Jesus and Silent Joe 12-22-19

In this sermon, based on Matthew 1:18-25, I explore the divine announcement of Jesus’ pending birth as well as the birth itself. Matthew aims the action at Joseph, Jesus’ earthly father. His actions reveal a great deal about the connections that humanity holds with the Messiah.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/sermon-004-jesus-and-silent-joe-12-22-19

(Note that sermons will now feed into my Podcast, The Rambling Rev, available on iTunes, Google Play Music, and Spotify. Subscribing on any of those feeds will automatically bring you the audio of my future sermons as they become available.)

You can also follow along with the text of this sermon here:

May the grace and peace of our Triune God be yours, now and forever. Amen.

As someone who has a background in acting, not to mention a fair amount of public speaking…I’ve got an appreciation for skills related to this type of thing…and in particular, I’m thinking about the skills needed for non-verbal communication.

It goes without saying that this takes on a lot of different forms, but I’ve always appreciated individuals who can convey a message without words…they use expression and mannerisms, and of course their actions to convey what’s going on with their character.

I’m sure there are a lot of examples of this type of thing, and a couple come to mind for me…and in both of them…the non-speaker is part of a duo…now the first set are entertainers in the realm of illusion…Penn and Teller…Penn talks constantly during their act…and in the midst of it all…Teller is busy doing the magic…and his expressions and actions make up his side of the show.

The second example actually comes out of a series of movies that came out back in the 90’s and early 2000’s…humorous but REALLY lowbrow…a pair of characters known as Jay and Silent Bob.  They’ve got a lot in common with Penn and Teller…Jay talks A LOT…but Silent Bob…well its right there in his name isn’t it? He’s silent…and its his expressions and actions that tell his side of the story in whatever scene they pop up in.

This idea of a silent character is where I’m connecting into today’s gospel story…Matthew’s account of the divine announcement of Jesus’ pending birth, relayed angelically to one of his parents…not to mention, in an almost throw away comment…we hear of the birth of Jesus as well.

Now Matthew’s account, this passage which we have just shared, is unique within the three year cycle of the lectionary and the passages that come up here on the final Sunday of Advent…its unique because of the presence of Jesus’ birth within the passage. Granted, most of it is still anticipatory in nature…looking forward to the birth…which it should be as we are still in Advent for a couple more days…but with Christmas coming right up on us in a couple more days…I don’t think it’s a bad thing…in many ways today is a transition from a sense of anticipation into celebration of the Messiah’s birth. (pause)

But that being said…the unique aspect of Matthew’s account of this story and the focal point did grab my attention.  Perhaps its because we’ve just come out of year highlight Luke’s gospel…one in which there is a stronger emphasis on the Good News and its effect on the marginalized. We see this in many moments, but one of the earliest happens when the angel of the Lord shows up to announce the pending Messiah and interacts with Mary, the mother of Jesus.

In Luke’s account they have a conversation…Mary is given some agency…even a choice in the matter…but Matthew presents things a little differently doesn’t he…and that was blaringly obvious to me as I started working towards today’s message….the angel shows up to Joseph.  Joseph is given direction…Joseph is given divine assurance of what’s happening…and even though as “righteous man” he’s determined to follow the law in regards to his now-pregnant fiancé, Joseph receives divinely inspired direction aimed at taking the unexpected action in this story.

Its all about Joseph isn’t it…and where’s Mary?  She’s in the background…completely passive…she’s got no choice in this matter, She’s powerless…and like Teller on stage, and Silent Bob in the movies…she’s given no voice in this VITAL moment of history.

And I’ll be honest…that REALLY bugs me…because while Luke reveals her choice and her agency in this whole deal…Matthew glosses over it…she’s lucky she even gets called by name…and I wonder what she was thinking…is she standing there in the background wanting to smack Joseph upside the head. What makes him so special that all of the focus falls in his court? (pause)

That was my first thought, one that I wrestled with as I explore Joseph’s role in this story…and not just within this immediate passage.  I took a look at the different times that Joseph pops up…because he does fill an important role in the early life of the baby and then child Jesus.

While Joseph had seemingly died by the time that Jesus’ ministry begins in his adulthood, Joseph is still around during each moment we’re given while Jesus is growing up…filling that role of parent…of provider and protector…and we find evidence of THAT specific role of parental protector of the baby Jesus…when his divine dream radar just keeps going off.

The angel of the Lord just KEEPS showing up in Joseph’s dream…we’ve got today’s passage.  And then after the birth of Jesus, when the king is trying to kill him off, Joseph gets a dream warning to haul the family off to Egypt.  Then after the king dies, another dream pops up telling Joseph to come on home…but then upon their arrival back in Palestine, another dream comes up warning of the king’s son who is now in charge and is just as dangerous, and Joseph takes the family north to Galilee. 4 times within 1 chapter of the gospel in which Joseph’s dream radar provides divine direction.

And each time, Joseph takes action…and good for him…We’re proud of you Joseph…but still…why’s the focus on you and not Mary…why doesn’t she get a voice in the matter and you do? (pause)  Or does he?

Here’s the mind-blowing thing that I realized after fitting and stewing on this most of the week.  Joseph…while he receives divine direction…he’s given divine assurances…and he takes action…throughout his ENTIRE story, in ANY of the gospels, Joseph…never…speaks.  Not one time…as we look at the larger story we might call them Jesus and Silent Joe, because JUST LIKE that character…its not words…its his actions that matter. (pause) So What does Joseph do?

He defies social decorum, not to mention religious regulations to accept Mary as his wife…despite logic saying that she’s committed adultery. He takes her into his home, no doubt facing public shame and ridicule…and then, when her pregnancy comes to a close and the baby is born…we hear that Joseph…named him Jesus.

Now for us…that seems like an throw away comment, one that we take for granted…BUT the significance of Joseph taking this action cannot be understated. In this time…it was the role of the father to name the child…ESPECIALLY if the child is a boy…something that we find in a few different scriptural stories as well.

And so…for Joseph to claim this responsibility…to give the name to the baby…Joseph is, for all intents and purposes…claiming this child as his own…he’s essentially Adopting the child that he knows is not his…this baby that is born of both flesh and spirit…human and divine in nature.  When Joseph says “I give him the name Jesus,” he is claiming Jesus as his child.

Now I can’t help but think of how HUGELY significant that fact is as we consider the overarching story of the gospel…a story which is hinted at as we consider the names given to the child. Jesus is the Greek version of Joshua…in fact it would be have been pronounced Yay-shua…and that literally means God saves…and not only but that but we also hear the prophet Isaiah referenced as the child is called Emmanuel…God with us.

And that’s the gospel isn’t it? The God who saves is with us. The divine will be found in the midst of us. The God who knows we are unable to save ourselves will dwell among us in order to accomplish that which we cannot. And this same God who took on flesh…while utterly different…is ALSO far more like us than we realize.

The savior of the world…the word made flesh…Emmanuel, is claimed by his earthly father…he is adopted into the family of Joseph…he is given a name by one who claims him as his own…you see where I’m going with this?  We are given the promise in the waters of baptism…that we too are claimed by a parent…we are adopted…made heirs to the promise as beloved children of God.

But the similarity doesn’t stop there either…there’s another that we find in this story…when Joseph is told that the child in Mary’s womb is begotten of the Holy Spirit…somehow, in ways that go beyond our ability to comprehend, and beyond my ability to explain…the humanity of Jesus is created out of the presence of the Holy Spirit…the Spirit which we hear dwells within him at his baptism…and the same Spirit which has promised to dwell within us through the waters of our baptism.

This same Holy Spirit empowers us as followers of Christ…and it unites us together into the one body of Christ here on earth…we REMEMBER that the very spirit of God which somehow incarnated the living word of God in the first place…resides within us.

And this promise opens up a whole new understanding of what Emmanuel means, what God with us…means…that not only do we have a God who walked among us. But that which is divine is found WITHIN us…within those who created bearing the divine image of God in the first place…and in whom God delights to be found in the presence of the Spirit. (pause)

As we move from this season of expectation into the season of celebration, remembering once more that God has dwelled among us…may we all remember in the midst of dark times, both literally as we consider the dark season of winter which is upon us…as well as metaphorically as we consider the darkness still present within this broken world that we live in…may we remember that to look in the face of one another is to see the presence of God IN one another.

And as this is true for you as you look at another…know that it is ALSO true as they look back at you.  This is the glory of the gospel that goes beyond all understanding…that the ultimate creator and sustainer of everything, everything which is seen and unseen…this God has chosen to dwell…in…you. Amen.

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