I know you have met the parents of John the Baptist already. You met Zechariah, the great priest who was left speechless by the angel Gabrielle. What a colorful figure he is! Everyone remembers meeting Zechariah—I mean a priest who cannot speak?! Who can forget a guy like that? Last week, you met his wife Elizabeth, that remarkable woman of faith. Sweet and kind Elizabeth—everyone loves Elizabeth. Zechariah and Elizabeth of course, became the parents of John the Baptist—the most memorable prophet ever. Who can forget about a man who wear camel’s hair, eats bugs, and lives in the wilderness?! And next week, you will get to meet my beloved bride—the beautiful, young Mary—one of the most beloved people in the entire Bible. Oh yes, you have met and will meet some of the most amazing people of faith…people whose trust in the Lord seems to know no boundaries, people whose stories serve to inspire.
Just so we are clear, I am not one of those people. I’m not inspiring. I’m not a person of great faith. I’m just….well, I’m just Joe. You can call me Joseph if you like, if that makes you more comfortable but there is really no need to be fancy on my account. I’m just Joe and this is my story.
I worked as a carpenter. I paid my share of taxes and spent my weekends playing cards with the guys. If it sounds like an ordinary life, well then you are getting the picture. When you first meet me in the Bible, I am….well, I am sleeping.
There I was, in my favorite lazy boy, Big Ten Highlights on the television, head off to the side, eyes shut, mouth open, drool just starting to trickle down my cheek a bit. (I know, it isn’t an inspiring look but like I said, I’m just a normal guy…ladies be honest, how many men have you seen fit exactly what I just described? So there I was sleeping.
As you might have heard, I had a lot of things on my mind. A few months before I had asked Mary to marry me. While true love was certainly the ideal, marriage in our days was understood as a business relationship. In order to marry Mary, I had to present her father with a sizable gift in order to receive her hand in marriage. I worked lots of overtime to purchase Mary’s hand in marriage. Once this transaction was complete, Mary (Pardon the expression!) essentially belonged to me. To be sure, this arrangement probably didn’t come with the same sweaty palms as getting down on bended knee and asking for a person’s hand in marriage that happens in your day, but it was still plenty stressful. But that’s not why I was so tired.
I was tired because a few months after the engagement became official, Mary came to me with some ‘news.’ “Uh, Joe, I have something wonderful to tell you. I am pregnant.” Now, as I told you before, I am a pretty average guy. I wasn’t the smartest person in Nazareth…I wasn’t the valedictorian at the Nazareth High. But I didn’t need a 4.0 to realize there was a problem. “Uh Mary, how can you be pregnant since uh, you know…we haven’t….you know?!?!” I don’t want to tell you the rest of the conversation. Mary told me a story that was unbelievable and let’s just say my reaction was less than supportive. I left Mary standing there in tears and returned home pondering my decision. I had two choices. According to the Old Testament, the Law of our people gave me two choices.
Since the transaction between me and Mary’s father has already taken place and Mary essentially belonged to me now, I was fully within his rights to do two things. Since Mary is with a child that most certainly didn’t belong to me, I could have her arrested and stoned to death for her infidelity. Harsh – to be sure – but according to the Old Testament, I had this right. Or, I could be merciful. I could sign a certificate of divorce, dismiss Mary and her child, find someone else and move on with my life. It was such a stressful decision. Looking back, it seems like the right answer is rather obvious but at the time, I was angry. It wasn’t an easy decision but ultimately, I tried to be a good man. I decided to dismiss Mary as quietly as possibly. No stoning, no public shaming, I would quietly have a certificate of divorce written and I would move on with life. It wasn’t an easy decision but once it is made, I finally began to relax. And there is no better place to relax than in one’s favorite chair, with your legs up, head back, and eyes shut. I went to sleep that evening confident that my decision to dismiss Mary was the right one.
And then it happened…I began to dream. As I lay there snoring, an angel of the Lord appeared to me. The angel said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid of taking Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son and you will name him Jesus.” Then the angel quotes from an Old Testament passage claiming that Jesus will be Emmanuel which means God is with us.
It would be easy for me to spend the rest of our time focused on how grand this promise from Almighty God really is but you will get to do that in the days to come. Instead, I would like to notice just one thing about this promise. Notice what the promise does to me. Notice what the promise of Emmanuel does to sleepy old me. The promise of God wakes me up! When the angel declared the Good News to me, he wakes me from my slumber. I woke up from my nap, went to Mary, and took her as my wife. And when the time came for her to give birth in the village of Bethlehem, I named the little boy “Jesus” just as the angel told me to do. The promise of God woke me up…and once I was awake, I did what God commanded me to do.
Please don’t misunderstand what this story means. Don’t leave this sanctuary this morning talking how super faithful that Joe is or what a saint Joe was. I don’t want to see any, “What would Joseph do?” T-shirts being sold in the narthex. The truth is that I didn’t go on to become one of the great pillars of the early church or the great example of faithfulness that generations of Christians will want to imitate. I’m just Joe…I didn’t part the Red Sea or raise the dead…when God woke me with the promise of Emmanuel, I simply stood up and did what God told me to do.
I tell you my story today because I am guessing that some of you can relate to me. You may not know what it is like to be a priest like Zechariah or a Saint like Elizabeth. But you know what it means to be normal…to live what most would call a normal life. And I am guessing that some of you know how it feels to lay your heads back, close your eyes, and rest easy in the decisions and the judgments you have made. Judgments and decision you have made about yourselves, your loved ones, and the world around you. The problem is that those judgments we make about ourselves, about our loved ones, and the world around us is that they can be wrong.
Too many times we normal people fool ourselves into believing that there are things average people such as ourselves simply aren’t capable of doing. There are times we fool ourselves into thinking that relationships with family and friends can never be changed or transformed. There are times we fool ourselves into believing that the world doesn’t need or want the gifts only we have to offer. So we lay our heads back, close our eyes, and choose to snore our lives away.
People of God, I tell you my story today in the hopes that maybe, just maybe God would use it to wake you from those same foolish thoughts and beliefs I once held. Because the truth is that you are capable of extraordinary things. The truth is that relationships with family and friends can be transformed. The truth is that the world does need the gifts we have to offer. It is time for us ordinary people to wake from our slumbers and be the people God has commanded us to be. The Good News is that if God hasn’t used my story to wake you….be patient. Because if my story hasn’t stirred you from your slumber, in just a matter of days you are going to hear the cry of the Christ Child and I can assure you….Jesus will wake you up and your life will never be the same.
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