Sunday, December 22, 2013

Joseph enacts God's plan

Matthew 1:18-25, Advent 4 A, December 22, 2013

Grace and peace be unto you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Amen.

When I was 23, I adopted my dog Kavod. This was when I was serving as an intern at Lakeside Lutheran in North Carolina. Kavod and I quickly learned to love and trust each other, but we started off on rocky ground. I certainly have loved dogs all my life, but I had never been the sole caretaker of a pet before.

When I was ready to adopt, I drove out of the countryside to visit the pet store where all the foster dogs were being shown. I was quite nervous. I didn’t know what would happen, even though I was determined to come home with a dog.

Thankfully, the adoption process was fairly smooth. I liked the feist named Jenny, although the foster mom’s southern twang made her name sound like “Ginny.” The pup was just about as nervous as I was. She was quite confused as well. On our hour and a half long drive back to my apartment, the tension was thick. She was my dog now, and the accident that she made in the car was now mine to clean up.

I gave her food just like her foster mom told me to, a mixture of dry and wet food, but my little one would not eat. When I finally gave up, I sat on the couch. My Kavod sat at the other end of the couch, as far from me as she could be. She was very unsure who I was and why she wasn’t with her foster mom. I asked myself, 

“What have I done? 
"Can I really be responsible for this little one?”

These questions continue to ring in my head from time to time, although very rarely now. Kavod now cuddles as close as she can when we are on the couch. This is one of the many ways that she shows her love for me. 

I am no longer insecure about my role as pet owner, yet I wonder, was Joseph ever so afraid of being a father? Did he ever feel insecure? Did his role as adopted father change how he treated Jesus?

Although we know very little about Joseph, today’s gospel sheds some light. His story begins at his engagement. Joseph is a distant relation to King David, but in those days that didn’t mean much. His father Jacob arranged for him to wed a young woman named Mary. When their fathers finalized the engagement, the marriage was legal.

Joseph and Mary did not live together during their engagement, and they certainly didn’t have sex, yet they were in a legally binding relationship. Their yearlong engagement gave their families time to prepare for their life together. When their families were ready, then they would have the wedding ceremony, move into their new home, and begin their life together.

During this time of being legally but not literally married, Mary had a visit from the Holy Spirit that left her pregnant. I wonder what that conversation might have sounded like. Mary could have said, “Joseph, I have some news for you. You may want to sit down. I saw a vision today. I believe that an angel appeared to me, sharing word that I would have a son. Joseph, I am pregnant. The Holy Spirit impregnated me.”

How would Joseph have reacted? Would he have looked at his betrothed and said, 

“What have you done? 
Are you ready to be responsible for a little one?” 

Joseph could have made a scene, but he chose not to. He had the legal right to leave her – alone and pregnant. But he didn’t. Joseph was a righteous man. He did not feel comfortable staying with her, but he didn’t want to embarrass her either. So he planned to quietly annul their marriage.

Before Joseph could act on his plan, an angel of the Lord appeared to him. This angel would not let Joseph change God’s plans, and he encouraged Joseph to continue his marriage to Mary. The angel said, “Joseph, you are the descendant of King David, the greatest king to ever rule over Israel.

“Do not be afraid to keep Mary as your wife, because she has not committed adultery. The Spirit of the Lord has descended upon her, causing her to be with child. She will bear this son to full term. You will name him Jesus, and as his name implies, God will work through him to save all people from their uncontrollable disobedience to God.

“In your time at the Temple, you have heard the prophet Isaiah proclaim in scripture, ‘Look, the young woman is with child, and shall bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel’ which means ‘God with us.’” Having shared his message, the angel left Joseph.

Joseph awoke from his vision. I wonder if he asked himself, 

“What has God done? 
Can God really be responsible for this little one?” 

After processing all that the angel had said, Joseph decided to go ahead with it all – with the marriage, with raising this little boy, with following God’s plan.

Joseph arranged to hold the wedding ceremony ahead of schedule – before Mary was visibly pregnant. They lived together as Mary’s belly grew bigger and bigger. They were in Bethlehem when Mary’s time came to give birth.

Joseph held this little baby and looked lovingly into his child’s eyes. He named him Jesus just as the angel told him to do. In that moment, in that calm before the storm of being father to an infant, Joseph proclaimed to any who would hear, “I finally understand all that God has done. I am ready to be responsible for this precious little one.”

Raising a child, like handling any responsibility, comes with times of confidence and times of insecurity. In scripture, we see that Joseph was insecure about remaining with Mary. I doubt that any first time father truly knows what he is doing, yet he makes it work.

On the other hand, I think that God always knew what the plan was. God knew exactly what He was doing when God sent Jesus to live among us. Even as a small, innocent child, Jesus was and is our Savior. Jesus is Emmanuel, God with us. Jesus is ever present in our lives, bearing us through the best and worst that we experience.

By living on this earth, by experiencing what it means to be a human, Jesus is our greatest advocate in heaven. We have new, eternal life in him because he came to earth to be among us. This Jesus is the greatest gift that God has ever given to us. In Jesus, God says to us, 
“I have done this for you all. 
I am responsible for the little one in the cattle stall.” 


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