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No Ordinary Joe- Joseph and the Christmas Story

There was a saying which my Dad always hated.  It was when people would talk about an ordinary guy who was not noteworthy or spectacular in anyway.  They would call him an “ordinary Joe”.  You know the guy.  He’s the guy who you get to play the rock or the tree at the school play.  You see my Dad’s name is Joe.  Every time when I was growing up and somebody referred to someone as being an ordinary Joe you could guarantee that on the ride home that my Dad would mention what a ridiculous saying this was; “Ordinary Joe”

There was a Joe in the Bible, Joseph that fits quite well into this saying of “ordinary Joe”.  This is the Joseph who was the Father, so it was thought, of Jesus.  He is mentioned a scant ten times in the Bible and unlike the other characters like Mary, Zechariah, Elizabeth, Anna, and Simeon in the Christmas story, he is the only without lines.  Every other player in the Christmas story gets at least one line of a song or something.  But not one word from the mouth of Joseph is preserved for us in the Bible.  We find out that Joseph is a carpenter later on, but even here, he is not mentioned by name.  Instead, he is defined by his profession as a carpenter.

“Isn’t this the carpenter’s (Greek- “tekton’s”) son? Isn’t his mother’s name Mary, and aren’t his brothers James, Joseph, Simon and Judas? Mat. 13:55

Carpenter in the original Greek is “tekton”.  It is where the English words like technologist and architect come from.  Carpentry was a very broad field in the ancient word and a carpenter was basically responsible for everything from design to putting the finishing touches on the building.  In today’s world it would include job’s done by engineers, architects, tradesman of every type.  You know all those technical guys.  Those guys that don’t talk much but make things work; the “ordinary Joes”.

We see that right in the center of the Christmas story that this ordinary Joe, Joseph, this tekton, this carpenter, is thrust into an extraordinary situation.

This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit.   Mt 1:18

How would this ordinary Joe respond?  What would Joseph’s story be?  Donald Miller of Blue Like Jazz fame tells us that in a good story there must (must!) be conflict as it reveals and develops character.  The succinct Christmas story goes on:

Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yetdid not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.  Mt 1:19

According to Old Testament law, when it was apparent that his fiancée was unfaithful, which her pregnancy would certainly indicate, he was required by law to divorce her.  Engagements in that day were much more binding and required a divorce to end.  And as a follower of God it was his duty to do that.  And because Joseph is righteous, that is what he has in mind to do.  But he does so “quietly” so as not to expose her to public disgrace.  He could act out of his anger.  He could shout out from the rooftops that he had been wronged (by kirby).  He could have, and it would have been within his rights to do so.  He could have, but he did not.  His righteousness was tempered by compassion.  Joseph was “faithful to the law” AND compassionate.  Generally we are good at one the other.  Joseph was, like his son, full of truth AND grace.

During the holidays, most of us will meet with family.  Sometimes there can be long standing arguments or struggles with people.  We may even be “in the right” in the argument.  But is our sense of “justice” or “rightness” tempered by compassion like it was for Joseph?  Do we treat people, especially those closest to us with grace even if they don’t appear to deserve it?  Mary didn’t appear to deserve grace or love at this time, but Joseph gave it to her anyway, even though it was costing him honor and probably money.

Circumstances now change rapidly for Joseph.  He is visited by a messenger from God in a dream.  He is told that his fiancée Mary is pregnant by the Holy Spirit.  He is told not to be afraid to take Mary home as his wife.  How will Joseph respond to God’s message?

When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. But he had no union with her until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus.  Matthew 1:24-25

In response to God’s word there is simple obedience.  No fanfare.  Not even a spoken word to say that he will do it.  Instead he simply obeys.  He takes Mary home as his wife and he names the child Jesus.  Although Joseph remains silent, his actions speak volumes.

Look who God entrusts to take care of the Christ child, the God with us, the one who would save us from our sins and live abundantly here and eternally with God.  God trusts an ordinary Joe, Joseph the tekton.

All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: “The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel”—which means, “God with us.” Mat. 1:22-23

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“New research shows getting married and staying married may be the best thing you can do for a longer, healthier life.”  The New Science of Marriage; Jan. 2014 MacLean’s magazine.  This is not the findings of some crazy right wing, fundamentalist zealots but the reporting of our national magazine, MacLean’s.  I have always believed in the institution of marriage but the findings reported in the article are astounding never the less.

The Wonder Drug: Marriage

Below are some of the finding that are documented in the MacLean’s article:

  • The benefits of a happy marriage are comparable to or even better than chemotherapy for cancer patients.
  • It triples a patient’s survival after heart bypass surgery.
  • It lowers production of stress hormones and boosts immune responses.
  • The article compares marriage to a “wonder drug” because of its huge benefits in virtually every system of the body.

Could you imagine a wonder drug that is more effective than chemotherapy for cancer patients, a super new drug that triples (triples!) a patient’s survival after bypass surgery?  Imagine the outcry for this drug, the importance of putting into the hands of all people.  Sadly though, we don’t want to take “marriage”.  The article does not promote marriage but instead talks about the challenge for us as a culture is to “mimic” the benefits of marriage.  Perhaps it is too hard to take.  So as a culture we have taken the counterfeit instead.

The Counterfeit Drug: Living Together

The problem is though that the counterfeit drug simply does not work.  The article goes onto say this about living together instead of getting married:

  • “Surprisingly” cohabitation does not offer the same benefits as marriage.
  • Researchers are “astounded” that although living together resembles marriage, it does not offer the same protective benefits as marriage.
  • “Surprisingly” living together tend to lead to less stable relationships than marriages.

Never have I seen such a group of surprised and astounded people! What is instructive for me is not just the statistics and the findings, but the “shock and awe” associated with such findings.  This is no surprise to those of us who follow God’s teaching in the Bible.  The very first thing that God did after creation was create the institution of marriage “… a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh” (Genesis 2:24).  God made us to become one with our spouse in a bond that is only to be broken by the death of one of the spouses.  The fact of the matter is that God, the designer of the world, designed us to be married and stay with our spouse for a lifetime.  We are simply not designed to “hook-up” with someone, live together until the inevitable conflicts come, and then move onto the next one.

If we are designed, does that not assume a designer?!

The article quotes research that says that “we are designed” emotionally, physiologically and socially to live in close connection with people who care about us and that if you have a safe, loving relationship, your heart rate goes down, you have fewer stress hormones in your body and your body works more efficiently.  It is good to see science catching up with God’s word written thousands of years ago.  But it seems that even though the science of the benefits of taking “marriage” is overwhelming, we will not take it under any circumstances.    The article continues, “Pro-marriage efforts (among governments) walk an uncomfortable line between promotion and proselytizing.” 

At the end of the day, the cultural idol of today that “sex between consenting adults is nobody else’s business” will not be curtailed under any circumstances as it may look like religion.  Even if people’s happiness and their lives are at stake, the powers that be in our society will not promote the traditional view of marriage of one man and one woman for one lifetime.  Instead they will continue to look for a way to “mimic the effects of marriage”.

You just can’t make this stuff up:  Marriage replaced by robot spouses!

In the closing paragraphs of the article we find their solution:

Health care workers, scientists and researchers are looking for creative ways to mimic the effects of marriage. In Japan, which is aging faster than any other country, caretaking robots are being designed that could take the place of nurses—or spouses—to assist the elderly.


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