Matthew 13:54-56 (CEB)
54 When he came to his hometown, he taught the people in their synagogue. They were surprised and said, “Where did he get this wisdom? Where did he get the power to work miracles? 55 Isn’t he the carpenter’s son? Isn’t his mother named Mary? Aren’t James, Joseph, Simon, and Judas his brothers? 56 And his sisters, aren’t they here with us? Where did this man get all this?”
This is the word of God for us the people of God. Thanks be to God.
Faithful: Christmas Through the Eyes of Jesus –A Carpenter Named Joseph
As followers of Jesus one of our core beliefs is that Jesus was not only fully God, but we also believe that Jesus was fully human! And it is this humanity of Jesus that hits us right in the face as we consider the story of the birth of Jesus and the childhood of Jesus. During Advent, we wait for the presence of God to come down to dwell among us on this earth in the birth of Jesus. And during this time of seeking God’s presence and anticipating his coming, we are going to look at the Christmas story through the eyes of Joseph – Jesus’ father. When we think about Jesus having an earthly mother and father, and when we think about what Jesus’ childhood might have been like and what his everyday life might have been like, it starts to become real to us that Jesus was God in the flesh come down to earth! This Advent we are looking at Adam Hamilton’s book “Faithful: Christmas Through the Eyes of Jesus.” And I invite you to read along. Let me know if you want a book, and don’t have one. You can download it on kindle if you want to. Our goals for the next few weeks will be to learn about God through Joseph’s story, to learn about ourselves from Joseph’s story and also to deepen our understanding of the Christmas story through the life of Joseph.
Now, the first thing I want you to know is that we don’t have a lot of information about Joseph. There is very little in scripture about Joseph; in fact, the Gospel of Mark doesn’t mention Joseph at all. So, we will be looking at the book of Matthew this Advent, which is the book having the most information as any about the father of Jesus. One of the interesting debates about Joseph is how old Joseph was. The custom of the Jewish people of Joseph’s day was that girls became women as soon as their menstrual cycles began and could be married shortly later. And so looking at the culture of the day, we would think that Mary would have been a young teenager and that Joseph might have been a little older than Mary. But interestingly, the early church came to believe that Joseph was an elderly widower, and that Joseph’s brothers and sisters were actually the children of Joseph and his first wife, rather than Joseph and Mary! Now if you were just look at the scripture, you wouldn’t see anything about the age of Joseph, and you certainly wouldn’t have any reason to think he was an older man. But in a document called The History of Joseph the Carpenter Joseph was said to be 90 years old when his first wife died, leaving him with six children to raise. And the story goes that Joseph was chosen to be the husband of Mary because of his piety and wisdom, and that Joseph died when Jesus was 18 (Hamilton, 16). Whether this story is true or not, it helped to support the emerging image of the holiness of Mary – it helped to support the idea that Mary was perpetually a virgin and never consummated her marriage to Joseph. And even today this is the official doctrine of the Catholic Church, and Adam Hamilton even pointed out in his book that John Wesley held this view as well. But the more modern view of protestants is that Joseph would have been a teenager, and the children who followed would have been half-siblings of Jesus.
We can see these two different views by looking at classical art. I wanted to share the paintings that Adam Hamilton shared in the book, both from the 1600s – one is a Spanish painter named Bartolome Murillo and his painting called “The Holy Family with Dog.” And you can see that Joseph looks fairly young – maybe not a teenager, but also not a 90-year-old. And then we have a painting by an Italian painter Elisabetta Sirani called “St. Joseph with the Infant Jesus” where Joseph looks pretty old. And so I encourage you to look on your own at how artists have depicted Joseph and the holy family over the years, and also check out your nativity scene and see whether you have a young Joseph or an old Joseph! Now the one at Atkins is really funny – because it portrays Jesus as young and old at the same time – he has blond hair, and a gray beard!
This art work is a modern depiction of Joseph which I really appreciate because Joseph looks more like the down to earth Middle Eastern man he was, rather than a European man of the 16th century. Right? His skin is darker and his clothes look simple. And the other thing I like about this art work is that I can really imagine Joseph as a father, here. We see the love and the care that Joseph has for the helpless infant in his arms. So let’s think about the characteristics that we can glean about Joseph – what can we learn about Joseph and what can we learn about how Jesus might have been raised? And how would Joseph have influenced his son.
One thing that we know so far is that Joseph was a carpenter.
Let me remind you — today’s scripture says this:
When he came to his hometown, he taught the people in their synagogue. They were surprised and said, “Where did he get this wisdom? Where did he get the power to work miracles? 55 Isn’t he the carpenter’s son? Isn’t his mother named Mary? Aren’t James, Joseph, Simon, and Judas his brothers? 56 And his sisters, aren’t they here with us? Where did this man get all this?”
At this point in the book of Matthew, Jesus had begun his ministry and had been teaching with parables, and some of the people in his hometown are skeptical of Jesus – they are upset with his teaching, and they wonder how in the world Jesus can teach with authority. They are trying to discredit Jesus based upon his father’s occupation as a carpenter. The people are saying – how can you believe what Jesus is saying – he’s just the son of an ordinary carpenter? He has no training, he’s not a priest, or a man with money – he is just the son of a carpenter who grew up down the street.
Adam Hamilton tells us in his book that the Greek word used for carpenter in this scripture is tekton. Tekton means someone who works with wood. Houses would have been built of stone because there was not much wood available in Galilee, and so the belief is that a tekton would have made things like furniture, chests and tables along with tools and yokes for oxen. (Hamilton, 20-22). And so I’m going to be polling the congregation today. I’m wondering what kind of person do you think Joseph would have been as a tekton, making furniture, chests, tools and yokes with primitive tools? What are the characteristics of carpenters who would be making things like furniture and chests. (patient, detail-oriented, hard worker, artistic, creative, persevere) So these are qualities that we might find in Joseph.
Another obvious thing we know about Joseph is that he was Jesus’ earthly father. And so I’m going to poll the congregation again. What characteristics make for a good father, stepfather, or father figure? What are some of the things that describe a good father? (kind, loving, teacher, good example, patient)
And we don’t know, really, do we, that Joseph had any of these characteristics. But I do know that we are greatly influenced by our fathers, our step-fathers and these father figures in our lives, aren’t we? The way that our fathers raise us, and the way that our fathers live their lives have a huge influence on us, right!? Some of us have had positive and powerful influences from our fathers, and some of us have had difficult and negative experiences. Sometime, our fathers shape us in ways we don’t even fully realize.
Adam Hamilton asked his friends on Facebook how they had been influenced by their fathers, and he got some great answers. He said that some of the stories talked about fathers who were absent or abusive or somehow “missed the mark as dads.” (Hamilton, 25). And I want to take time this morning to let you know that even these negative experiences with our earthly fathers can be redeemed when placed in God’s hands – and we can be healed from wounds that might have been caused. Adam Hamilton even wrote: “Some of the most compassionate and amazing dads I know had fathers who were absent from their lives which led them to a dogged determination to be available and present in their lives.”
But he writes, too, about the positive responses he got.
One man said: “My dad taught me by word and example never to stop learning and always be there for your child. He passed away eleven years ago. Not a day goes by that I don’t think of him.”
One said: “My dad taught me that a smart man will always admit when he is wrong.”
My dad embodied compassion. “He taught me and modeled for me what it means to truly care and love others.”
One said: “I’m in church today because my dad insisted on taking me to Sunday School and worship every Sunday as I was growing up, and somehow it stuck.” (Hamilton, 26-27).
Our fathers influence who we become. And I have to imagine that Joseph was a good and loving father because of who Jesus became, and it seems that Joseph must have taught his son many things about unconditional love, mercy and forgiveness. We can see this in stories about Jesus’ life – like the parable about the prodigal son. In that story, Jesus portrays God as a patient and merciful father taking back the wayward son after he had squandered his inheritance – forgiving, loving and welcoming the son back no matter how he has failed. Perhaps Joseph’s life was an example of these things to Jesus.
Jesus might have witnessed honesty from his earthly father because Jesus talks about the importance of telling the truth.
When Jesus teaches his disciples that true greatness comes from humbly serving others, he might have been remembering the simple and humble life of his dad, a carpenter.
And maybe Jesus was remembering his father’s honest dealings in his business and personal life when Jesus said that we should do to others what we want them to do to us.
Jesus is not just divine, Jesus was fully human, too. And so it stands to reason that Jesus would have been influenced by his earthly father. Although earthly fathers are far from perfect witnesses in our lives, they are powerful witnesses in our lives. Many of our fathers have been unable to be a witness that has influenced our lives and our faith for the good, but isn’t it interesting the way our heavenly Father seems to step in to fill that void when it’s necessary. Isn’t it interesting how God sends people into our lives to be the hope of Christ for us and to be the example of grace in the world. And isn’t it interesting how God calls us to step in and be that person who loves and cares for others unconditionally.
The question that Adam Hamilton asks at the end of the chapter is “How do others see Jesus and Joseph in you?”
And he asks: “How are we shaping the children entrusted to our care? Our children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, nieces, nephews, the kids we see at church?”
There was a news report this week that said the number of children in foster care has increased nationwide for the fourth year in a row, with the main reason being parents who are addicted to drugs. Another distressing pieces of news that came out this week is that Arkansas ranks highest in the country for children whose parents are in jail. So, this question takes on a serious urgency. How are we being Jesus and Joseph to those kids? I promise you they are within walking distance of this church.
So, today, let us give thanks to God for the humans who have loved us unconditionally, and for those who have taught us to love and forgive and to work hard and to be patient and creative. Let us give thanks to those who have taught us about the love of God in Christ Jesus. But I also pray for those parents who face addiction – that they would be delivered from that life of death and destruction into a life of joy and abundance in the light that is Jesus Christ. And I pray the healing grace of God to be poured out upon all God’s children who suffer.
And Mighty God, I pray that your Holy Spirit would stir up a little bit of discontent in each one of us, and I ask the Holy Spirit to reveal how each one of us is called to be a part of sharing the light of Christ with the children around us.
In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.