My name is Joseph, and yes, I am the guy in the background. I’ve gotten used to being there. I am hoping by now you folks will understand why Gaspar and Mary and myself all decided to come visit you.
The visits are meant to do more than entertain you. Furthermore, they are meant to do more than connect you to our historical reality. Our stories are an attempt to declare to you a mystery, the mystery of how God has worked in our lives to bring about the salvation of the world.
Most think that such a momentous thing as salvation has to come from influential people, to people ordained by God for the task, like saints and prophets. But, this is how repression works. This is how the powerful remain powerful, by creating a hierarchical system and convincing people like you and me that we are insignificant, that we occupy the bottom rung. Feeling insignificant makes us believe that we could never be worthy of being a vital part of God’s salvation plan. I am here to tell you differently.
Our stories confirm that, somewhere along the line, God’s people diverged from the path of God. The values this world has come to idolize, to worship, are not the values of God, are not the way of God. God brings salvation to the world through people just like you and me. God uplifts the lowly, empowers the weak. All of us came to tell you that this God who worked in our lives 2,000 years ago is still just as active today in your own lives; that God is not working to simply walk in the garden with you, but to inspire you to believe that God can use you each one of you to bring about the salvation of this world. In fact, God needs you in order to bring about salvation. That is your great commission. Not really feeling it? Then listen to my story.
As you know and can see, I am a carpenter. Some would call me a master builder for I worked in stone as well as timber. As you also know
I am Jewish at a time when being Jewish was no privilege. The Romans hated us and, although they pronounced to the world that we were allies, they used poverty to control us and placed the fear of their swords within us. Many Roman slaves were far better off than we were. Consequently, our lives were about survival. Everything we did, we did to survive. One thing I would ask you to do is not to equate being poor with lack of education. Our social condition was not of our own making, but was thrust upon us. I am only one of many, who learned the Torah from my father Heli, a scholar. I, myself, am considered within our social circle to be quite a learned man.
My family are also descendants of King David and therefore considered to be of royal blood. In the confines of our faith community, I am considered an elder, what you might think of as a pillar of your church, a biblical scholar, trustworthy and justified before the law and God. Of course, this means nothing to the Romans. There is no dignity allotted to my people. I’m handy with a hammer and saw. That’s all they care about. I tell you all this not to wean your sympathy but to help you
understand the realities of our lives.
I’ve seen those romantic pictures that have been created of home and hearth, with me in my workshop, and Mary adoring her son. There are three things very wrong with this picture, however. Firstly, there was no workshop. We lived in one room of Mary’s family complex; a group of one-room shelters huddled around a common fire and grinding stone. It was the only way our people could survive, by living together, working together, sharing income and workload.
Secondly, there was no time for Mary to sit idly by adorning her son. There was simply too much work to be done. There was no time to stand at the well of the village and gossip or for gitty chat while grinding the wheat. No time to hover over the bed of our sacred child, loving his dreams. We both fell into bed every night exhausted. Mornings came early.
Thirdly, I am sure you have seen the pictures of a young adolescent Jesus standing at my worktable as I lovingly taught him how to stroke a piece of wood or bore a straight hole. Sorry, there was no time for that either. The only work in the area was at Sephora, a city about 5 miles south of Nazareth. Herod had destroyed this city in his conquest and was now, in his usual obsessive behaviour, going to build it 10 times larger and better. Everyone worked from morning to night, which meant I left home with a lantern in my hand and came home the same way.
There was no time in our poverty, for parenting, or mentoring. Jesus learned his trade as I did, from the ground up, from the sweat of his brow.
I have also seen your pictures of Mary and I engaged in a romantic embrace beneath the blessed light of a star. Romance comes at a cost only the privileged can pay.
I’m an old man. I don’t have the luxury of time to make things palatable for you. so, I will give it to you straight. My wife, Salmone and I, had six children. She died in the childbirth of our last child. I needed help to care for this family. I had a friend in the village called Joachim. His wife was a good woman and she volunteered to come with her oldest daughter to help out at the house. And you guessed it, the oldest daughter was Mary. Mary was about 10 at the time. As time passed, Mary became strong and capable enough to take on the duties of our home by herself. But then she became too old, 13 to be exact. She was a woman now and it wouldn’t be proper for her to be spending so much time in a widower’s home. Joachim and I talked about it and it was decided that I would become betrothed to Mary. Then, if everything worked out, we would wed.
Now, I understand that according to your way of thinking this may seem a little lude, an old man marrying a child like her. But again, I would remind you that these were hard times and it was survival, survival for Mary and survival for my family. It wasn’t as bad as you might think for Mary getting hooked up to this old guy. She would be looked after, she would have a home, and even after I am gone, my oldest son James would take her in and provide for her. So, that was the plan, until God changed everything.
This is the part of my story I want to impress upon you. But firstly, you have to pretend you don’t know the end of the story. I need you to simply be there with me in that moment when I had the strangest dream. I want you to be with me at that time in my life when I wake up from this dream and I have to discern what to do. I know that you too
have had moments in your life of great indecision of not knowing which way to turn. That’s where I was. There was no talisman of faith standing out there on the road before me telling me which way to go. The implications of any decision I made were huge. I was known as a righteous man. Righteous in the eyes of God and my church because I have kept the laws of Moses. Yet, the law was very clear on this one. Any woman caught in adultery would be taken to the village square to be stoned. Yet, God tells me this pregnancy was not Mary’s doing and to take her as my wife. If I do, I would be directly defying the Law of Moses, a Law which defined my whole life, defined me as a Jew. I would become an unrighteous man, in not only the sight of my faith community but before God! Do you understand the dilemma? Following God’s direction will make me unrighteous before this same God. So, I questioned. Did I hear God right? Was it simply a dream? Do angels really exist?
Then there was this. I have already told you that I have other children. If I wed Mary and she has the son which is predicted, then I will, by law, become his legal father. This Jesus becomes the first-born son of our marriage and, as such, stands to inherit 2/3 of whatever I leave to my family. What about James? What about my other children? So, tell me. What would you do if you were me? Because any of you could have been me. Remember that God works through the lowly not the mighty.
God could have chosen any one of you at any time to do this salvation work. In fact, I would suggest that already, at some time in your life, God has been working out God’s salvation plan, as God asks each one of you to make those hard decisions about your purpose in life. Wealth or stewardship? Comfort or service? Heart or mind? Idol or faith? Conformity or transformation?
That’s it. That is where I am going to leave the story. I cannot, nor will not, tell you how to resolve these tensions in your lives. It is your life. It is your God who has named and claimed you. It is your story of how God works in your life.
I will say this, however, for a bit of encouragement. Never discount the power of the living God in your life. Never let the repressive forces of this world blackmail you into believing that you are too small or insignificant to do anything really powerful in this world. That’s how they win. Remember, we do the best we can with what we have and when we offer that to God, God works miracles. Never, ever dismiss that power in your life or this world never will see salvation.