Dec24SunPastor Sebastian's first Christmas Eve sermon December 24, 2017 Pastor Sebastian
Our Gospel reading from Luke about the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem is perhaps the most famous and most popular Christian story.
We hear it year in, year out on Christmas Eve.
Sunday School Pageants retell the story of how God so loved the world,
that God came to earth, and was born a human child, just like any of us,
and we gather together on a cold winter’s night to remember,
to celebrate and to ponder this wonderful birth, this Word made flesh.
This evening I’d like to spend some time on one of the minor characters
in this story,
someone who often gets overlooked.
Joseph, the (often-forgotten) human father of Jesus.
I invite you to look up at our magnificent ceiling here at St. Matthews.
Up on your far right is a Nativity Scene,
but poor Joseph is missing
he’s not even there.
You’ll see the three wise men, and of course Mary and Jesus,
but no Joseph!
Even on the stained glass window behind the altar,
on the top left, you get a picture of Mary carrying baby Jesus, but again,
Where’s Joseph? (he’s the forgotten parent..)
There is one picture of Joseph, however, if you look a little further back on the ceiling,
it’s a scene with Mary and Joseph and the 12-year-old Jesus, the rebellious son,
who is rejecting his father’s trade as carpenter, and day-labourer.
Jesus is pursuing his path of “doing God’s will” and preaching, teaching, and healing.
“I must be in my father’s house” he says in the Gospel of Luke.
In this painting he is rejecting his human father, Joseph,
to choose his divine father.
That must have hurt!
rejected by his son, left out of nativity scenes,
forgotten, always playing second fiddle to his too-good-to-be-true wife.
Not really needed…
(he’s like that uncomfortable uncle that people would rather not talk about,
as long you don’t mention him, there won’t be problems.)
Who is Joseph, father to Jesus?
We don’t know a lot about Joseph,
but we can read between the lines from the little that we do know about him,
mostly from the first chapters in the Gospel of Matthew.
He was a pious Israelite, he was faithful,
he observed the Jewish laws and feasts.
He was a kind man.
Joseph was summoned to Bethlehem (his ancestral town) for the imperial census.
He could have left Mary, to whom he was engaged, in Nazareth,
instead of bringing her on the difficult and strenuous journey to Bethlehem.
But if he had left her there, in Nazareth, she probably would have had an even harder time,
as an unwed pregnant teenage girl, she would have been slandered by her neighbours, shunned.
Who would have taken care of her there?
Instead Joseph took Mary along to Bethlehem, treating her kindly in her time of need;
it wasn’t an ideal situation, but it was better than leaving her at home.
One could say kind Joseph was well deserving of the the title “father”.
Joseph played a large role in the life of his son while Jesus
was a young child,
through the flight to Egypt and then the move back to Nazareth,
but Joseph doesn’t appear after the trip to Jerusalem when Jesus was 12,
so one could assume he died some time later…he is never again mentioned in the Bible.
…and that’s about all we know about Joseph from the Bible…
How is Joseph depicted in art?
The first picture of Joseph occur relatively late, only in the 6th century,
he’s often wearing a cone-shaped hat as a representative of the Old Testament.
In the late Middle Ages, Joseph starts to get more attention;
when he’s painted, he’s often in the process of making a fire,
or preparing a bath.
He’s shown as a practical, helpful man.
Often he’s depicted without shoes,
which brings to mind Moses removing his shoes at the burning bush
out of respect for the divinity.
The most interesting depiction of Joseph was to show him
in the process of removing his pants,
or already having removed his pants,
or lower body garments,
to use as swaddling clothes for his son.
Joseph is thus half-naked,
he is present, just as he is, encountering Jesus (the mystery of incarnation),
with nothing to hide.
This image of a pant-less Joseph maybe reminds us of the expression:
“who’s wearing the pants in that relationship?”
meaning: who is the dominant partner?
Joseph gives up the dominant role,
takes a step into the background in the role of father.
(He gives up his patriarchal role, to only gaze in wonder.)
Necessity is the mother of invention:
Mary and Joseph are poor, and they need something to wrap Jesus in to keep him warm,
so the pants being sort of undergarment (Joseph kept his over-garment on),
they were optional, and could be dispensed with for the time being.
They don’t have (all the) proper baby conveniences and necessities,
but Joseph wraps him in what he has
He gives what he can to help his vulnerable son.
This image encourages us to wrap the Christ-child in what we have,
remembering that what we have is good enough.
If you give the best you have to Jesus, that is good enough!
So I’d like to present you with Joseph as a good role model.
Joseph is someone who is awake and present,
he knows his way, gives, plans, thinks.
4 times he receives angelic messages
and 4 times he follows the angel’s advice.
He doesn’t speak at all in the Bible,
he’s a silent character, but he listens and acts!!
(actually I kind of identify with him)…
he does the right thing with Mary after being convinced by the angel
he listens to God
he helps those in need
he’s someone who is poor in spirit
he’s no miracle-worker, not a superhero, just an average joe doing his best,
caught in a system beyond his control
he’s a realistic role model
someone we can identify with.
6. So if Joseph is a role model for us,
are we willing to follow our dreams, and listen to divine promptings?
be attentive, and alert, to what God has to say to us?
In what ways can we protect the mother and child:
vulnerable people, refugees,
give shelter to the homeless,
do the right thing to help those in need?
In what ways can we set aside our egos, our needs, our busyness,
and just gaze in wonder at the helpless baby,
this God in human form?
If we put ourselves into the background,
then there is more room in our hearts for
Emmanuel, God with us.
If we take time to listen,
then there is space for us to hear God who knows us and loves us.
Because Christmas isn’t about us,
it’s about the Good news: that to us is born this day a Saviour,
who is Christ the Lord.
and all the other witnesses,
who bowed their knees in awe at the Child,
we say: Thanks be to God. Amen.