In theology school they tell us we are not supposed to mix together all the Christmas stories. Tonight I ignored that sage advice. It’s not Christmas eve without reading the story from Luke. I love Mary—how she treasures things in her heart, how she ponders all the events. It makes a great story. But of Joseph we hear very little. We had a Sunday where we sang all the hymns about Mary. But there are no hymns about Joseph. He is the unsung hero of the Christmas story. I’ve had a couple of people say to me to – well my husband really mention that Christmas isn’t all about Mary. So tonight both readings so we can hear about Joseph who is featured in Matthew’s gospel. Without Joseph our Christmas story would fall flat. One of the children when I asked who Joseph was said it so well during children’s time, “Joseph is Jesus’ dad on earth.”
Joseph is important. The angel visited him too. Mary and Joseph were engaged but before they were living together. It wasn’t unusual in those days for engaged couples to live together before they were married. But this was before that. Joseph found out the Mary was with child. He, being the good guy that he was, didn’t want to embarrass her so he planned to send her away quietly. That night, the Holy Spirit visited him in his dreams. The angel 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 fulfil 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.’ (Matthew 1:20 – 23) And Joseph did just that. It was Joseph who went with Mary to Bethlehem. It was Joseph who found Mary a place to give birth to Jesus. It was Joseph who stayed at her side through it all. Without Joseph where would Mary have ended up? Mary would have been alone.
Perhaps this is why Ann Weems writes a poem about Joseph. It called, “Who Put Joseph in the Back of the Stable?”
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 in the back of the creche, background for the magnificent light of the Madonna? God-chosen, this man Joseph was faithful in spite of the gossip in Nazareth, in spite of the danger from Herod. This man, Joseph, listened to angels and it was he who named the Child Emmanuel. Is this a man to be stuck for centuries in the back of the stable? Actually, Joseph probably stood in the doorway guarding the mother and child or greeting shepherds and kings. When he wasn’t in the doorway, he was probably urging Mary to get some rest, gently covering her with his cloak, assuring her that he would watch the Child. Actually, he probably picked the Child up in his arms and walked him in the night, patting him lovingly until he closed his eyes. 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.
On the eve of Jesus’ birth we give thanks for all those who made this journey possible. For Mary who pondered and treasured and bravely said, “Yes, let it be with me according to your word.” For shepherds who journeyed to Bethlehem to see the child who changes everything. For the wise men who travelled from a far off country, ignored Herod and returned by another way. And for Joseph who stayed by Mary side, who ensured the baby's safety, and most importantly was Jesus dad on earth. Thanks be to God. Amen.