Sermon: Good Old Joe
Scripture: Matthew 2:13-23
Preacher: Patrick H. Wrisley, D.Min.
Location: First Presbyterian Church Fort Lauderdale
Date: December 29, 2019, First Sunday of Christmas Year A
It dawned upon me this week that this is the last sermon I will write and preach in this decade! It seems like yesterday when the world was on edge as the new millennium and Y2K brought us to the decade of the double aughts or better, the oh-ohs, which later became the uh-ohs. Then we entered the teens and what an economic, political, cultural ride it has been. Now, we are on the eve of what some are calling the new Roaring 20’s.
Our lectionary text is appropriate for today in that it is honest and gritty, not the type of text you would expect the biblical writers to throw in just days after Christmas. But here it is, a text that can be heard in one of three ways; it either epitomizes the realities of the last decade or, it’s a text which points us to the realities of the next. How you answer it determines if you’re an optimist, a pessimist, or a realist.
Unlike the Gospel of Luke and his detailed versions of the immaculate conception and the constant angelic reconnaissance missions to Zechariah, Elizabeth, and Mary, Matthew’s description of the baby’s birth is pretty straightforward: But he (Joseph) had no marital relations with her (Mary) until she had borne a son, and he named him Jesus (1.25); in fact, initially, the only angelic visitation that comes in Matthew’s gospel is to Joseph before Jesus was born.
Today, we are going to spend some time looking at an oft-neglected biblical character who does not get as much press as other people in the Christmas narrative and that is Joseph. Joseph is often seen as an inconsequential foil character to the real action of the story between Mary and Jesus. Joseph is often portrayed as the typical nervous and naïve daddy waiting in the waiting room for news of his child’s birth like it used to be in the 1950s.
Joseph has much to teach us as we approach this new version of the Roaring Twenties. Listen to the Word of God and let’s learn three vital truths Joseph is asking us to embrace this new decade. In biblical storytime, we pick up in the Story when Jesus is already between an infant and two years old and the three wise men have come to bring him gifts. Hear the Word of the Lord:
13Now after they had left, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” 14Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother by night, and went to Egypt, 15and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet, “Out of Egypt I have called my son.”
16When Herod saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, he was infuriated, and he sent and killed all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had learned from the wise men. 17Then was fulfilled what had been spoken through the prophet Jeremiah: 18“A voice was heard in Ramah, wailing and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be consoled, because they are no more.”
19When Herod died, an angel of the Lord suddenly appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt and said, 20“Get up, take the child and his mother, and go to the land of Israel, for those who were seeking the child’s life are dead.” 21Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother, and went to the land of Israel. 22But when he heard that Archelaus was ruling over Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. And after being warned in a dream, he went away to the district of Galilee. 23There he made his home in a town called Nazareth, so that what had been spoken through the prophets might be fulfilled, “He will be called a Nazorean.” 
Our text today covers several years of life events in the young Jesus. He has been paid a visit by three wise men and scientist types from Persia; his birth has rankled the nerves of an erratic Jewish despot, Herod; an entire region’s baby boys under 24 months-old were slaughtered; the holy family has been sent into exile and then repatriated Israel to Galilee. Through it, all is this constant figure of Joseph who is does not say a word but in whose life faith comes alive. For a church that strives to live into that reality as “A place where faith comes alive!”, Joseph teaches us three vital traits for us as a church and as Christ-followers heading into a new decade.
Joseph was obedient.
Joseph was timely in his response.
Joseph was familiar with God.
First, Joseph was obedient. In Matthew one and two, an angel of the Lord appears to Joseph in a dream. The first time, the angel says, “No fear! Mary’s pregnant and it’s a child from God. Get up and marry her!” The second time, following the wise men’s visit, an angel of the Lord appears to Joseph in a dream and says, “Get up! Jesus has been targeted for assassination! Take Mary and Jesus and get down to Egypt and lay low awhile!” The third time an angel of the Lord appears and tells him it’s all clear and he’s to get up and take his family back to Israel. Joseph goes but, on the way, he’s got a funny gut-level feeling about this new King in Judah, Archelaus, who is Herod’s son. For a fourth time, an angel appears to him in a dream and tells him to change his route and go another direction. At first glance, we may think Joseph simply sleeps all the time as the only time God speaks to him is when he is asleep! What we are to see is Joseph’s trait of obedience.
We tend to think of obedience as a negative thing in our world today. If you are told, “Be obedient to me!” it almost comes across as a threat or a demand to be subjugated under the power of another. This is the reason why we don’t use to obey in wedding services anymore. I like playing with Bride at wedding rehearsals and ask them to say, “I will obey my husband.” You should see the looks on their bride’s face! Oh, if looks could kill! First, I would never ask a man or woman to obey anyone but God, and secondly, I need to clarify what obey really means to begin with! To “obey” someone is not to blindly follow them; the word obey comes from the Latin word which means ‘to hear or to listen.’ Joseph, beloved, was listening to God! His listening compelled him to follow God’s instructions.
Question: Looking into the next year and the Roaring 20’s, how well are you listening, are we as a church, listening to God? How well are we obeying the Ancient of Days?
The second trait we learn from Joseph is that when he listened, when he obeyed, he acted on it in a timely fashion. God says, “Joseph, get up!” and Joseph gets up and goes. Our English versions do not communicate this clearly, but our scripture indicates that when the angel of the Lord said, “Get up!”, Joseph immediately got up, took his family and went. He did not wait until morning, he immediately got up and got moving! As the Young’s Literal Translation says in verse 14: 14 And he, having risen, took the child and his mother by night, and withdrew to Egypt. Joseph did not wait until the next morning to do what God asked. Joseph immediately followed the Lord’s instructions.
It’s like what Driver’s Ed teacher, Coach Arthur T. Letchus always told while driving, “Once you commit to making a turn or going, go! Don’t’ hesitate but go!” Why would he tell us that? Because if you are at an intersection about to pull into traffic, should you hesitate, you may get hit by another car!
Question: How well do we follow the Lord’s directions when prompted from a dream, from your Bible Study, Men’s or Women’s group, or from worship? Do we like to sit and stew on it to determine its convenience on the impact it might have on our life or do we act? Putting it frankly: Are you and I pew-sitters or are we actively engaged in discipleship that makes a difference?
The third valuable trait Joseph shares with us is the importance of cultivating a personal relationship with the Lord. No, we don’t hear anything about Joseph’s worship or devotional life. No, we do not hear Joseph quoting scriptures like a good first century Baptist. All we know of Joseph’s spiritual life is through his sleep! From scripture, we can surmise that Joseph was a mystic of sorts. A mystic is someone who has worked hard at cultivating a relationship with the Divine in the course of her or his everyday life so that when God does speak, the mystic hears and knows without a doubt what they have experienced! Joseph, as scripture reminds us, is a righteous man (1.19) and the only way to become that way in his very being is to live that way. Joseph was familiar with the ways of God and God’s love and character. It was within this familiarity Joseph is able to discern the subtle but unmistakable voice of the Lord.
I’ve been told I have a pretty decent voice and that I should sing for the church, but the problem is, I have no sense of pitch! I cannot read one note from another and would not know what a note was if it bit me on my backside! Unlike me, our friend Nic understands pitch and notes. Nic proudly asserted in an executive team meeting to us that even when he was dating Amy in high school, he carried a pitch pipe along with him wherever he went! Pam, Steve and I looked at each other with our eyes rolling and said out loud, “You carried a pitch-pipe with you in high school? Lawd!” Nic assured us he doesn’t anymore! The reality is, he does not have to carry one around. Through his years of practice singing and playing instruments, he can pull a note or a pitch out of thin air!
Hear that again: Over a period of time and training and repetition, you become familiar with the right notes and the right pitch. So, it is with God. The more we spend time with the Lord in prayer, scripture, worship, and service, the more we are able to discern the Lord’s voice and separate it from what our culture is trying to say it is.
Question: How familiar are you with the various nuances and subtilties of God? Are you, are we as a church and as a nation familiar enough in our relationship with the Lord and are able to separate the Divine Voice from the voices of our own opinions, biases, party affiliations, prejudices, and wish dreams?
Good old Joe. Mary’s husband does not say a lot but he sure tells us loads about the traits of a healthy Christian disciple. A follower of Jesus is obedient, acts on what he or she knows to be true and is familiar with the Spirit’s voice and movement in their lives because they have cultivated that relationship. I don’t know about you, but I think Joseph sets the bar on how we are to approach a new year and the Roaring Twenties! Amen.
Patrick H. Wrisley, D.Min.
Senior Pastor & Teaching Elder
First Presbyterian Church
401 SE 15th Avenue
Fort Lauderdale, FL 33301
© 2019 Patrick H. Wrisley. Sermon manuscripts are available for the edification of members and friends of First Presbyterian Church, Fort Lauderdale Florida and may not be altered, re-purposed, published or preached without permission. All rights reserved.
 The New Revised Standard Version, copyright 1989, 1995 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.