In his book, “Wild Pork and Watercress,” Barry Crump writes about a New Zealand orphan named Ricky who is placed in the home of two reclusive country folk named Bella and Hector.
Now, Ricky is an overweight boy who has always had trouble fitting in - be it at school or foster care. Bella is a kind and loving soul who accepts him for who he is and instantly welcomes Ricky as her own. And Hector is nothing like Bella. He is a cantankerous old bushman who know more about hunting than raising a kid.
After a bit of adjusting, things start to go well for Ricky until Bella unexpectedly dies. That’s when Child Protective Services decides it would be better for the boy to return to the orphanage than to count on Hector to look after him.
Well, Ricky doesn’t like this plan. And runs away into the wilderness, forcing Hector to go and find him before the others do. This ultimately sparks a national manhunt for the two, who for next three years learn how to survive in the wilderness together, feasting on wild pork and watercress…and forming an unbreakable bond.
Now, Hector didn’t have to go after Ricky or take him under his wing. He could have easily turned the boy in instead of putting his own life in jeopardy. But for some reason, he showed up. And something completely unexpected happened that would alter the course of their lives forever.
We get a similar story today from the gospel of Matthew 1:18-22
Once every three years, the lectionary puts the spotlight on Joseph. And this always surprises me. Because we’re not used seeing Joseph as one of the main characters in the big Christmas story, are we?
Believe it or not, but I have never preached on this text before. At the previous churches I’ve served, the Sunday before Christmas is always reserved for the children’s Christmas pageant. And we all know who the star is of that production: Mary and her baby. Not Joseph.
Joseph Pagano muses, “While we’ve all probably heard plenty of stories of little girls who were disappointed because they didn’t get to play Mary in the Christmas pageant, there are fewer stories of little boys who felt slighted because they didn’t get to play Joseph.”
Wiseman and donkeys, maybe, but never Joseph. He’s always the guy in the background. “Which is often the case for the stepfather,” as my friend Beverly points out. “They tend to be secondary players or background extras. Rarely the star.”
Now I have no idea what it’s like to be a stepfather. Nor do I know what it’s like to have one. But I know many who have stepped up to the plate to adopt or raise someone else’s child – loving them as their own.
One person was John Kraft, the husband of Rev. Dawn. Although John never pretended to be Alex’s father, he was there – with an open heart and open arms. One year, Alex gave John a keychain for his birthday that said, “Thank you for being the dad you didn’t have to be.”
I like to imagine Jesus doing the same for Joseph, who may not have been in the spotlight but was an important part of the cast – being the loving dad he didn’t have to be.
At first, it seems like Joseph didn’t want the responsibility. Set aside being the stepfather to the Son of God, I’m not sure Joseph saw it as good news when he learn his girlfriend is pregnant – and the baby isn’t his. I imagine he felt hurt, humiliated, disappointed, and angry. I doubt his first thought was “I should step up and raise this kid as my own.”
Although Joseph was an ordinary, everyday man, no different than any one of us, Matthew tells us he was also a righteous man. Meaning he loved God and tried to follow God’s law.
According to scripture, Joseph had every right to publicly accuse Mary of adultery, which under the law carries the death penalty. But instead, Joseph chose the other legal option, a more righteous one. Divorce her privately to spare this young girl of any danger, and himself any disgrace. As a righteous man, Joseph knows God is merciful and just. Why should he be any different?
It’s when he makes this resolve that something extraordinary happens. “An angel of the Lord comes to Joseph in a dream; telling him not to be afraid to take Mary as his wife, “for the child conceived in her womb is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”
Now, let’s take a moment to think about how you would react if this happened to you? What would you do if God gave you a divine revelation, in a dream no less. I’m pretty sure even I would wake up questioning its validity. Not Joseph. He did exactly as the angel of the Lord commanded.
He could have said, “no thanks,” and just moved on with his life. But like Hector running after Ricky, Joseph put someone else’s needs before his own. He showed up and became the unlikely hero in this story - a dad he didn’t have to be.
Because he showed up, God wasn’t going to let Joseph screw it up. Together they work behind the scenes to make sure this dream becomes a reality. Their son will grow up and redeem the world.
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What can Joseph’s story teach us today?
Simply this: show up for God with all your imperfections and brokenness, with all your questions, and doubts. God doesn’t need perfect to do miracles through. Just our willingness to show up and sow the seeds of love, so the fruits of love will grow.
How do we react when we see suffering or injustice in the world? Or a neighbor in need of friendship and a compassionate ear? We do what Joseph did. We do what Jesus did. We do what so many others before us have done.
Trust God enough to be a conduit for God’ love to pass through. All we have to do is take that first, faithful step out into Anamesa, and God will do the rest.
Since God always leads with love, we can always show up in the many ways we show love. Love is what the entire Christmas story is about. God so loved the world that God became one of us to make love tangible and real.
Christmas was not a one time event. Or an annual celebration with gifts. Like Mother Teresa discovered, “It’s Christmas every time you let God love others through you.”
To say that differently, we are called to honor Christ’s birth every day in the many ways we show up to love God, love others, and serve both.
God’s love moves through us every time we show up - providing food for the hungry, drink for the thirsty, clothes for the naked.
God’s love moves through us every time we show up - to be a parent to orphans, and a child to widows.
God’s love moves through us every time we show up - demanding justice, righting wrongs and ensuring equality to all.
It’s through all the ordinary and meaningful acts of loving kindness that we participate in the coming reign of God.
With God’s never ending love flowing through us, we become like the Christ child, illuminating the light of hope and peace and joy and love in every space we enter.
As Frank Logue wrote, “Not everyone one of us will be asked to do such a monumental task like Joseph was. But we will no less take part in what God is doing; bringing divine love into fruition, through ordinary acts and ordinary people like you and me.”
All we got to do is show up, and let God do the rest.
Logue, Frank. Participating in God’s Plan. December 11, 2022 (December 14, 2022).
Pagano, Joseph. The Faith of Joseph. December 22, 2013 (accessed on December 14, 2022).
An ex-copywriter turned punk rock pastor and peacemaker who dedicates his life to making the world a better place for all humanity.
"that they all might be one" ~John 17:21
“Prius vita quam doctrina.”
~ St. Thomas Aquinas (1225–1274)
* “Life is more important than doctrine.”