He does as he is asked without complaint, knowing that his fatherhood is only really a guardianship. So for our earthly parents. We are to honor them, because God gave them to us. But they are there in the stead and by the command of our true Father in heaven, to love, nurture, and care for us.
Joseph does this for Jesus. And then he steps aside. In scripture he isn’t heard of again. Probably because he had died. But even had he not, he would have stepped aside for Jesus to be the Son of God and the Savior of the world.
Joseph does have one more job that’s not mentioned very much. He was responsible for naming his son. The angel tells him, you will call him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins. It is Joseph the guardian who makes certain that the name of Jesus is put on the baby.
So also for parents today. They are responsible for making sure that the name of Jesus is put on their children in the waters of Holy baptism. God gives guardianship of the little ones whom he created to their earthly parents, and they are responsible to raise children in the fear and love of the Lord. This begins with the name of Jesus being put on them, not with circumcision, as it was for Jesus, but in Holy Baptism.
In Holy Baptism, parents say, “I may be the parent of this child, but God is the true Father for this child, just as He is for me. And now I give over this child to God, even as I continue as this child’s guardian.” The pagans give children to their gods with child sacrifices. We do it by naming them with God’s name: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. They are now children of their heavenly Father. The one through whom all true fatherhood is known. The one through whom all true sonship is known.
For in that water we are taken out of this world, even while still in this world. We are joined to Christ, who intercedes for the Father on our behalf, who died for the sins of the world, even for the sins of his earthly father who, we are told, was a just and righteous man. Jesus died for all the sins. Even yours.
And now Jesus gives the forgiveness he won to you. He marks you with his name, with his sign – the cross. Redeemed by Christ the crucified, you are now adopted as a child of God. No longer a stranger, but family. True family, that transcends the bonds of blood in this world. It is based on the bond of the blood shed by the Son of God for your salvation. And now Christ is your brother, God is your Father, and you are part of the true family.
Those who continue to serve in this world as father, mother, son, daughter, even friend, coworker, or whatever, if done under the name of Jesus, are family with all the faithful, all those who look to Jesus for their salvation, all those who call God, “Father.”
Today we give thanks for Saint Joseph, guardian of our Lord, who points us to Jesus, and to Jesus true Father, who is now also your true Father. Amen.