Matthew 1: 18-25
I don’t know about you but I love to celebrate an unsung hero. Someone who in quiet humility has made a significant contribution to someone, to a community, to an event, to the world, to God. They are the person who though they may have done something kind, extraordinary or even saved someone’s life, slip quietly off into the background. Not waiting for a thank you or even giving their name. We are quite used to celebrating heroes I think. We read about them in newspapers, on social media, see them on the tv. I love an awards ceremony, Baftas, Oscars, Sports Personality of the year. But my favourite is the Pride of Britain Awards – ordinary people doing extraordinary things of courage. But these are only the winners – there are thousands of others who do not win an award, or get their name known.
In our Gospel reading today we hear about Joseph. It is the most we ever hear about Joseph in one chunk. And yet the Gospel writer Matthew doesn’t really tell us anything about Joseph personally – just his role in the birth of Jesus. I think Joseph is an unsung hero. Although we are given very few details about him, I think we can learn a lot about living holy lives by following the example set by him. I think Joseph is too often overlooked in the story of Jesus birth. I don’t believe it was a coincidence that he was engaged to be married to Mary. He was chosen by God for a special calling – to be the earthly father of Jesus. The one who would care for Jesus, teach and guide Jesus the child. I mean – this couldn’t have been left to any Tom, Dick or Harry could it?
It is clear from Joseph’s actions that he listened to and obeyed God. He was righteous and merciful. Joseph could have followed the Law of Moses when he found out Mary was pregnant and assumed therefore she had been unfaithful. He could have ended the engagement publicly – which was the usual way of doing things. Mary would have been shamed publicly, as would her entire family. Indeed it wasn’t unheard of that a pregnant unmarried woman might be driven from her community or even stoned to death. But Joseph instead chose to show righteousness and mercy. So although he set his mind on divorce, he decided to do it quietly and privately so that Mary would not be dishonoured or harmed. Joseph trusted God – fully trusted God. How many of us can honestly say that we never have even a small percentage of doubt in tricky situations? Joseph must have had great faith and trust in God to believe such an impossible story about Mary’s pregnancy. Even when there was no way to logically explain or understand the situation he faced, Joseph chose to trust God and step out in faith. Joseph was obedient to God. He demonstrated absolute obedience to God’s call and commands. He obeyed God in taking Mary as his wife and was charged with giving the child His name. That name would identify His mission. That name was Jesus – meaning the Lord God Saves.
Joseph continued to be obedient to God’s commands as recorded in further scripture, such as fleeing to Egypt. Joseph was a devoted and loving family man. And he wasn’t resentful. Joseph took Mary as his wife and accepted the child to whom she would give birth. Joseph demonstrated unconditional love for Mary with undying devotion. He cared for Jesus like his own son and did what was necessary to keep Him and His mother safe from danger. By accepting the role as the earthly father to the Messiah, Joseph teaches us about the faithful obedience and the grace of God. As well as a good role model for any step parent. And Joseph honoured God. He followed all the religious customs according to the Law of Moses, which was done to honour and obey God’s commands.
These are the reasons I think we can learn much from Joseph the unsung hero. And just think about it for a moment – put yourself in Joseph’s shoes. Before this time, Joseph probably thought his life was nicely planned out. He was engaged to the lovely Mary. He had a skill as a carpenter / builder. He probably had his own plans for his future and that of his family. But just when everything looked promising, his world came crashing down. He discovered that his bride-to-be was pregnant. Now I know this might not be such a shock and dilemma in this present time. But I don’t think any of us can imagine what Joseph felt and what thoughts he had as all of this filled his head and his heart. How much did he feel a great sense of responsibility when receiving the news that he was chosen to raise and care for the Son of God – the promised Messiah – the Saviour of the world. He was facing a real dilemma which most probably seemed hopeless.
Most, if not all of us, at some time face tricky situations which require tough decisions. God allows us to go through difficult times we may not understand, so that we can learn to place our trust in Him. It’s never easy, but if we can learn to trust God even in those times of confusion and uncertainty; our faith will be strong no matter what might come our way. This was the case with Joseph. God was preparing him for a time when he would have to make decisions for his young family based entirely on faith and trust in God. So though we don’t know very much about the man Joseph – not a single time in scripture are his words recorded – We can learn from Joseph how to be forgiving and merciful to others. How to trust God implicitly, obey Him in all things, to keep faithful to God even when times are tough and we might be tempted to find other earthly ways. And we can learn how to be devoted and loving – to God, to our family, our friends, our neighbours and to complete strangers and those we will never meet or know. We heard in our reading from Romans that Paul introduced himself as “a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God”. This is what Joseph was. This is what we are called to be – to be servants of the servant king, to share his Gospel of truth and salvation. Let us do it humbly, faithfully and for the glory of God and his kingdom. Amen