Sermons That Work

A Little Bit of Joseph, Christmas 2 – 1996

December 25, 1996


The gospel reading for this Sunday is the story of the Holy Family’s flight to Egypt, trying to avoid the evil clutches of King Herod. An angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph as he was sleeping, and warned him in a dream that King Herod would stop at nothing to get his hands on the baby Jesus and that his intentions for the child were less than honorable.

King Herod had heard talk that a king of the Jews was coming. Herod, like many rulers, was unsure of his hold on power, and paranoid about keeping power. He wanted to make sure that no one would ever be able to challenge him for his throne.

What, Herod thought, another King? Hey, wait a minute, I’m the only King around here, and I don’t plan on handing over my throne to any young upstart. Herod’s insecurity caused him not only to want the baby Jesus out of the way, he wanted him dead.

Herod then devised a twisted plot. He planned to kill the baby Jesus and thereby eliminate any potential rival for his throne. If you can’t beat the competition, eliminate it. Herod’s cowardly plot would make sure that no future king would ever become old enough to walk. The only way to do this was to do a sweep. He decided to have every single male child killed in one fell swoop, to ensure that the baby Jesus would be among them.

Thanks to the help of the angel, Joseph was forewarned about Herod’s plot, so in the middle of the night, he rounded up Mary and Jesus and whisked them away to Egypt, where he knew they would be safe. The Holy Family camped out in Egypt until they got word that old Herod had died. Then the angel of God again appeared to Joseph, telling him it was safe to escort his family back to the district of Galilee and the town of Nazareth.

This text of the “flight from Egypt” comes to us at a time when our culture is on a “flight from Christmas.” According to our culture, Christmas is a long gone memory. The capitalistic retail machinery has already turned its sights away from Christmas and on to St. Valentine’s and St. Patrick’s Day’s in terms of sales and promotions.

All the Christmas packages have been long unwrapped, all the trees have lost their needles, and many of the unwanted gifts, the hideous, the bizarre and the underwhelming, have already been exchanged for more tolerable ones. Many of the Christmas credit card bills have already come home to roost. Yes, to our culture, Christmas is something long past, “been there, done that.”

For the Church, Christmas is not a bygone memory. For the Church, Christmas not just a day, but a season, something to be celebrated fully and for a good period of time. The gift of God’s presence among us, Emmanuel “God with us” is more than worthy of a lengthy celebration.

In a way, the carols and Christmas songs we sing after Christmas may do more to form and deepen our faith than the ones we sing months before Christmas. Before Christmas, the world sometimes sings with us, but after Christmas, the Church sings alone. The culture may say “been there, done that” about Christmas, but here the voice of the Church continues to rings out clearly and faithfully, celebrating the birth of God in our midst, even when the cultures attention has turned elsewhere.

In the gospel story for today, Joseph, the husband of Mary, takes up where his Old Testament name sake left off. Both Josephs had a penchant for dreams. Like the Joseph in the Old Testament, the New Testament Joseph had dreams that instructed him how to protect what is precious to God.

The first Joseph rescued God’s chosen people, the next Joseph rescued God’s only begotten Son. Because of his efforts, the Church call Joseph, the husband of Mary “the guardian of the Lord.” Joseph cared for and protected the Lord Jesus and kept him safe from all harm. All throughout his growing up, Joseph was there with Jesus, continually watching over him and making sure that he was loved.

This ministry of guardianship that was begun by Joseph, did not end with Joseph. The ministry of guardianship that he began is continued by all those who bear the name of Christian. In holy baptism, we have put on Christ, the old has passed away and the new has begun.

All Christians are “little Christs,” all Christians have Christ with them and within them. All Christians are on a mission, charged to be custodians of God’s redeeming message and to work for the cause of that message into the world. There is a little bit of Joseph in all of us. We are all guardians of the faith and keepers of the Lord Jesus who walks with us and dwells within us.

Just as in the time of Joseph, there are forces at work that would like nothing better than to do away with Christ and the gospel message he embodies and represents. There are many king Herods, who know that their absolute rule is threatened by this Jesus who claims to be Lord of all.

The modern “Herods,” (things that seek to rule over us instead of Christ), are not a few harmless figurehead monarchs wearing wear crowns, living in castles and wearing purple robes, no, they are much more numerous and a lot less benign.

False kings are everywhere and appear to us as money or mammon, as the steam roller of consumerism, as drugs abused, as alcohol misused, as skewed priorities, as apathy, as neglect, and despair; in short, the false kings in our lives are anything and everything or anyone and everyone seeking to subvert or kill the rule of Christ in our lives. Our society is Herod like when it tries to kill Christ by diverting our attention away from Christ and onto consumerism.

Just as each Christian has a little bit of Joseph inside calling us to be on guard and protect the rule of Christ in our lives, because of sin, each of us has a bit of Herod inside as well. It is not that we can literally try to kill the Lord, as Herod did, but we can do things that have the effect of removing God from our lives.

Our relationship with God is just that, a relationship, it takes two to tango. When it comes to the divine/human relationship, God is always faithful, but as the saying goes, “If we feel God is distant from us, if we feel somehow God is absent from our lives, guess who moved?” God never leaves us, but we can and often do leave God! We should not despair at this or beat ourselves with whips as God can and does take it. In fact, the scriptures are full of stories about God’s faithful ones, who sometimes take a hiatus from their God. Look at the disciples of Jesus, they often tried to “high-tail it” away from their relationship to the Lord when the going got rough.

We can be Herods and try to “do away with the Lord,” by allowing our faith and devotion to slowly fade and grow dim. But just like in the story when confronted with the calling of Joseph within us, the Herod within does not stand a chance!

The calling to guard the precious gift of Christ that is ours is strengthened by the Spirit of God, who constantly shores up and sustains our faith. The Joseph, the guardian of the Lord, within each of us can take heart in the words of our second reading from Ephesians:

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, just as he chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love…I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the father of glory may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, so that with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power.”

May God continue to bless us this Christmas season, and keep us every faithful, loving and being guardians for precious Lord Jesus who is “Emmanuel,” God with us and God in us.

Amen.

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