Audio Homily here:
Somewhere in the next week or so, we will be looking at a Christmas crib, with Mary and Joseph and the Child Jesus, the shepherds, the wise men. You can’t miss them. They’re everywhere, outside houses, in churches. I’m sure many of you have one in your home.
It’s important to know what you’re seeing when you come to a Christmas crib, and for that reason the Advent season gradually introduces us to those who had a part in the birth of Jesus.
Today’s gospel from Matthew introduces us to Joseph, the husband of Mary, who had a very important role in Jesus’ birth and early years. We have to look closely at this man, because he tells us what we see when we come before the Child, born in Bethlehem.
Matthew’s gospel calls Joseph as a just man, which means he’s a man who listens to God and follows what God asks of him. He’s a carpenter, we know from other references in the gospels. He certainly was not as well educated or socially or politically connected as Ahaz, the king of Israel, mentioned in our first reading. But Joseph is far more important than Ahaz; his faith is far greater than the faith of Ahaz, the king. You can see his faith in the story in Matthew’s gospel.
Matthew says that during their betrothal, which in Jewish tradition was more than the engagement we know in our tradition, Joseph finds out that Mary is pregnant. He wants to save her reputation, he’s a just man, after all, he knows her goodness, and while struggling to find a way to divorce her quietly, an angel of God tells him in a dream not to be afraid to take Mary as his wife.
And here is the key part of the angel’s message: “For it is through the Holy Spirit
that this child has been conceived in her. She will bear a son and you are to name him Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”
In our first reading, Ahaz, the king, rejects any message from God. He doesn’t want to believe, and of course there are always those who reject mysteries of faith. There will always be those who don’t believe. But God gives a sign anyway: “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel, which means God is with us.”
Now, unlike Ahaz, Joseph, like Mary, believed in the message of God. “When Joseph awoke, he did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took his wife into his home.”
What he believed is what we say in our creed: “(Jesus) was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the virgin Mary.” He became man, and God was with us.
The first thing Joseph would tell us as we come to the crib is “believe in the message of God. This is God, who is with us. Listen to the message that God has spoken. Jesus Christ is God who is with us.
The second thing, we can learn from Joseph is that God will always be with us in ordinary days and times, in the lives we live and the places where we are. But always keep listening for what God wants of you and follow God wherever you are.
We know very little about the early years of Jesus and the experience Joseph and Mary had of him. We do know there were two places where he spent his early years: Bethlehem and Nazareth. Bethlehem is just outside the city of Jerusalem. Jesus was born there. It seems they didn’t spend much time there. Nazareth is about 70 miles north of Bethlehem. That’s where Jesus spent most of his life.
Some scholars say that Joseph came originally from Bethlehem and brought Jesus and Mary to Nazareth for a number of reasons. First of all, he wanted to keep them safe from Herod the Great, a vicious and unpredictable ruler who would kill anyone who looked like a rival. One of Herod’s favorite palaces was just beyond Bethlehem. The nearer you lived to Herod, the more dangerous it could be for you.
So Joseph brought Jesus and Mary to the small hill town of Nazareth, where he probably had some relatives. There they would be safe.
Some say that Joseph was also looking for work there. Archeologists have recently uncovered a few miles from Nazareth a magnificent Greco-Roman city called Sepphoris, which was being built at the time Jesus was growing up.
They needed a lot of workers. Did Joseph the Carpenter work in that town, and maybe his Son did too? Thinking about that, can’t we see the millions of immigrants today, fleeing with their families, looking for a safe place, where they can work and make a living for themselves.
When we look at the Child in the Stable, with Mary his mother and Joseph the Carpenter, we’re also looking at the lives of so many today. We’re looking a millions of families like them, trying to live better lives in sometimes hard awful circumstances.
Can we hear from the little stable and the simple house in Nazareth. “Emmanuel, God is with us.”