In the gospel of Matthew, Joseph is depicted as a good man, a working carpenter, who trusted in God. He received God’s messenger who shared with him God’s will for him and for Mary, to whom he was engaged to be married. Luke’s gospel describes how Joseph took the new-born child as if he were his own. He was with Mary when, on the fortieth day after the birth, Jesus was presented in the Temple, ‘where every first-born male is designated as holy to the Lord’. The adoption of Jesus by Joseph also established Jesus in the descent of David, to accord with the prophecy that Israel’s deliverer would be of the House and lineage of David.
O Lord, open our lips
and our mouth shall proclaim your praise.
God our Father,
who from the family of your servant David
raised up Joseph the carpenter
to be the guardian of your incarnate Son
and husband of the Blessed Virgin Mary:
give us grace to follow him
in faithful obedience to your commands;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.
‘He shall call to me, “You are my Father,
my God, and the rock of my salvation;”
‘And I will make him my firstborn,
the most high above the kings of the earth.
‘The love I have pledged to him will I keep for ever,
and my covenant will stand fast with him.
‘His seed also will I make to endure for ever
and his throne as the days of heaven.
‘But if his children forsake my law
and cease to walk in my judgements,
‘If they break my statutes
and do not keep my commandments,
‘I will punish their offences with a rod
and their sin with scourges.
‘But I will not take from him my steadfast love
nor suffer my truth to fail.
‘My covenant will I not break
nor alter what has gone out of my lips.
‘Once for all have I sworn by my holiness
that I will not prove false to David.
‘His seed shall endure for ever
and his throne as the sun before me;
Glory to the Father and to the Son
and to the Holy Spirit;
as it was in the beginning, is now
and shall be for ever. Amen.
The birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly. But just when he had resolved to do this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, ‘Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.’ All this took place to fulfil what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet:
‘Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
and they shall name him Emmanuel’,
which means, ‘God is with us.’ When Joseph awoke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took her as his wife, but had no marital relations with her until she had borne a son; and he named him Jesus.
God is with us.
There are few references to Joseph of Nazareth in the gospel narrative but, those that do exist, suggest that he was humble, kindly and generous, as well as being a conscientious parent. Theologians have suggested that the strength of Jesus’ relationship with Joseph is evidenced in his deliberate adoption of the affectionate title Abba (Daddy) when speaking of God, and in his deep personal valuing of the fatherhood of God.
In first century Israel, Joseph was confronted with at great dilemma when faced with the reality of Mary’s pregnancy. For the woman to whom he was espoused to be found in such a condition placed them both in a position of potential social exclusion and physical danger. But, like Mary, Joseph was visited by God’s messenger. And, also like Mary, Joseph said ‘Yes’ to God.
As the Church constantly reflects on Mary’s role in the story of the Incarnation, so it consistently seems to forget Joseph’s similar level of obedience. Joseph quickly disappears from the gospel narrative, but his unconditional acceptance of God’s challenge is just as world-changing in its demonstration of obedience and compliance with God’s will.
Today the Church celebrates the Festival of Joseph of Nazareth. Today we are presented with another ordinary person whose loyalty and faith changed the world. Today we are being encouraged to accept the challenge and copy Joseph as we continue our own pilgrimage of faith.
At this stage I know that many are filled with doubt and apprehension. ‘I am not a Joseph.’ ‘God cannot possibly want me to do great things.’ ‘I just want to live a simple, quiet life.’ All of these expressions of doubt and scepticism, and more, are being expressed right now. But, every such expression of reticence flies in the face of all that was achieved for us two thousand years ago. Joseph was an ordinary man, eking out an ordinary existence in a non-descript hilltop town in a remote corner of the world. Joseph was about to embark upon a new phase in his life when God knocked at his door. Suddenly, humble, ordinary Joseph found himself being asked to serve God in a unique way. Joseph had to choose which path to follow.
No matter who we are God is knocking at our door offering us the same choice. Can we muster the faith to say ‘Yes’ to God? or are we going to slam the door in his face?
Prayers of Intercession
Let us pray to God the Father who through his Son has made us heirs of the Covenant.
We pray for the Church, ordained to be the guardian of truth and protector of the faithful. Bless and uphold in their calling those who have been given the fatherly care of your people.
Give strength to all who labour day by day for the welfare of those near to them and the needs of many. Sustain those whose work is hard and little rewarded. Teach us to have respect one for another and regard for the common good.
We pray for those entrusted with the care of children, for foster homes and foster parents, especially those in our community. May the love of Mary and Joseph be a pattern for our own families.
Look with pity on those whose marriages are threatened by suspicion and mistrust. Comfort all who are falsely suspected of infidelity, all whose relationship is hurt by jealousy. Bring new love and trust to heal broken relationships.
As we remember the departed, we give thanks especially for those who in their lives cared for the weak and vulnerable. May they be joined with blessed Joseph in the company of all who have faithfully finished their earthly tasks.
We pray in the name of Jesus Christ whose divine love entrusted the care of his humanity to a humble home in Nazareth.
Prayer for the week
be with us in our search for peace,
in ourselves and in the world you have made.
Diminish pride and increase humility;
weaken suspicion and nourish trust.
Deepen true love and understanding in every heart,
and unite us all as members of one family;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.
The Lord’s Prayer
Let us pray with confidence as our Saviour has taught us
Our Father, who art in heaven,
hallowed be thy name;
thy kingdom come;
thy will be done;
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our trespasses,
as we forgive those who trespass against us.
And lead us not into temptation;
but deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom,
the power and the glory,
for ever and ever. Amen.
The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ,
and the love of God,
and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit,
be with us all evermore. Amen.
God’s own true image we possess
in innocence first known,
now tainted by the hate and spite
to Christ’s own body shown.
By that same wounded heart of love
God’s image is restored,
to sing again the pilgrims’ song:
‘Your kingdom come, O Lord!’
Robert Willis (b. 1947)