By Pastor April, Delivered December 19, 2010 Can we give the kids another round of applause?
Thank you to each of you for the work that you put into giving us a visual picture of what happened on Christmas morning. Sometimes we see these prim and proper, perfect nativities, but I tend to think that the real event wasn’t so orderly and neat – it was real and messy and probably a bit chaotic. So, thank you to the kids for helping draw us into the Christmas story this morning.
I want to spend a bit of this morning talking about the back story behind the birth of Jesus – talking about some of the things that had to happen in order to get to this story – and I want to talk about Joseph in order to do this. Mary gets a lot of attention during this season, as she should, but Joseph had a really important part to play and I don’t want us to forget it.
At this time, marriage between a man and a woman was often arranged between two families. The father of a daughter would find her a suitable husband and as early as possible, he would marry her off. The earlier the better, so that you could be sure that the daughter would still be a virgin and not bring any disgrace on the family. The new relationship that Mary’s father would have had with Joseph and his family would have brought him great honor and esteem. So, Mary has been promised to Joseph, they are engaged, but not yet married. That means, during this time, they are probably getting to know each other, but of course with great supervision.
And as they are making plans for this wedding, and this life they were share together, Joseph learns that Mary is pregnant. Now this pregnancy would have come as a huge blow to Joseph and to Mary’s family. It would have been a source of great shame. And so, Joseph’s dismissal of her would have been essential. Even if he really cared for her, it was his obligation to NOT marry her – because of the shame she had brought to her own family and would subsequently bring to him and to his family.
But that’s when the story changes – Joseph has a dream and the dream tells him not only to marry her, but also to claim this son as his own. I think that’s what I like so much about this story of Joseph – his role in the story was a particularly active one. He had to make a choice about how he would respond. Even though he now knew the truth about Mary’s pregnancy, others would not. Their families would not understand. The marriage would be forever marked by some as a marriage of shame.
But he chooses to make Mary his wife, and he chooses to name the son, Jesus. The act of naming a child usually came from the mother. Joseph’s action was a bold way of claiming that this child would be his. He would be this child’s father and claim him as a part of his own family, his own lineage.
It wasn’t enough for him just to accept and believe the angel – Joseph had to take action.
He had to take risky actions, costly actions… the grace of God had done a miracle in his midst but he had to respond accordingly.
The nativity scene is lovely at Christmas time – we love the story of this beautiful baby and the animals and the star and the shepherds, but behind the beautiful picture is a story of great sacrifice and risk… faith in action by the part of Joseph and also by Mary.
God was at work in this story – but God chose to work through the actions of real people willing to take bold and risky steps in their own lives for the sake of what God was doing in the world.
I still think that God works this way – while it is unlikely to be through immaculate conception, God is still birthing new and beautiful things in the world and inviting us to help those things to become real. Inviting us to take action in our lives – to take risks – to move in directions that might really scare us, but in our heart of hearts we know that we are called to.
So, during this Christmas season, I invite you to listen for the voice of that angel, where is God calling you to take action – to go into a new and unfamiliar place, a place that others might not fully understand, but you know to be a place where you are called to go.
Where have you been passively receiving God’s grace and it is time to take action?