The story is called “The Forgotten King.”
And it begins like this: “Pop quiz time! How many of you think you can name the three kings in the Nativity story? Are you thinking Balthazar, Melchior, and Gaspar? Good try, but no, they are not kings, they are Magi – wise men...astronomers of sorts who studied the stars to find the secrets of the universe. If we read the story we’d notice Matthew doesn’t name the three wise men, and actually, he doesn’t say there are three of them… And they weren’t even kings! But there are three kings in the famed nativity story...set in Bethlehem, the city of David.
The first is, of course Jesus who was just born King of the Jews. The second is Herod, who was not of the royal line, but he was king. The third, surprisingly, is Joseph! Husband to Mary, the Mother of Christ. He is, The Forgotten King! No, Joseph never held the position of King of Israel. But the Angel of the Lord called him, “Son of David.” He was descended from King David; and he had royal blood flowing through him. And if you consider the kind of man Joseph was, you see he had the very qualities that would have made him a wonderful, godly king.
Today our reading comes from Matthew’s gospel chapter one, verses 18-21. In these four verses is pretty much all we are given about Joseph. There are a few other bits of information hidden here and there, but this is the most complete picture of the man who God chose to raise up our Savior King.
Talk about an epiphany! Or a divine revelation! I can only imagine what was racing through Joseph’s head and heart after this strange encounter.
Let us return to Roxy’s story and see what she thinks. “Matthew describes Joseph as a ‘just man.’ What does that mean? According to the dictionary, a just person is someone who adheres strictly to a standard of right and wrong. In other words, Joseph always seeks to do what is morally right. This means that Joseph diligently kept the Torah, the law of God. Now quite often, people who are very strict about right and wrong in their own lives can be very rigid and harsh with other people – demanding and unforgiving. But look at Joseph! Matthew says he was a “just man AND was unwilling to put Mary to shame.”
Remember, at that time, Joseph was convinced that Mary had committed adultery
(even though they weren’t married at the time). Believe it or not, he had the legal right to have her stoned to death along with whoever the offending man was. But notice that Joseph chose instead to have mercy on Mary, and just quietly dissolve the marriage. He was both just and merciful – just like God! No wonder he was chosen to be the earthly father to our Savior.
Can you imagine how awed Joseph must have been when he learned the truth? I’m sure he wondered how on earth he was going to live up to the responsibility God had given him.
Like his ancestor King David, who was just a kid when God chose him, Joseph assumed the responsibility to set an earthly example for his Son to follow. David did this for his son too. While Solomon was a good and wise king, he still was not a Divine king. And as the scriptures reveal, Israel would suffer greatly under the kingship of others who learned from him. That is to say, until Jesus, the Christ, the newborn King came to redeem us and take upon our suffering.
There is a contemporary Christian song that sums up how Joseph may have felt being a surrogate for God. It’s by Michael Card and it’s simply titled “Joseph’s Song.”
How can it be –
This baby in my arms
Sleeping now so peacefully –
The Son of God, the Angel said.
How can it be?
Lord, I know he’s not my own
Not of my flesh, not of my bone;
But, Father, let this baby be
Son of my love.
Father, show me where I fit into this plan of yours.
How can a man be a father to the Son of God?
For all my life I’ve been a simple carpenter;
How can I raise a King?
Fast forward now about 30 years. Jesus is traveling around Israel, teaching, healing, and doing miracles. And one day in the temple, the Pharisees dump at his feet a woman caught in adultery, and they demand that He judge her. Again, according to Torah law, she should have been stoned to death…as well as the man involved in the act, but no man was brought to Jesus, just this frightened woman.
Instead of making a judgement, Jesus quietly bends down and writes in the dust with his finger. We don’t know what he wrote, but I wonder – was he thinking back to the stories Joseph had told him, about the time he thought Mary had committed adultery? Was Jesus remembering Joseph’s mercy in not demanding the death penalty?
True, Mary had not been guilty, and it’s safe to say this woman was...having been caught red-handed. It’s important to note that Jesus did not condone her sin. But instead he simply forgave her sin. Jesus treated this woman with compassion, gentleness, and forgiveness just as his fathers did...both on earth as it is in heaven. Jesus’ loving kindness got people’s attention. Especially the women and marginalized. No wonder they hailed him as their king...or why Herod allowed him to be crucified. Our rulers today continue to follow Herod’s lead...But we are called to follow Jesus.
In the life of Joseph, the forgotten king, Jesus had seen how to treat a woman – women like my wife, my daughters, my sisters and my own mother. And Jesus carried that virtue of mercy and justice throughout his whole life and ministry. He had watched Joseph loving Mary, no matter what – cherishing her and defending her against attacks and malicious gossip. When the law demanded death, he did what he had to do to honor and uphold life.
Through Joseph, Jesus learned that a woman was to be valued, honored and cared for. And as the Bible reveals, Jesus did that with every woman he encountered. In fact, he did that with every person he encountered.
Just and merciful. That is how Jesus is revealed to the world. God’s Justice and mercy...made manifest for others to see. While it seems Joseph fades into the background of Jesus’ story, I’d say, this forgotten king did a pretty good job at raising a different kind of king. Our King.”
For me, the moral of Roxy’s story is simple. We learn our behavior from watching others. Just the same, others learn from watching us. So we must ask ourselves “what exactly do they see when they look at you and me?”
Do they see a group of selfish people who are rigid and harsh with others who aren’t like us - demanding and unforgiving, always taking what God has to offer without ever really giving back?
Or do they see the glory of our Divine King, made manifest, who out of great love for others doesn’t think twice about showing mercy or forgiveness, even if it’s deeply unpopular or cost him his life.
My challenge to you today is a challenge we need to make for the entire year. Whether or not you make New Years resolutions, I hope that you will make it your goal for the year to faithfully practice the way of Jesus. By watching and observing his way, we learn and teach God’s way.
I challenge you to use the next 359 days to walk as Jesus walked, to use your words, your hands, your heart, your time, and your gifts to bring peace and reconciliation everywhere you go. And to do what you can to heal the world through acts of kindness, mercy, and grace.
I challenge you to love everyone and serve and stand up for everyone - especially those who have no voice, or rights; and those who are hiding in fear because of who they are or where they are from.
Today, as we celebrate Epiphany, I challenge you to allow God to make manifest in you the light and love of Jesus Christ. The reason this is important is simple: Through us, God’s love and forgiveness becomes tangible and real reaching others in the most intimate and profound way.
Just as God worked in human form through Jesus, so too does God use us to reconcile the world home. We are called to be like Christ in the world so others can meet God anywhere and everywhere we are.
By our faithfulness and willingness to live in such a way that reflects God’s will and not simply our own, we become something greater than some temporal, earthly king. We become sons and daughters of God Almighty - heirs to the everlasting manifestation of God’s great glory in the world. Amen.
*Special thanks to Roxy Rice for her inspiring devotional which she allowed me to share and add to.
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.”