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Christmas Eve, Thursday, December 24, 2015

Today’s Reading | Matthew 1:18–25

Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly. But just when he had resolved to do this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “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.” All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet: “Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel,” which means, “God is with us.” When Joseph awoke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took her as his wife, but had no marital relations with her until she had borne a son; and he named him Jesus. (NRSV)

Ann Weems has a fantastic poem about Joseph, “Getting to the Front of the Stable,” which begins this way:

Who put Joseph in the back of the stable? Who dressed him in brown, put a staff in his hand, and told him to stand at the back of the crèche, background for the magnificent light of the Madonna?

When I stop and think about each of the nativity sets with which I played as a child, I don’t remember much about the way Joseph looked. He was more a part of the scenery than the action.

But my childhood play does a disservice to the way God uses Joseph in Jesus’ birth story. Joseph is not a passive observer to the scene. Joseph is a prime actor, choosing how to interpret his own ancient texts and letting those decisions guide his behavior with Mary. Since Mary was pregnant and they were not yet married, Joseph could have chosen for her to be put to death or for her to be shamed by a public divorce. Yet Joseph chose neither of those scriptural options. Rather, before the dream, Joseph planned on quietly letting her go, but he takes his faithfulness a step deeper after the dream. Through his actions, he, like Mary, says “Here am I, a servant of your will.” He says “Yes” to God. If Mary is the first disciple, then Joseph is the second one. They both exhibit extreme courage in the face of mystery.

This Christmas, let us give thanks to God for this man of incredible faith into whose care God placed the Christ Child. As a gesture of gratitude, let’s put Joseph in the front of the stable where he can guard and greet and cast an occasional glance at this Child who brought us life. (Ann Weems)

Loving God, I thank you for Joseph’s courage. I thank you for his willingness to trust you with not only his life, but with the life of his newly forming family. Give to me that kind of deep trust and courage. Help me to say yes to you and to your hope for me. I pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Written by Shannon J. Kershner, Pastor

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