Today marks the second Sunday of Advent, a time of Christian preparation to celebrate the birth of the Son of God, Jesus the Christ, the Messiah. One thing that is done to prepare to celebrate Jesus’ birth is to add nativity scenes to the church and for many people adding those scenes to their own homes. The nativity scenes always include three figures representing Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. More elaborate scenes will also include shepherds, animals, a stable, the wise men, and an angel or two. The scenes we have available to us today range in size from as small as a walnut to one erected last Christmas in Spain in which the figure of Joseph stood an amazing 60ft high.
The earliest nativity scene found thus far dates to some wall paintings in a catacomb in Italy from about the year 380 AD. But the idea of a nativity scene in a church did not catch on until the year 1223 AD when Saint Francis of Assisi created the first live nativity scene with people and animals. What motivated Saint Francis to create a live nativity? Saint Francis organized the nativity scene because he was trying to get the emphasis of the season focused on the birth of Jesus and away from the material things of life. Apparently, making Jesus the reason for the season was a problem as far back as the 1200’s. For hundreds of years thereafter churches only displayed live nativity scenes. The idea of ceramic and wooden figures came much later.
That is probably more than you wanted to know about nativity scenes. But knowing about the nativity scenes helps us in our preparations in one regard. All nativity scenes focus our attention on three characters: Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. Jesus is at the center. Mary is usually the next most prominent figure often appearing colorfully dressed. Finally, Joseph is present, usually represented as a figure standing with a subdue look on his face and adorned with dull colored clothing.
Last week we learned about the story of Jesus, Joseph, and Mary through Mary’s story, first found in Paul’s letter to the Galatians and then found in Matthew’s Gospel. We learned through Mary that God sent Jesus, God’s Son, to Mary that through Jesus’ birth, life, death, and resurrection we all could be adopted as God’s children. In that adoption, God would send the Spirit of His Son to live within our hearts, a Spirit that would teach us to call back to God saying, “Abba, Father,” just as Jesus did. We learned through Mary’s story that Mary became pregnant through the Holy Spirit, the author of life. The same Spirit that gives us life.
This week we will look at the story of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, through Joseph’s story and in doing so see what God revealed about himself. In looking at Joseph, the first thing we would come to understand is that to many wives, Joseph is ideal husband. Why so? Because in all of Scripture, Joseph never speaks a word. Joseph was comfortable letting his wife do the talking. And so, we only know about Joseph only through his deeds and through Joseph’s dreams and visions.
The first story of Joseph, or in Hebrew, Yosef, comes from the Gospel of Matthew. In Chapter 1 of the Gospel of Matthew we would read, “18 This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit. 19 Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly” (Matthew 1:18-19).
Joseph learned some shocking news. Mary, his bride to be, was not the woman Joseph thought she was. Joseph and Mary were to be married but before the formal wedding ceremony had taken place, Mary became pregnant. We wonder, Joseph did you know when Mary became pregnant it was as Matthew said, “through the Holy Spirit?” Joseph, did Mary tell you this or did you not know? Whether Joseph knew of the role of the Holy Spirit or did not believe the Holy Spirit was involved in Mary’s pregnancy, Joseph knew he was not the father of the baby developing within Mary.
Joseph must have wondered, “Was Mary pregnant when we became engaged or did Mary become pregnant after we were engaged?” If Mary became pregnant before the engagement, Joseph must have thought Mary was a deceptive person? If Mary became pregnant after the engagement, Joseph must have thought Mary was an unfaithful person? Either deceptive or unfaithful, Mary was not the person Joseph believed her to be and not the person Joseph wanted to be with. Mary, in Joseph’s eyes, was corrupt.
Matthew said of Joseph that he was faithful to the law, to the law Moses set down to govern the people of Israel. Under that law, there was no room for corrupt marriages. Joseph thought his engagement with Mary must end. This was in Joseph’s mind the just thing to do. But Joseph was not interested in solely in justice. Matthew also said of Joseph that Joseph did not want to publicly disgrace Mary. Joseph’s nature then was to temper justice with compassion. Even in Joseph’s confusion and disappointment in the news of Mary’s pregnancy, Joseph displayed God character of justice, compassion, and mercy.
God was merciful to the Ninevites who repented at the preaching of Jonah. Even the Ninevites could see that God was “a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity” (Jonah 4:2). David said God is “gracious and merciful; Slow to anger and great in loving-kindness. The LORD is good to all, and His mercies are over all His works” (Psalm 145:8-9). Joseph was trying to be just and merciful toward Mary.
We see from Matthew’s account of Jesus’ birth that Joseph did not act impulsively toward Mary. Joseph pondered in his mind and heart how to be faithful and just under the law and how to be compassionate and merciful to Mary. As Joseph slept on these matters and opened himself to God for wisdom and counsel. Matthew’s account of Joseph’s story gives us insight into God’s desire for us. God does not want us to act impulsively or out of anger. God desires that we would consider what is the right next step to take when confronted with disappoint and hurt. God desires that we would want to temper our rights with forgiveness and compassion. Most of all, God desires that we would do as Joseph did and seek God’s wisdom.
We need God’s wisdom, especially when we are facing emotionally charged decisions. In the New Testament Book of James, we would read about wisdom. James wrote, “13 Who is wise and understanding among you? Let them show it by their good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom. 14 But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. 15 Such “wisdom” does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. 16 For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice. 17 But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. 18 Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness” (James 3:13-18). The words from James emphasize “deeds done in humility that comes from wisdom,” that does not come from “envy and selfish ambition,” but “comes from heaven.” These are the characteristics that we see in Joseph. Joseph was seeking God’s wisdom as he decided what to do next with the news of Mary’s pregnancy. And not to get too far ahead of ourselves but Joseph’s conduct in this circumstance was likely the way Joseph was in general. We can surmise this to be true because the James who wrote those words was the young brother of Jesus, a naturally conceived son of Joseph and Mary.
Joseph in seeking the wisdom from above, received the visitation of an angel of the Lord who said to Joseph, “20b ‘Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:20b-21). Joseph had received wisdom from God “that is pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere” (James 3:17). God’s wisdom put Joseph’s mind to rest, Mary was not deceitful, unfaithful, or corrupt. Mary was pure, submissive to God, and sincere. Mary had found favor with God. The child was conceived by the giver of life, the Holy Spirit, and that Joseph was to accept the child and treat the child as his own.
In fact, when the time came Joseph was to give the child the name, Yeshua, Jesus. In Jesus’ day, naming a child was done in a way to connect the child’s name to the root word from which that name was derived. Jesus, Yeshua, is derived from the Hebrew word, יָשַׁע, yaw-shah', which means to save or to deliver. In this early Christmas story, God revealed first to Joseph that this child would be a savior.
Matthew wrote that, “24 When Joseph woke up, he (Joseph) did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. 25 But he (Joseph) did not consummate their marriage until she (Mary) gave birth to a son. And he (Joseph) gave him the name Jesus” (Matthew 1:24-25). Joseph, through his deeds, followed God’s will not and took Mary to be his wife. In doing so, Joseph revealed that he was just, merciful, peace loving, faithful, and obedient to God’s word. Joseph, through his deeds, was not ashamed of the baby and willingly named the child Yeshua bar Yosef, Jesus son of Joseph, knowing that the Holy Spirit had brought forth a savior.
Joseph was setting the example God desired for each one of us. If we desire to be wise and understanding, we too must show it by living a good life with deeds in humility that comes from wisdom from above. We must be as Joseph, letting go of bitter envy and selfish ambition. Instead, we must seek and follow wisdom that comes from heaven that is pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy, able to bear good fruit, impartial and sincere. We must not be ashamed of Jesus but accept him as Joseph did, as savior. Jesus would later say, “If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels” (Mark 8:38).
Joseph was never ashamed of Jesus. Instead, Joseph served as guardian of Jesus. Joseph would move his family to Egypt to avoid the plans of king Herod to murder Jesus. Joseph would move his family back to Israel and again avoiding dangers of its rulers. Joseph would bring his family to the Temple in Jerusalem to fulfill by deed all acts of righteousness for his own son, Jesus. Joseph would teach his son, Jesus, the trade of being a carpenter. Joseph lived his life never ashamed of his savior, always willing to call him Yeshua bar Yosef, Jesus son of Joseph.
When Jesus reached the age of 30, the age when men would be recognized as a rabbi, a teacher, Jesus began his public ministry to reveal that he was not just Joseph’s savior, but the savior of the world. About the same time, Joseph life in the Scriptures came to close. The time had come for Jesus to speak fully and plainly that his father was God in heaven, sent to bring the good news of salvation to all had ears to hear and eyes to see. For some three years, Jesus spoke of the kingdom of God, about salvation through the forgiveness of sins, about the hope, joy, faith, and life.
And when the time was right, Jesus prayed to his father in heaven with the power of the Holy Spirit, “Abba, Father, not my will but yours.” Jesus faced the dilemma as Joseph had faced, who’s will to follow. Shall I follow my will, or shall I follow God’s will? Joseph prayed and followed God’s will, taking Mary home to be his wife and bearing the Son of God, the savior. Jesus prayed and followed God’s will, taking up the cross and be the savior of all.
In a few moments, we will take up the bread and the cup. Provisions that Joseph would have given to his son Jesus as a sign of love and given to strengthen and nourish Jesus’ body. Joseph, did you know, that Jesu would later take those simple provisions of bread and juice and change them into powerful symbols of his body and blood, signs of love to bring salvation to all who would follow him? Joseph did you know that the love you shared with Jesus would be multiplied in Jesus hands to a love for the world?
Let us be as Joseph, dedicated to seeking God’s wisdom, showing ourselves through deeds done in humility, and let us not be ashamed of Jesus, our savior. Let us pray.