Sunday, December 21, 2014

Joseph's story

May my words be in the Name of the Holy & Undivided Trinity: + Father, Son, & Holy Spirit.

Christmas is almost upon us. It is a time when we rightly think of the Christ-child and his mother, of shepherds and angels, of inn-keepers and wise-men. But this morning I'd like to concentrate on another important figure on that story – I'd like to focus on St Joseph, and on the role he played in the greatest story ever told. So I'm going to tell you a little story of my own, an imagining of what that first Christmas was like for the man who would become the earthly father of our Lord, as he might have told it in his own words: 

I confess that I was worried when the decree was issued for the census. A trip from Nazareth to Bethlehem was no easy thing at the best of times, but in winter, and with a young girl, and she due to have a baby at any time? The whole idea was troubling.

But then, so much in my life had been troubling lately. It began when they asked if I would marry Mary. I was a little shocked – I was an old man, older than her father, and she was really just a child. But her parents said she was a holy girl, one who lived a life of prayer in the temple; but she was also very lovely, a true beauty – and the young men couldn't keep away. They buzzed around her like flies drawn to sweet dates. She needed the protection of a husband. And the temple authorities also asked me to marry her. 'We know you are a righteous man, Joseph,' they said. 'Do this for her; do this for us.'

Well, what was a righteous man to do? Could he say no when even the priests asked it of him? So we were betrothed. Legally she was my wife, but she still lived with her parents. And then she came to me. She told me she was with child by the Holy Spirit, that she had been visited by an angel, and that the child was to be the promised Messiah.
Did I believe her? Completely. Had not the prophet Isaiah foretold that a virgin would bear a son? And who better to be the mother of the one that God was sending to save Israel than this holy creature,? I did not doubt her for a moment.

But I did doubt myself. I thought that I was unworthy to play any part in this. So I decided that I would set her aside – quietly, so as not to cause her any trouble. Let people think that I was the father and that I was abandoning a young girl to raise the child on her own. What did I care what people thought of me, as long as no one thought badly of Mary? But then the angel came to me, in a dream, and told me not to be afraid. And when I awoke I knew that God wanted me to be the one to protect this mother and her child. An old man seemed a strange choice; but who was I to question God.

But then came the census. The thought of the journey troubled me. It was nearly 70 miles to Bethlehem – with me on foot and Mary on the donkey it would be a long, slow journey; not that we could travel fast, with Mary so close to her time. And as it turned out the roads were so rough that it took longer than I expected - six days. I worried about bandits – with so many travelling, they were bound to be out looking for easy prey. Mary said not to worry; that God would protect us. She was right, of course.

We stopped early each night and I gathered wood for a fire – the nights are cold at that time of year, even if the days are fairly mild; and I put together a little shelter for Mary. I was always good with my hands.
But I was glad when we got in sight of Bethlehem. Mary was looking so tired. I was tired. It had been a hard road and I am an old man. The worst was over, I thought.

And then Mary turned to me and said it was her time. What; now? I said, foolishly. She just smiled at me. The inn was full, of course; with so many arriving for the census it had to be. But the people there were good and kind. They made sure there was room for us in the stable. With plenty of clean straw it was probably more comfortable that the inn itself; the bodies of the animals warmed it as well as any fire; and with the baby soon to come, it was more private.

And so that was where he was born. The easiest birth I've ever heard tell of; a miracle in itself, for often the first born is hard on a woman, especially when she is very young. But one moment I was chewing my nails with worry; the next there he was. We wrapped him in his swaddling bands and then, because there was no where else, I packed the manger full of hay and laid him in it. Mary took me by the hand.
'This is our son,' she whispered, her voice full of wonder.
'This is our Messiah,' I whispered back. Silently we sank to our knees, gazing at the child. The animals gazed at him too; and it seemed that they, like us, worshipped him.

As the night passed others came. Shepherds from the hills with tales of the heavens bursting open to reveal heaven itself and choirs of angels. Later still, wise men came, kings who had come to worship another king, a greater king than themselves, a king sent by God to all the world. When they had gone, I thought we would go home. But that night as I slept, I had another dream. The angel warned me that this new king's life was in danger, that a king of this world wanted to take his life; he warned me to take them away, to keep them safe. And so when I awoke I faced another journey, a longer one. But I did not care. Old and tired as I was, God had chosen me to protect this king, and to protect his mother. And I would do whatever I could to do so, travel any distance. I was old, but I knew I could not fail; it was as Mary said – God would protect us. And so I was not afraid. I knew I need not fear or worry or let anything trouble me again.

To God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, three persons in one God, be praise and glory for-evermore - Amen.  

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