December 2, 2018
Norwalk First United Methodist Church
Faithful: Christmas through the Eyes of Joseph
First Sunday of Advent
A Carpenter Named Joseph
It seems that whenever we explore the stories surrounding the birth of Jesus during this Advent season, we focus on Mary, the mother of Jesus, as found in the Gospel of Luke story. But this Advent season, we will focus on Joseph, his life, and his role in the birth and life of Jesus. And that means our biblical focus will be on Matthew’s account of Christmas, which is told from Joseph’s vantage point.
Besides the Bible scriptures, my other source for this series of sermons is from the book by Rev. Adam Hamilton called, “Faithful: Christmas through the Eyes of Joseph.” Rev. Hamilton is pastor of the 20,000 member The United Methodist Church of the Resurrection in Leawood, Kansas, just south of Kansas City.
Rev. Hamilton writes: “No man played a more important role in Jesus’ life than Joseph. Though not Jesus’ biological father, Joseph adopted Jesus as his son. Joseph protected him, provided for him, taught and mentored him.” Unfortunately, there is relatively little in the Gospels about Joseph. So, Hamilton says, “we have to read between the lines to fill in the picture of Joseph’s life, and to some extent we must use our imagination to connect the bits of information we do find in the Gospels.” But there is still enough to give a good accounting of Joseph’s influence over his adopted son.
Joseph’s story speaks to everyone, but it should speak in particularly important ways to fathers, husbands, stepfathers, grandfathers, and men who have the opportunity to mentor others. More about Joseph in a moment, but first, would you pray with me?
We have to look into the lives of Joseph and Mary as to what would be typical of a Jewish family in the time and place that they were raised. If Mary and Joseph’s engagement were a typical engagement, then Mary was around thirteen or fourteen when she got married and Joseph was probably only a little older. In ancient Israel a girl became a woman with her first menstrual cycle and was married shortly after that. Boys were required to have apprenticed under their fathers and be able to support themselves and a family before they married. Joseph was perhaps fifteen or sixteen when as it says in the Gospel of Matthew, Joseph “took Mary as his wife” (Matthew 1:24).
Therefore, Mary was still a virgin when she was overshadowed by the Holy Spirit and became pregnant with the child Jesus. Later, Mary and Joseph would have other children of their own as mentioned in the scriptures, James, Joseph, Simon, Judas and two sisters.
According to our scripture today, Jesus returned to his hometown of Nazareth, and some were offended by his teaching. They asked, “Isn’t he the carpenter’s son? Isn’t his mother named Mary? Aren’t James, Joseph, Simon, and Judas his brothers? And his sisters, aren’t they here with us? Where did this man get all this?”
Please notice, Mary is named in this passage, as are the brothers. The sisters are not named, but it is mentioned that they were living in Nazareth. Joseph, the earthly father of Jesus, is not named, likely indicating that by the time Jesus was pursuing his ministry, Joseph had died. Nevertheless, Joseph’s occupation was remembered and mentioned: he was the carpenter.
Hamilton writes: “The people expressed surprise at Jesus, and not in a good way. You can almost hear the snide tone when they asked: ‘Where did he get this wisdom? Where did he get the power to work miracles? Isn’t he the carpenter’s son?’ The mention of his father’s profession seems clearly aimed at discrediting Jesus, saying in effect, ‘How can a lowly carpenter’s son have such wisdom and power?’”
In Mark’s Gospel, people described Jesus not as a carpenter’s son but as a carpenter himself. That tells us that Jesus was trained by Joseph to follow in his trade. It seems that Jesus worked as a carpenter first in his father’s shop and then on his own, from the time he was a small boy until his baptism at age thirty.
If Joseph was a carpenter, let’s consider what that tells us about him. The Greek word translated as carpenter is tekton. Most often the word meant someone who worked with wood, although it could mean other things. Because wood was in short supply in Galilee, the area where Jesus grew up and conducted most of his ministry, most houses there were built of stone or mud brick. Though a tekton could be a house builder, there was a different word in Greek specifically for stonemasons. Someone who worked with wood would have made the doors and shutters for a house. But it is likely that much of the work of a tekton involved building furniture, chests, and tables along with farm implements, tools, and yokes for oxen.
So, what does it tell us about God that he chose Joseph to serve as Jesus’ earthly father and raise Jesus as his own son? Why didn’t God choose a priest, an educated scribe or lawyer, a physician or successful businessman, or even an architect? Why did he entrust the job to a humble carpenter? Maybe, it was because God was looking at the heart of his servant Joseph. Just like the prophet Samuel chose David out of all of Jesse’s son’s who were much older, stronger, taller, and handsome, God chose Joseph who was an unlikely hero for the important mission of raising the Messiah.
Folks, only sixteen verses in the Bible mention Joseph by name, but I believe his influence was much stronger and wider than you might guess from those few passages. You see, fathers play an enormous role in shaping our lives. Adam Hamilton says this, “For some of us, that role is powerful, positive, and beautiful; for others, it may have been difficult and painful. However our fathers shaped us, we are their children in ways we may not fully realize.”
Let’s face it, we learn from observing our dads. We learn some great things that we want to do with our lives and families and we learn some things that we swear we will never say or do. Many times, our relationship with our dad has something to do with how we picture God. If we have a healthy, loving relationship with our earthly father, then it’s easier to have a good relationship with God. And if we have a relationship with our dad that is dysfunctional, then it can be harder to trust that God is a good and loving father.
In a recent poll, 26% of millennials, those born between 1982 and 2004, say they have poor or below-average relationships with their fathers. There may be a connection between this statistic and the number of millennials, particularly young men, who are struggling with the idea of faith in God.
Jesus clearly had a great relationship with his heavenly father, and perhaps that points toward the kind of relationship he had with his earthly father, Joseph. When Jesus told his followers to address God as Abba, a word that meant something liked “Dad,” we must wonder if he was also telling us that he saw in Joseph the heart and character of God.
When we look at Jesus, we can almost imagine what Joseph was like. It seems that Joseph was intentional about teaching and modeling for Jesus who God is and what God’s will was for his life.
Hamilton write this: “When Jesus told the parable of the prodigal son – likening God to the patient and merciful father who took back his son even after the boy had demanded his inheritance in advance and then squandered everything on wild living – had Jesus seen this kind of love and forgiveness by Joseph in response to one or more of his brothers?”
“When Jesus spoke about the importance of telling the truth, might he have been describing what he had learned by watching Joseph?”
“When Jesus taught his disciples that true greatness is found in humble service, might he have been describing what he had seen in his carpenter father every single day?”
“When Jesus said we’re not to look at a woman with lust in our hearts, was he repeating what he had learned from Joseph as a teen? Doesn’t that sound like something a dad might tell his son when the son is thirteen or fourteen?”
And Hamilton ends, “When Jesus said we should do to others what we want them to do to us, is it possible he had grown up seeing this value embodied by his earthly dad, both in Joseph’s business and in his personal life?”
When we celebrate Jesus’ birth at Christmas, just think how much Jesus’ life was shaped by his human adoptive father. It seems that Joseph intentionally taught and modeled love, faith, and fatherhood, and that what Jesus learned from him shaped his life and ministry.
And so today, I have to ask the following questions. How are you shaping the children entrusted to your care, whether they are your children or grandchildren, nieces or nephews? What are you teaching about life to the children who look up to you? What image of God are you painting for them? When you die, what will your children and grandchildren, or other children, say they learned from you? What lessons will they continue to carry with them?
Now, none of us has been asked to raise a Messiah. But every mother, father, stepmother, stepfather, grandma and grandpa, aunt and uncle has been asked to raise children of God, to show them a picture of God’s love and mercy, and to teach them intentionally what it means to be God’s children. And when we do that, we follow the example of a righteous man, Joseph of Nazareth.
Prayer: God, how grateful we are to you for Joseph. Thank you for the model he presents to us, a model of how we’re meant to pass on our faith to our children. Help us to be models of your love. Amen.