Cruce Tectum

Cruce tectum, hidden under the cross, a blog for Epiphany Lutheran Church, Dorr, Michigan

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Location: Moscow, Idaho

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Advent Mid-Week 1

Advent Mid-Week 1
December 5, 2007
Text: Matthew 1:18-25, 2:13-15

Very little is known of St. Joseph, foster-father of our Lord Jesus Christ. We know he was a carpenter living in Nazareth, betrothed to the Virgin Mary, with family ties to Bethlehem, being from the house and line of David. So it was to Bethlehem of Judea that he had to take his wife, Mary, when she was so close to giving birth to the Savior. They had to go to be registered and taxed. And of course, we know the rest of the story. There was no room for them in the inn. Thus Joseph found accommodations for them in a stable, where Mary gave birth among the animals and laid Jesus in a manger, and where the shepherds found and worshiped the Son of God made flesh.

We don’t know much about Joseph, so how should we regard him? The Scriptures call Joseph a “just,” or a “righteous” man (Matt. 1:19). This means that Joseph was a morally upstanding and devout Jewish believer who was waiting in expectation for the promised Messiah. As with all the Old Testament saints, he was looking forward in faith for the Messiah to deliver him from his sins. Oh yes, Joseph was a sinner. That he is called “just” does not change that. For his justification is given to him as a gift from God, received by faith in the Christ who was to come. Little did Joseph know, however, how close his salvation was. It was at hand. The Messiah in whom he trusted for salvation was en-fleshed as a fetus in the womb of Joseph’s beloved Mary.

Joseph was a righteous man, righteous before God by faith and righteous before men by his outward keeping of the commandments. That is how we should regard him: as a saint. He is a saint made holy by God. Lutherans retain saints’ days and the honor of saints, and for good reason. This is what our Augsburg Confession says about the saints: “It is also taught among us that saints should be kept in remembrance so that our faith may be strengthened when we see what grace they received and how they were sustained by faith. Moreover, their good works are to be an example for us, each of us in his own calling” (AC XXI:1; Tappert, p. 46). Such is the case with St. Joseph. Our faith is strengthened when we see what grace he received and how he was sustained by faith. And his good works serve as an example to us. We should not pray to Joseph or to any of the saints. But we should praise God for them and regard them as worthy of our honor.

Joseph was given the grace of being foster-father of our Lord Jesus Christ. He was not Jesus’ physical father. God was Jesus’ Father, and Mary His virgin mother. But Joseph was faithful in his vocation as the legal father of Jesus, serving as an example to us, that we should be faithful in the vocations in which God has placed us. Joseph was faithful in the midst of unimaginably difficult circumstances. His fiancée shows up pregnant and he knows the child isn’t his. And to top it all off, the girl claims God is the Father? Come on! Being a righteous man, Joseph sought to put her away quietly. He didn’t want to bring any more shame on the girl than was necessary. But the break was serious business, for the commitment in an engagement was just as binding as marriage in the ancient world (as in fact it should be today).

But then “an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, ‘Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins” (Matt. 1:20-21). And here is the primary way that Joseph serves as an example for us to emulate in the Church: He believed the Word of the Lord. “When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife” (v. 24). He not only believed and obeyed the Word of the Lord, he also fulfilled his Eighth Commandment duty by defending the honor and reputation of Mary, claiming the girl as his wife and the child in her womb as his own. Not that he claimed to have conceived Jesus. With regard to his wife, he “knew her not until she had given birth to a son” (v. 25). Far be it from Joseph to deny the Word of the Lord that this child was conceived of the Holy Spirit. While the rest of the neighbors undoubtedly laughed at the thought of a divine conception and a virgin birth (just as the whole world does today), Joseph confirmed Mary’s story. He defended her, spoke well of her, and explained everything in the kindest way, and this in accord with the truth of God, just as we should do for our neighbors today. And of course, he followed the angel’s instructions to the letter. When the child was born, he, Joseph… not Mary, but Joseph, “called his name Jesus.”

The few other places we hear about Joseph, we see him once again believing and obeying the Word of the Lord. He presents Jesus at the temple and makes the customary sacrifices to redeem his firstborn and for the purification of mother and child according to the Law of Moses (Luke 2:22-24). He takes the Child and his mother to Egypt in obedience to the Word of the Lord, to save the Child from Herod’s murderous intentions, and likewise returns to Nazareth at the instruction of the Lord (Matt. 2:13-23). He takes his family on the customary pilgrimage to the temple in Jerusalem at the Passover, and when the 12 year old Jesus goes missing, even though Joseph should have known Jesus would be about His Heavenly Father’s business, as a faithful dad, Joseph worries, and seeks and finds his boy (Luke 2:41-51). Joseph believes the Word of the Lord, and is an example of faithfulness for us in our Christian life and vocation.

But even so is he an instrument of God’s grace for us. For in serving as Jesus’ legal father, Joseph passes on the birthright of the lineage of King David to his foster Son. This was to fulfill the Scriptures. The Messiah had to come from the house and line of David. As Joseph’s legal Son, Jesus receives the royal inheritance of His forefather David. That means Jesus is King of the Jews. That means Jesus is your King and mine. He is the Son of David come to save His people from their sins. He is the descendent of David whose throne is everlasting. He is the King who dies for His people, for their redemption, and is raised again for their justification.

We don’t know much about Joseph’s life, and know even less about his death, except to say that he was probably dead by the time of Jesus’ public ministry. But Joseph would not have us direct our attention toward himself. He would rather point us to his beloved foster-Son and Savior, Jesus Christ. He would point out God’s grace in sending Jesus to himself and to Mary. And he would point out God’s abundant grace in sending Jesus to you and to me to be our Savior and King. In this Advent Season we consider the Holy Family. But the focal point is always Jesus. For it is not Joseph, not Mary, not any one of the saints, but Jesus only who saves us from our sins and makes peace for us with the Heavenly Father. And it is Jesus only who sustains us in the one true faith by His blessed Word and holy Sacraments. To God alone be all the glory. “(T)o him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen” (Jude 24-25). In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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