Advent 4: Matthew 1:18-25 Series A
May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer. Amen.
Over the many centuries the Christian church has celebrated the birth of Jesus, the primary focus of these celebrations has typically been the Virgin Mary. Over the years, devotion, honor, and praise has only grown toward her. In the Roman Catholic tradition, she is called the Mother of God and the Queen of Heaven. She is also held to be perpetually a virgin, before, during, and after the birth of Christ. In 1854 she was declared to be “immaculately conceived” by Pope Pius the IX, born completely free of original sin like Eve in the garden. In 1950 Pope Pius the XII declared that Mary, because of her holiness and richness in grace, did not go through the travails of death, but rather was Assumed into heaven like the prophet Elijah or Enoch who was said to walk with God and then “he was not.” In the time after the Second Vatican Council there has been a popular push by Roman Catholic laity to establish a fifth Marian dogma: that Mary is so holy, so pure, so righteous, and hypostatically joined with the personhood of Christ that she ought to be called a “co-redemptrix” with Christ; that the mediation of Mary before the throne of God plays a part in your salvation.
While some of the more recent additions to Mariology tend to feel like I’m reading the pagan histories of Artemis, or Athena, or Hestia (all virginal deities in the ancient pantheon which were fan favorites in the time of Paul to whom sacrifice and prayer were given), I think we’ve gotten so caught up in the personhood of Mary that we have forgotten a very important character in the story of Jesus’ birth. In fact, I would be so bold as to say that the 20th century has made it its duty to forget this particular character role in general: the role of father and in our reading for today, the role of Joseph.
It is to Joseph’s house that the promise of the messiah is given, the house of Judah. The genealogies of the Old Testament trace the male line of the messiah from Adam, to Noah, to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Judah, and David and finally down the line to Joseph as we enter the New Testament. This line is the protector and bearer of the Seed, the messiah who would be called Immanuel, wonderful counsellor, everlasting father, prince of peace. He would establish the throne of David forever and he would reign with equity, righteousness, and mercy. And from our Old Testament reading for today the promise of the Virgin Birth is again within and directed to the house of David. The task of these men to be the protectors and bearers of the Seed is the reason why Joseph is named by the Angel as “the Son of David.” Gabriel is calling on Joseph to play a part in the Messianic promise.
The task given to Joseph is one that I marvel at. Be the earthly father to the Son of God. I have a hard enough time figuring out what being a father to a normal child looks like, but being a father to the literal creator the universe, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the God who rescued the children of Israel out of Egypt with a might hand and an outstretched arm?! Be a father to him? How is this possible? What does this look like?
I think the answer to this can be summed up very simply by verse 19 where Matthew writes, “Joseph, a righteous man.” This is what biblical fatherhood looks like and this is the kind of father that God chose for his own Son. A righteous/just man. Usually when we hear the words “just” and “righteous” in reference to a person we imagine a judge, gown and wig donned with a hammer in hand ready to decide the fate of some poor soul and this is the way that many people view earthly fathers. They are the voice of the law, the hammer, the judge enthroned ready to punish condemn and inflict wrath. And in many ways, this is one of the reasons why earthly fathers are so scorned, hated, and despised because they are emotionally cold, distant, and vindictive. Is it any wonder why people have a hard time calling God “Father”?
But this is not how Matthew defines Joseph’s righteousness. Joseph is righteous, not because he is ready to swing the hammer, drop the guillotine, and pull the trigger. He demonstrates his righteousness in that he does not want to execute the judgment that is rightfully his. Deuteronomy 22:13ff gives Joseph every right to have Mary stoned for adultery. Capital punishment was on the table, but mercy is what Joseph chooses instead.
Joseph’s righteousness is in that he passes over the sins that he perceives and in this way, we see Joseph’s fatherhood as a reflection of the archetype who is God the Father who sent his Son at the right time to die for the ungodly, to demonstrate his righteousness by sending his son into the world to be the sacrifice of atonement, to pass over former sins, and to show that divine righteousness is divine forbearance. This is how God proves that he is righteous and the one who justifies by faith in Jesus Christ who has indeed saved his people from their sins (Romans 3:23-28).
God the Father does not allow his people to remain in the shame of their sins, but sends his Son to be “God with Us”, to live, to preach, to die, and to rise again. To conquer the dread powers of sin, death, and law that afflict us and to bring us once again into life with God. And even while God’s people are in this shame, he remains a faithful husband to the end. He does not abandon his bride the church, but rather brings her to himself, protects her, and keeps her and all her children in the safety of his gracious arm in the same way Joseph keeps and protects Mary.
This is why it’s important as we celebrate the parents of our Lord and his nativity, to celebrate and remember Mary and Joseph because in Joseph we see the Fatherhood of God shining brightly among the brotherhood of men. As people who have been claimed by the blood of Christ, baptized into his name, we can pray confidently to our God and Father as dear children call upon their dear Father because we know he is righteous, he is merciful, he will give us our daily bread, he will protect us in temptation, he will deliver us from evil, and he will give us the peace which surpasses all our understanding, which will guard our hearts and our minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.