Year B; Christmas 2; 1.3.2021, The Rev. Carolyn H. Eklund, St. Paul’s, Brunswick, Maine
Joseph is my guy, my saint for today.
I do not mean to say this flippantly. After all, Pope Francis dedicated the year 2020 to St. Joseph because obviously Joseph was “his guy” too – a terrific example of faith.
If we look at the kind of human being Joseph is in the first two chapters of Matthew’s gospel, we find a person of faith, integrity, courage and sacrifice. Joseph navigates with faith and integrity through two horrible nightmares in his life. We learn about his first nightmare in chapter one when he discovers that his young fiancée, Mary is pregnant. It’s not his child. They both know that. Only Mary knows its source is God.
To his credit, this man Joseph didn’t want to make a scene about this “shameful’ predicament. He planned to quietly dismiss her in order NOT to shame her. But then he had a dream, not a nightmare. He listened to the voice in his dream telling him not to be afraid, that the pregnancy was significant, and that he should embrace Mary and name the baby, Jesus, ‘for he will save his people from their sins.” So, Joseph listened to the dream, sacrificed his own reputation and loved Mary and the baby.
In Matthew, Joseph’s home was in Bethlehem. Maybe Joseph built his home himself. He was a carpenter, after all. I imagine that he prepared his house for the pregnant woman he married – maybe he created a little crib, a little high chair, a little changing table and maybe a little carved wooden mobile on string that hung over the little crib to catch the child’s attention before he went to sleep for his nap.
The wise men heard about this child, not from a dream, but a supernatural star. They learned that the baby was God’s child, was a royal being of peace to save his people. The awe and wonder of the wise men are set against an angry, terrified, greedy, lust-for-power vassal of Rome, Herod the Great. Herod was so jealous and scared of a baby threatening his phony royal status that he sent out an order to murder all the males two-years-old and younger.
That threat of death to his child is the second nightmare Joseph faced. I’m wondering if we could call Joseph the patron saint of nightmares! In a dream, an angel warned Joseph of Herod’s threat against his “adopted” baby son, and received instruction to flee out of town immediately and find a home as a refugee in another country, Egypt.
And so, Joseph, once more is “my guy,” my BRAVE example of sacrificial faith who in the middle of the night, packed up his home and led Mary and the baby Jesus on a most uncertain trip to a most uncertain place with a most uncertain future.
Joseph was alert to the nightmares he faced. He wasn’t paralyzed by them. He wasn’t overcome by hate for the forces of the empire that conspired to destroy his son and forced him to leave his own country. He listened, discerned God’s voice and acted with faith and love.
In a New Year’s Day interview with Judy Woodruff, on the PBS NewsHour our presiding bishop, Michael Curry addressed a question she asked him about the nightmare we are living in. The presiding bishop is a big fan of the late Verna Dozier’s book, “Dream of God” and often quotes her. So, you can’t ever call something a nightmare without Michael Curry speaking about God’s dream. He confessed that we are living in more nightmare than dream right now.
Then he described his family who descended from slaves. He described the things he learned from his elders, that they never gave in to fate, that he saw a pattern in them that refused to submit to the effects of selfishness and bigotry. Then he said, “They lived and loved IN SPITE of the nightmare. They lived in spite of the contradictions.”
He said, “….love, non-sentimental love is our religious tradition, and so is sacrificial living.”
I attended a Zoom Kwanzaa Seventh Day observance on New Year’s Day. The final principle observed on this day is Imani, which means “faith.” Linda Ashe-Ford and James Ford hosted this observance as they do every year. Before each of us shared our reflections of the year and our intention for 2021, Linda told the story about the meaning of New Year’s Day for slaves. It was a nightmarish day for all slaves because when the Planters settled their financial books from the year before, if there was a need for quick income, slaves were either rented away for a year or sold. Families were often separated for the quick, expediency of making money. Families lived in particular terror of being separated on New Year’s Day.
New Year’s Day was called “Heartbreak Day.” A slave named Lewis Clarke was recorded as saying in 1842, “Of all the days in the year, the slaves dread New Year’s Day the worst of any.” Not only was the brutal, inhumane act of slavery the accepted form of amassing wealth for a few southern Planter families, it was protected by federal law. The few became wealthy as slave families were split apart.
The policy of separating families is not just something from scripture or our own history. We are seeing it now as a formal policy of the federal government – our own empire, our own Herods of the land create a nightmare for refugee families at our border. I’ve reported this before that in a study of January last year, before the pandemic, the Southern Poverty Law Center reported that “…children separated from their parents or guardians under the family separation policy is 4,368.” The number is from last year and probably is under reported – four thousand three hundred and sixty-eight children.
If you run a search of Joseph on the web, you will find that he is the patron saint of carpenters and workers. Some call him the patron saint of realtors. Home sellers bury a statue of St. Joseph up-side-down in their yard for “good luck” in selling their home.
But I say he is the patron of children who are threatened and families who are separated – of those four thousand three hundred and sixty-eight children. He is the patron of embracing nightmares and acting from sacrificial love to lead loved ones to safety. He is the patron saint who said, “yes” to the status of “refugee” in a foreign land to save his adopted child.
The story of the Holy Family’s “Flight to Egypt” calls our attention as people of faith to the status of refugees and the separation threat to families that is real for so many people in this world fleeing for safety.
And it’s a story that calls us to choose living and loving IN SPITE of the nightmares and uncertainties of our own lives and the lives of our loved ones.