Sunday, June 18, 2017

The Silent Minion

The problem was, growing up in a trailer in New Brunswick there weren’t a lot of folks around who needed butlers.

And my favourite butler has been “Alfred Thaddeus Crane Pennyworth”  you know him, he was Batman’s butler.  And my favourite Alfred has been played by Michael Cane, but the actor who played him in the most movies is Michael Gough who played the role of Alfred for three different Batmans.  Michael Keaton, Val Kilmer and George Clooney.

And butlers are supposed to be like children, seen and not heard.  They are simply a part of the background.  They open doors, press clothes and present visitor.  And while they seem relatively unimportant the world of their masters would fall apart without the ever-present butler.

And every once in a while they are good to blame, you know “The butler did it!”  Whatever it was. 

This is week 7 of our “Minions: Playing Second Fiddle for God” series.    And you will recall that when Leonard Bernstein was asked what the most difficult instrument to play was, , he replied without hesitation: “The second fiddle. I can get plenty of first violinists, but to find someone who can play the second fiddle with enthusiasm – that’s a problem; and if we have no second fiddle, we have no harmony."

This morning we are going to step back into the New Testament and into probably the most familiar story of the bible, the Christmas story. 

Being Father’s Day I thought it would be good to take a look the man God entrust his son to.  Jesus’ earthly father.

He’s always the forgotten one at Christmas.  Oh, we remember the Christ child, how could we forget him, even in the shopping malls they sing about the birth of Christ and his name is even included in the very word Christmas.  Without Christ, there would be no Christmas and so he’s remembered. 

And his mother, you remember “Round yon Virgin.”  After all the virgin birth was pretty spectacular, wasn’t an everyday occurrence.  And we are still talking about it.  And to give Mary her due it took a lot of faith to trust God for the miracle that he had promised. 

We even remember the bit players in the drama, we talk about the shepherds and the Wiseman, we cast them in the Christmas pageants and talk about how lucky they were to be a part of the first advent. 

The innkeeper even gets a speaking role in the play and he’s basically the villain of the piece.  Who’s forgotten?  Joseph, you know Mary’s husband, the man who would raise Jesus the Son of God as Jesus the Son of Joseph.

We don’t know a whole lot about Joseph, we know that he was a carpenter, that he lived in Nazareth and that his family was originally from Bethlehem.  We know that his father’s name was Jacob and that he was a descendant of David. 

We know that it was Joseph that the Angels came to in a dream to warn about King Herod looking for Jesus, and he took his family to Egypt.

We know that when Jesus was 12 years old that Joseph took him to Jerusalem for the Passover feast and we know that Joseph taught Jesus his trade.  But then we don’t hear anymore from or about Joseph after that.

And it seems that everybody had a voice in the gospel account of the first Christmas everybody except for Joseph.  We hear from Mary and Gabriel, Elizabeth and Zechariah, the shepherds and the Magi.  We even hear from Herod, and he was the bad guy. But not a peep from Joseph.  He’s as silent as the best of butlers. 

We presume that because at his crucifixion Jesus asked John to care for his mother that Joseph died before Christ was crucified. 

In Mark 6:3 Jesus is identified as Mary’s son and his brothers are named but there is no mention of Joseph so it’s not that much of a stretch to presume that Joseph died before Christ began his ministry.  And we know that within the community, that Joseph was considered to be the Father of Christ.

You know the story; Joseph was engaged to a young girl from Nazareth named Mary.  Historically and culturally we can almost assume that they had been engaged from childhood, although we don’t know that, but you know what happens when you assume?  Yeah sometimes you’re right. 

And so, we don’t know how long they had been engaged but we do know that they had entered into the last stage of their engagement, which was known as the Betrothal.  Now Betrothal was much more serious than our engagement.  It lasted for about a year and was a legally binding contract, which could only be broken by death or by divorce. 

I’m sure that the couple was doing all the things that couples do to get ready for weddings.  You know the bride is rushing hither thither and yon, and she keeps asking the groom, “So what do you think honey? Is this right? Should we do that?  What about flowers and the reception?

And Joseph being the good groom is nodding and smiling and saying “Whatever you think dear.” 

And I don’t know exactly how she broke the news to him, but at some point in all of the wedding arrangements she must have done a “I’m so excited about this, and what with Rachel coming for the wedding, and Martha, and Elizabeth, did I tell you that Elizabeth was pregnant?  I did?  

That is such a neat thing, you know I’m pregnant too, maybe the boys will play together when they grow up, do you think we ought to have fish at the reception as well as the beef?”

And Joseph does a “whoa, what did you say?” and Mary would respond and say “Do you think we ought to have fish at the reception as well as beef, you know in case there are vegetarians there?”   “No not that, the other part.”

“Oh, you mean about Rachel coming down, didn’t I tell you?”

Seriously I don’t know how Mary did it, how do you tell your fiancé that you’re pregnant and it had nothing to do with him.  Maybe she read him the Christmas story out of Luke. 

However she did it though it must have left him completely stunned. How could she possibly have betrayed him, and then expected him to believe that entire line about her still being a virgin? 

The father was the Holy Spirit, right, like what turnip wagon did she think he fell off of?

And the conversation must have ended with Joseph feeling betrayed and Mary feeling hurt because he didn’t believe her and doubting her integrity. 
But what could he do, he had trusted her, he wanted to spend the rest of his life with her, but for her to go and . . . it just wasn’t right. 

So what was he to do?  Well there were a couple of options, he could have her stoned to death, according to the law that was the punishment for adultery and during the betrothal period it would be considered adultery. 

The other option of course was to simply break off the engagement, but remember that by this time it could only be done with a formal divorce. 

The Bible tells us that Joseph was a just man, and so he decided to simply go through with a quiet divorce so Mary wouldn’t be disgraced publicly and get on with his life.  But life is never that simple, is it? 

That night as he tumbled into a trouble sleep, something remarkable happened.  An Angel appeared to Joseph, I wonder if Joe’s first thought was “I knew I should have skipped the chilli and ice cream before I went to bed.” 

Well the angel had a message and the message was “trust her, Joseph, trust her.”  The angel explained how the child that Mary was carrying was indeed the Son of God and that Joseph needed to go ahead with the wedding.

It’s kind of interesting what happened here.  Perhaps you’ve never noticed it, or if you have then perhaps it didn’t bother you.  So, after the angel has clued Joseph in we read in  Matthew 1:24 When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord commanded. He brought Mary home to be his wife, 

You say, “Ok, what’s the problem?”  Well no problem really but In Luke Chapter 2 we are told how Joseph had to go to Bethlehem to take part in the Census listen to what it says in Luke 2:5  He took with him Mary, his fiancée, who was now obviously pregnant.

Kind of beat that one around for a while, Matthew says Joseph took Mary home as his wife, but Luke calls Mary, Joseph’s fiancée. 

I wonder, and I realize that I’m speculating but I wonder if Mary had to live with Joseph and his family until the wedding because her parents wouldn’t let her stay when they found out she was pregnant?   

I wonder if the wedding was perceived to be a shotgun wedding, what type of wedding would it have been, they didn’t have shotguns back then? 

I remember a friend calling me years ago and telling me that him and his girlfriend were getting married and it was going to be a formal wedding, that her father had painted the shotgun white. 

We really don’t know much other than they were married and the scriptures tell us that she remained a virgin until Jesus was born.  The children she had after Jesus,  belonged to Joseph. 

If you know the Christmas story you know that the Roman authorities called for a census and that everyone had to return to the town of origin and for Joseph that meant Bethlehem. 

Let’s pull down our map, a couple of land marks.  Sea of Galilee is here the Dead Sea is here and here is Nazareth and from there  Joseph needs to  take his pregnant wife, probably by donkey 110 km to Bethlehem where the child would be born. 

Not the type of trip recommended for someone who was 9 months pregnant.  When Angela was 8 1/2 months pregnant we moved back from New York, but she got to drive a brand-new Plymouth, my dad would say she would have better off with a donkey but he’s a Ford man.

So that’s the story, but what do we learn about Joseph?

Let’s go back to the story: The angel appears to Mary to let her know that even though she is a virgin that she is going to give birth to the son of God. 

She tells Joseph who is a little skeptical and he decides to call off the engagement, which would seem to be an appropriate response.

That night as he sleeps he’s visited by an angel who tells him that Mary is telling the truth and we read Joseph’s response in Matthew 1:24  When Joseph woke up, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded and took Mary as his wife.

So the first thing we discover about Joseph was that Joseph Trusted God  We are looking at the story from this end and there are still people who call the virgin birth into question. 

I mean there are so called Christians and even so called Christian Churches that say the virgin birth didn’t really happen, that it isn’t really important that we believe it. 

What a crock, I don’t know if that’s a correct theological term or not, but if you can’t believe that Jesus was born of a virgin what can you believe about Him?  But they say, “that’s impossible!” 

Of course it’s impossible, that’s the entire point.  If you’re going to believe that Jesus was divine then you’d better believe that he had a divine beginning. 

But there are people today, who even though they have the gospel account, even though they can read that Jesus lived died and rose from the dead, can’t believe that he was born of a virgin.  Think about poor Joseph. 

The girl he planned on spending his entire life with tells him “I’m going to be a mom, but you’re not going to be a dad.”  What do you say? 

I can’t say with a hundred percent certainty, but I would suspect that I’d be close to 99.99 % certain that nobody in here would have believed Mary’s story.  And if you would, I have a lovely bridge I’m trying to sell, goes between Dartmouth and Halifax.

Mary would always know that she was a virgin.  She knew exactly what she had done, and what she hadn’t done, she wasn’t naïve, when Gabriel told her that she would have a son she responded in Luke 1:34  Mary asked the angel, “But how can this happen? I am a virgin.”

But Joseph, all he had to rely on was the word of Mary, and the word of an angel.  And it would appear that the message from the angel was the turning point.

I’m sure that Joseph must have thought, “I don’t understand it, I can’t explain it, I’m not even sure that I’m happy about it, but if it’s of God then count me in.” 

Think about it, Mary wasn’t the only one that had to put up with the whispers and snickers about her situation.  Joseph was the one who would have gotten the blame. 

“What a heel couldn’t even wait ‘til they were married.”

The women would have looked down their noses at him, and the guy’s would have joked about him.  And what would Joseph have said, “Look it’s not like that at all, she’s still a virgin the child is the Holy Spirit’s.”

And you can just imagine the guys “Sure the Holy Spirit got Mary pregnant, nod nod, wink wink, now Joseph thinks he’s God.”

And yet as far as we know once Joseph was visited by the angel he never doubted the parentage of Jesus. 

Let’s go back to the scripture that was read for us earlier, Luke 3:21-23  One day when the crowds were being baptized, Jesus himself was baptized. As he was praying, the heavens opened,  and the Holy Spirit, in bodily form, descended on him like a dove. And a voice from heaven said, “You are my dearly loved Son, and you bring me great joy.”  Jesus was about thirty years old when he began his public ministry. Jesus was known as the son of Joseph.

So not only did Joseph trust God but God Trusted Joseph Think about it, just for a minute, put yourself in God’s place. 

You’re going to come to the earth as a helpless child, you are going to be raised and fed and nurtured by two humans, just plain ordinary peoples.  Who are you going to trust to do the job?

I’ve been a parent for almost thirty three years and I’m not sure that I would trust me with the responsibility.  It was Samuel Butler the English writer who wrote “Parents are the last people on earth who should have children.”

One of the first indication of the type of man Joseph was is found in Matthew 1:19  Joseph, her fiancé, was a good man and did not want to disgrace her publicly, so he decided to break the engagement quietly.

He could have had her killed, it was certainly an option as laid down in the Old Testament, probably wouldn’t have been the first time it happened, and probably wouldn’t have been the last. 

Even if it doesn’t happen today the temptation is there, Loretta Lynn made this statement “My attitude toward men who mess around is simple: If you find 'em, kill 'em.” There are those here whom I would suspect would subscribe to that theory as well.

He could have done that, but he didn’t.  He also could have made a public spectacle out of Mary, he could have told everyone that he knew that she had slept around on him, could have dragged her into the middle of town, humiliated her and demanded that the engagement be called off.  

No instead he decided to break the engagement quietly and the thing that is most telling about his character are the words”He did not want to disgrace her publicly.”

Joseph also brought his son up in a Godly home.  There’s an interesting note in Luke 2:41  Every year Jesus’ parents went to Jerusalem for the Passover festival.

It was the desire of every devout Jew to celebrate Passover in Jerusalem, but it wasn’t always easy, so most people didn’t make the trip. 

But we are told that Mary and Joseph made the trip not just the years that it was convenient, but every year. 

If we were to pull up the map again, here is Nazareth, where Jesus lived with his parents, and here is Jerusalem, which is right next door to Bethlehem, so a distance of about 110 kms that’s further then from here to Truro. 

And there wasn’t just Mary, Joseph and Jesus.  We are told in the scriptures that there were at least two brothers and at least two sisters, and they didn’t have a minivan to go in, they were on foot. 

Most of us would find it inconvenient if we had to drive to Truro for a Christmas Eve service, but Joseph felt that it was important that he celebrate Passover in Jerusalem with his family, every year. 

Jesus’ life as a child is pretty much a mystery to us except for the story about the Passover celebration in Jerusalem, but we are told this in Luke 2:52  Jesus grew in wisdom and in stature and in favour with God and all the people.  That's a pretty good report.

And Joseph had to take at least some of the credit.  Jesus may have been the son of God but it was Joseph who raised him.

And maybe Jesus would have said with Michael Jordon “My heroes are and were my parents. I can't see having anyone else as my heroes.” 

Over the past seven weeks we’ve looked at those who didn’t get to play a lead role in the story of God.  And the reality is, most of us won’t get to play the lead either.  But the story wouldn’t have been complete without the supporting actors and actresses.

I watched the Minion movie again the other day and in the introduction the Minions were between masters, and as they simply existed the narrator said “They felt empty inside, without a master they served no purpose.” 

From the beginning, we were designed to be in fellowship with God, and when that is missing we are like the minions, we feel empty inside, without a purpose. 

The Master is waiting for you.   

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