On March 19 the Church celebrates the life of another individual from her vast history: St. Joseph, the guardian of Jesus. It’s an interesting date on the church’s calendar for a number of reasons. First, in the assigned Gospel for the day, we take a brief trip back to Christmas––while living in the middle of Lent. Second, we spend time celebrating and acknowledging the life of a man who is only briefly mentioned in the Scriptures. Yet, we do what Christians have done over and over again through the centuries: we take time to thank God for a godly man in history, and we examine this man’s life for examples of faith which we can follow.
It can be easy to dismiss these feast days as being “Catholic” or “saint worship.” But a re-read of the sermon written to the Hebrews reminds us once again to
“remember [our] leaders, who spoke the word of God to [us]. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith” (Hebrews 13:7).
While Joseph may not have spoken any words recorded in Scripture, the outcome and way of his life are certainly something our Lord would like us to pay attention to and imitate.
The Lutheran Confessions, specifically the Apology [“defense”] of the Augsburg Confession, puts it much more eloquently:
“Our Confession approves honoring the saints in three ways. The first is thanksgiving. We should thank God because He has shown examples of mercy, because He wishes to save people, and because He has given teachers and other gifts to the Church. These gifts, since they are the greatest, should be amplified. The saints themselves, who have faithfully used these gifts, should be praised just as Christ praises faithful businessmen (Matthew 25:21, 23). The second service is the strengthening of our faith. When we see Peter’s denial forgiven, we also are encouraged to believe all the more that grace truly superabounds over sin (Romans 5:20). The third honor is the imitation, first of faith, then of the other virtues. Everyone should imitate the saints according to his calling.” (Ap. XXI, 4-6)
So, today we honor one of those in that “great cloud of witnesses” (Hebrews 12:1) as we focus on Joseph, the guardian of Jesus.
Humility in Headship
Frankly, we know very little about Joseph. But this is most certainly to his glory. A Christian life is not about being the center of attention or receiving the credit. Rather, a life of Christian humility can be seen in the actions of submitting to God’s will. While Mary’s faith-filled response to Gabriel,”Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38) is certainly something to imitate, Joseph’s response in the actions he took each time he encountered a holy messenger of the Lord should not be missed, either.
Despite the scorn and ridicule that accompanied the readily-apparent bulging belly in his soon-to-be wife, we’re told Joseph took Mary to be his own–”illegitimate” child and all. He was willing to go against the pressures of society which would not only would allow him to leave the relationship, but also bring charges of adultery against Mary that would lead to her execution. He did was was foolish in the eyes of the world and listened to the Lord’s encouragement (Matthew 1:20).
Later he would risk life and livelihood as he obediently takes Mary and Jesus to Egypt, protecting the young Christ-child from the devilish massacre of King Herod. And then, he would resettle his young family in backwoods town of Nazareth, away from the hustle and bustle of Jerusalem.
The rest of the New Testament says very little about Joseph, too. But again, this is perhaps even more of a reason for us to honor him today. Joseph worked humbly and quietly behind the scenes. As a
carpenter, one can imagine that he worked hard for a living and earned his income honestly and fairly. One can also imagine that he passed these same skills and principles on to his adopted son, too. Through hard work and discipline Joseph faithfully raised Jesus as his own and lovingly cared and provided for him. As a faithful Jewish man, we can imagine he raised his son in the Scriptures (yes, even the young Messiah needed to learn the Scriptures), teaching him the Word as he proudly watched Jesus grow “wisdom and knowledge” (Luke 2:52).
But the most prominent way that Joseph showed his love for his son was by loving Jesus’ mother, Mary. As a father, this was the best way that he could show his love to his children.
A Life Like Any Other
If you’re anything like I am, you probably imagine Jesus’ childhood as being extraordinary and unique. But perhaps you and I give the holy family more credit than we ought. Mary and Joseph were sinners, too. To be sure they lost their tempers and said hurtful things to each other and to their son. Jesus, having set aside some of his divine attributes during his time on earth (state of “humiliation”), woke up crying, skinned his knees, needed to be potty-trained, and brought stress to his parents that any baby, toddler, or young child would bring. No, the holy family’s home life was ordinary, just like yours and mine.
We cannot imagine that Joseph’s life went the way he had planned. We can’t imagine that a wish in his life was that his dearly loved wife would give birth to their first-born son among animals, and that his first crib would be a feeding trough. We can’t imagine that Joseph’s deepest desire was that their first “family excursion” was fleeing to a foreign country from a wicked despot intent on killing Joseph’s young child. We can’t imagine that the news that the woman whom he loved would have her soul pierced by the life and death of this newborn babe (Luke 2:35) sat well with him, either. As he stared at his newborn son on that day in Bethlehem, we can be sure that the prophecies of the Scriptures, the wise men, and Simeon were not on his mind, namely, that his son would undergo a grueling trial and gruesome crucifixion for the sins of all mankind. No, Joseph lived a life where things didn’t work out the way he wanted or go according to the plans he had. Yet, he did what his Lord asked. He listened to the voices of the messengers of God. And this is a good thing for you and me to imitate, too.
Happy “Father’s Day”
So today, I’d encourage you to celebrate and honor St. Joseph, the guardian and protector of Jesus. In so many more ways than mentioned here, your vocation, your “calling” is much like his. Like Joseph, guardian and protector, you face a world of Herods, desperate to destroy Christ. So guard and protect Jesus in your hearts and minds, as well as the hearts and minds of your children, from these attacks. Be in the Word daily. Faithfully seek out the Sacraments. Confess your sins. Receive forgiveness.
Like Joseph, father and husband, you and I have plans for our lives, for our marriages, for our children’s lives. Yet, like Joseph, we find that all of our best-laid plans are not the plans of God. Listen and trust that God is in control. Submit to his will. Listen to his messengers in the Word and through his called servants. And finally know that, despite a life of unexpected twists and turns, through Christ, he “works all things out for the good of those who love him” (Romans 8:28).
Like Joseph, work quietly and humbly, out of the spotlight and away from the attention. No matter your vocation, your “calling,” do it faithfully. Love one another in Christ. Forgive each other in Christ. Serve one another in Christ.
Happy “Father’s Day” to all of you.