The Fatherhood of Joseph

Matthew 1:18-25

Summer Requests – FBC Laurens

June 16, 2013

The term typecasting, as it relates to television or film, refers to actors or actresses who become so defined by particular roles or characters that it becomes hard for anyone to see them or think of them in a different light. For instance, when I say the name Leonard Nimoy, you automatically think of Dr. Spock or when I mention the name Henry Winkler, our minds quickly go to Fonzie. The same is true of Lucille Ball as Lucy Ricardo, Sean Connery as James Bond, Harrison Ford as Indiana Jones, Julie Andrews as Mary Poppins or even Emma Watson as Hermione Granger (in case that last one flew right over your head – Hermione Granger is the lead female in all of the Harry Potter books and movies).

To a certain degree, the church has done the same thing with the figure of Joseph, the earthly father of Jesus. Joseph and his story are by and large relegated to one season of the year – Christmas. And, Joseph as a biblical figure plays one primary supporting role as the husband of Mary as she becomes Jesus’ earthly mother.

One must admit that there is good reason that this has become Joseph’s place in the life of the church. After all, once Jesus leaves adolescence, we never hear from Joseph again. We don’t know if this is because he died before Jesus reached adulthood, if it is because he didn’t do anything noteworthy again, or if it is simply because the gospel writers chose not to focus on him beyond Jesus’ birth.

At the same time, it is a bit unfortunate that we don’t pay Joseph much attention. For, even though his appearance in the gospels is a brief one, his actions and obedience are nonetheless quite powerful. And, the lessons that he offers to us are worthy of our attention and our emulating. In turn, I think focusing on him on Father’s Day, just as we looked at the life of Mary on Mother’s Day, is a good thing for us to do.

This morning, let me mention two key principles that we see in Joseph’s life and let me say out of the gate that both of these principles in my opinion are very important for every dad and man who is here today to affirm and live by as well. At the same time, let me also be clear that these are equally good principles for all of us as people of faith to follow.

So, what do we learn from Joseph? First, Joseph reminds us to always do our best to listen to a higher voice. When Mary became pregnant with Jesus, Joseph was almost certainly bombarded by numerous people giving him their advice and their opinion on what he should do. Almost without question, relatives, friends and neighbors alike must have shared with Joseph their thoughts on the situation and in all likelihood, their opinions were rather similar. Joseph needed to end his relationship with Mary while he still could.

You see, at this time in their relationship, Joseph and Mary were what the scriptures refer to as betrothed. Betrothal in the biblical world was sort of in between being engaged and married. Betrothal was like being engaged in the sense that the couple still lived apart and still had strong separate identities. But, betrothal was also like marriage in that the couple and their relationship had been legally recognized. They were officially and legally connected to each other in a much, much stronger way that one is when merely engaged today. So, one can imagine how troubling Mary’s pregnancy would have been to Joseph and to others.

Being from a small town like Nazareth and likely being from a tight knit family as Joseph was probably from – we can all just imagine what was flowing along the proverbial Nazareth grapevine. “This girl is trouble.” “Can you believe her behavior?” “Why, I am sure Joseph loves her and cares about her, but it is time for him to be done with her.” Further, not only was this likely the primary advice that Joseph received, it was an idea that according to the text itself, he had already chosen to follow through with – he was going to end the relationship with Mary.

But, according to verse 20 and following, Joseph had a dream. In the dream, God told Joseph not to be afraid to continue on with his original plans to take Mary as his wife. She could be trusted. She was faithful to him. And, wonder of wonders, when God spoke, Joseph listened and did what God said. In the midst of all of those competing voices and in the midst of the decision he had already made himself, he chose to set it all aside and to listen instead to the voice of God – that is to say the higher voice in his life.

I have recently been in the process of changing up my exercise routine. For years I have been a walker but for the last month to six weeks I have been trying to include some running in my regimen too. To help make the change, I have been using a device that a number of you have used as well. It is an application for my phone that is a preplanned half hour workout that combines both walking and running. What is handy about the application is that a computerized voice comes through the phone and tells you when to walk and then when to run. What is a bit humorous about all of this is just how obedient I am to that voice. When it says “run”, I immediately run. When the voice says “walk”, I automatically start to slow down and walk. There is no debate and no argument. What the voice says is what I do.

Now, many of us know this same experience from other venues – from the GPS in our cars that tells us when to turn to the authoritative voice of our fathers and mothers. For all of us, there are voices above all other voices – when they speak, we listen. What they ask of us, we try our best to do.

This morning, my question is what does it look like for the voice of God to play this same role in our lives as it appears to have done for Joseph? What would it mean for the voice us God not to be a voice among other voices but the voice that we hear, listen to and obey above all others? That is the place we all need to get to individually and collectively.

There were countless voices in Joseph’s life but there was one that held more sway and that was listened to far more than the others. It was this higher voice that commanded Joseph’s attention. How about us?

Second, Joseph also reminds us to do our best to travel the higher road. For me, the greatest lesson from Joseph’s life was the decision he made as to how to respond to Mary. Even before God spoke to Joseph and told him that Mary was trustworthy and that he should continue on with their relationship, Joseph has already made a profound decision as to how he was going to treat Mary. Verse 19, is such a moving verse in my opinion. It says, “Joseph…being a just man, decided to break his engagement quietly, so as not to disgrace Mary publicly.” Again, even before God had spoken, Joseph, as a person of faith, had decided to take the higher road in how he would treat Mary.

We live in a world in which we are more and more consumed with giving others what they deserve. What I mean by this is that we live more and more intent on speaking poorly of others if they speak poorly of us or focused on being hateful to others if we have been treated in a similar way. As a result, Jesus’ words about taking the higher road in our speech and our actions has been thrown out the window even among those of us who claim to be devoted followers of our Lord.

I am convinced that we need to recover the attitude that Joseph exhibited. Even, before he knew the whole story, Joseph had committed himself to treating Mary graciously. When he still thought Mary had wronged him, Joseph was preparing to treat Mary with love. If we remember Joseph for no other reason, may we remember him for this attribute.

I was very moved recently to read a story from the relationship of Branch Rickey and Jackie Robinson. As most of you know, Jackie Robinson was the first professional baseball player to break the color barrier and Branch Rickey as general manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers at the time was the primary person responsible for Robinson having that opportunity.

When Jackie Robinson and Branch Rickey met for the first time in 1945 for Rickey to offer Robinson the chance to play for the Dodgers, the general manager asked the player an unusual question. Well aware of the abuse, insults and hatred that would likely come Robinson’s way if he chose to play for the Dodgers, Rickey said to him, “I know you are a good ball player, what I don’t know if whether you have the guts. I am looking for a ballplayer with guts enough not to fight back.”

You see Branch Rickey was convinced that their success would be based on both of them being able and willing to take the higher road in the midst of incredible odds, circumstances and hatred that would come their way. As Robinson left the meeting, Branch Rickey gave him a copy of the book Life of Christ and turned in it to Jesus’ words in the Sermon on the Mount from Matthew where Jesus said, “if you are slapped on the right cheek, turn the other too…” That day, these were the words both men committed to live by in light of what lay ahead. (7 Men, pages 126-128, Eric Metaxas, Thomas Nelson, 2013)

Today, do we have the courage to live similarly in our own relationships?

Joseph listened to a higher voice and he followed a higher path. Today, are we willing to do the same? Amen.