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Let's Hear It For Joseph!
December 24, 1992

Take a look at the bulletin cover. You see a drawing of the Holy Family. Who is almost not there? A shadowy, half figure? As usual, Joseph is short changed. In typical Christmas pageants, Joseph is the one who stands there. The wise men bow and present gifts. The shepherds come with their sheep and gaze. Mary holds the baby. Angels sing. But, Joseph stands there.

I'm curious. Has anyone here ever seen a painting where Joseph holds the baby? In the spirit of research, yesterday I picked up a book of Christmas stories, poems and songs. There were none about Joseph; in fact, Joseph was never once mentioned in the entire book. I read through the carols in our relatively new, highly acclaimed United Methodist Hymnal. There are none about Joseph, and Joseph is mentioned in only one carol as the one to whom Mary was betrothed. The Handbell Ensemble just rang the only carol I know where Joseph is acknowledged.

Our Nativity Live last weekend, and at the 6:00 service this evening, was a welcome change. Joseph was portrayed as a real human being. He escorted Mary, solicitously helped her get settled in the manger, greeted the shepherds and wise men, and held the baby!

This evening, let's hear it for Joseph. Joseph opened his heart and spirit, his home and his whole future, to the intrusion of the divine. Intrusion might not be a strong enough word; it was more like an invasion of the divine. What would you men have done if you discovered your fiance was pregnant with someone else's baby? And, on top of that, be told that the father of the baby was the Holy Spirit! According to Matthew's account of the Christmas story, Joseph was a righteous man who did not want to expose Mary to public disgrace, so he planned to dismiss her quietly.

But, then the Lord spoke to Joseph. An angel appeared to him in a dream, "Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins." Matthew begins his book with Joseph's family tree, tracing his ancestors back to King David, making the point that Jesus, the Messiah, is of the house of David.

Into Joseph's nicely planned life came an unexpected and upsetting intrusion of the Holy Spirit. The whole miracle of Christmas momentarily rested on Joseph's shoulders, awaiting his freely chosen decision to either accept or reject the stunning news of an impending Messiah--and the shocking way in which this salvation would enter the world. It was one thing to read and venerate the prophets and their words. It was quite another to have one's own fiance suddenly become the chosen virgin mother! What would have happened if Joseph had reacted, "No way, man, I'm outta here!"

But, Joseph's reaction was one of complete openness, confidence and acceptance. Joseph practiced the ultimate in hospitality. He welcomed Mary into his family. He gave Mary and Jesus his name. When he traveled to Bethlehem for the ordered census, he took Mary along. She was his family now. She was accepted without any reservations or revenge. The baby Jesus became Joseph's child and responsibility. Joseph must have been a good father; look how well Jesus turned out!

Let's hear it for Joseph who listened to God, and did what was asked of him. Joseph trusted God, accepted God's task, risked public humiliation and ridicule, took upon himself the responsibility of rearing the Messiah, and with Mary, gave Jesus younger brothers and sisters.

What is God asking you this evening? Has God or an angel been talking to you? What are your dreams urging you to do? What risk is God asking you to take that Christ may be glorified, people may be helped, the world made better, justice be served, peace and joy spread?

The essence of the Christmas event is that God came in flesh, incarnate in the baby Jesus to save the world. The good news of Christmas is that Christ was born for you, to reveal to you how much God loves you and wants you in the family. You are a child of God. God calls you to receive his love and acceptance, and live as one of his people, doing his work on this earth.

What is God asking you? What risk is God asking you to take? Let me share a Christmas card I received a few days ago. "Dear Doug, I spoke to my long lost son Friday night!" About three years ago on a weekend Walk to Emmaus, which is a spiritual renewal experience, a woman shared her struggle with me. She couldn't accept the grace of God because she was bad, filled with guilt and fear. She was happily married with young adult children, but had another son her family did not know about. She had been an unwed teenage mother, and had given up the baby for adoption. She was filled with guilt and shame, but grieved for her baby.

I'm not usually so direct, but in this case it felt right to say to her, "Tell your family, find your son, and tell him you love him!" Be honest, be open. She was relieved, but worried about the risk she was taking, the risk of telling her family and losing their respect, the risk of finding her son and being rejected, the risk of learning about him and perhaps learning that he didn't want to see her, or that he was angry with her.

The next time I saw her, I asked her how she was doing. She replied she had told her husband and children, and they were accepting and loving. The next time I saw her, she told me she had begun proceedings to find her long lost son.

And a few days ago I received her card.

Dear Doug,

I spoke to my long lost son Friday night!

It was truly a victory for hope and faith against fearful odds. A celebration for love: A celebration for your prophetic challenge--"tell your family, find your son and tell him you love him!"..

After I sent a note to him to let him know who I was and where I was I heard nothing. I was determined to wait. I had done my part! Anything more would be intrusion, right? My mind, of course, didn't find peace. I phoned his mother and asked if she would talk to me about her son. What pride and love and humor! I felt better. She said he always felt very badly about being adopted...

Friday, Michael's father phoned, "Call Michael now! Here is his phone number. He is stranded at home because of the storm. Call him! You'll like him. He's traveled throughout the world with me in my UN position. He's a talented playwright and writer. You'll like him."

So I did! With prayer, humility and love. It was beautiful. He had started to pick up the phone several times but couldn't decide where to begin. He thought he'd wait until he was a Pulitzer prize winner and then he could thank me for my genetic contribution!...

My biggest worry when I left Emmaus was that I wouldn't hear or interpret correctly or not respond to God's leading...What a joy it's been to have seen the slow unfolding. I am learning to lean and trust in God.

What is God asking you? What risk is God asking you to take? Let's hear it for Joseph who listened, accepted, and acted. May Joseph's courage be yours.

© 1992 Douglas I. Norris