Pastor Jim Kniseley presented this sermon on Christmas Eve 2016 at St. Jacob’s Spaders and Trinity Lutheran Churches. The gospel reading is Luke is Luke 2:1-20.
Dear Friends in Christ,
Tonight we thank God for Joseph, the man chosen by God to guide Jesus in the early years of his life. You and I might know as much about Joseph as we do about Mary, and that lack of knowledge is part of the Christmas Story. Joseph was a man destined to play “second fiddle” to both his wife and his son. It was made clear to him from the beginning that he is not the natural father. God is. It was made clear to him that Mary is the chosen instrument of birth, and Joseph’s role is to help her through the pregnancy and then help her raise Jesus.
We can only marvel that Joseph was willing to do this and that Joseph really believed that Jesus was destined to be the Messiah foretold by the prophets.
The Roman Catholic Church calls Josepha “Guardian of our Lord”. That’s a wonderful term for being a step-dad. They speak of him as an unsung hero and a silent saint.
We really don’t know that much about Joseph. Just two books of the bible talk about him: Matthew and Luke. These two books don’t agree on all the facts about Joseph. Luke says he was living in Nazareth before he was betrothed to Mary and that the angel Gabriel spoke to him in Nazareth. Matthew, on the other hand, implies that Luke was a resident of Bethlehem and was temporarily displaced hoping to return to Bethlehem, but changed his mind when Herod’s son was placed in charge of the area that included Bethlehem.
There are certain facts about the first Christmas that some folks might bet their lives are true. Don’t bet!
*What is Joseph’s work? A carpenter? All of the tradition of Joseph and Jesus being
Carpenters hinges on one question asked when Jesus in his adulthood preaches at Nazareth. The question was, “Is this not the carpenter’s son?” The Greek word that we translate as carpenter could be translated “artisan” or “stonemason”, and so the carpenter’s trade is just a wise guess.
*How did Mary travel to Bethlehem? On a donkey you say? Perhaps. But the bible doesn’t say so. It is a legend!
*Was Joseph an old man betrothed to a young teenager named Mary? This is not stated in scripture. The tradition of Joseph being an old man began in the 2nd century in a gospel attributed to James the Less. The 5th century “History of Joseph the Carpenter” says Joseph was widowed at age 89 and Mary became his ward when he was 91. The Roman Church has been so concerned over the years to make sure that Joseph in no way could have been the natural father of Jesus…
The message I share on this Christmas Eve 2016 comes out of good Lutheran tradition. Martin Luther often took one or more of the characters of the Christmas Story and delved into what they were thinking. Luther preached Advent and Christmas message for 30 years and he was not afraid to let his mind soar when considering the Christmas story. You and I have to be careful in not always taking Luther literally in some of his speculations. For instance, he must have been playing with his congregation when he suggests that the reasons the Wise Men took so long in getting to Jesus was that God turned the star on and off to encourage or discipline the Wise Men!
On the other hand, Luther was very serious when he says that he does not question if God could make a star to point the way. The real important question, says Luther, is why would the God of the Universe care enough to do so for mortals?
We too ask: why would God humble himself to lie in the feedbox of a donkey and to then hang on a cross?
Joseph is like us in so many ways. He is not perfect, but God uses him. In the genealogies of Jesus that both Matthew and Luke present, we learn that the Holy Family has some rascals and scoundrels in their family tree. But God uses this family anyway.
When Joseph learned that Mary was pregnant and he knew that he was not the father, he could have followed the letter of the Hebrew law, denounced her and she would have been stoned to death. He thought rather to divorce her quietly and only changed his mind when the angel Gabriel came to him. Just think, Mary the mother of Jesus, was at first judged by her own husband as a loose woman…
When Gabriel appeared, Joseph had nothing to go on, save the Word of God, and he accepted it. We believe that a less than God-fearing man would have said it was just a dream.
This night, the eve of our Lord’s birth in Bethlehem, I invite you to simply believe that a miracle took place in the birth of the infant Jesus. To try and explain it too closely takes away the awe and holiness of it. It is totally, entirely, completely, and absolutely the work of God. The Child is a gift of God’s grace. We believe that a new spirit was released into the world with the birth of Jesus. For that we are eternally grateful.
Happy Birthday, Lord Jesus, and welcome to our world. Amen!