Jesse Tree Pageant and Matthew 1:18-25
How awesome it was to hear about the stories from Joseph’s lineage this morning, as these kids brought to life some of the stories of Joseph’s ancestors. For the past two weeks we have been listening to the birth story of Jesus out of the book of Luke, spending time hearing the stories of Zechariah and Elizabeth and the questions they had, the doubts they harbored, and ultimately, their faithfulness to God and connection to Mary. But today we switch for a Sunday and focus on Joseph in the Gospel of Matthew. Joseph is important to Matthew because Joseph is the one that connects Jesus to being within the Davidic line— a true King born in a line of Kings. In some sense, Joseph, and his many relatives, are heirs to the throne, if Israel had a throne. Matthew traces Joseph’s ancestors all the way back to the beginning of the covenant— to Abraham and Sarah; Isaac and Rebekah; Jacob and Rachel. Hearing about Joseph’s lineage, Matthew has set us up to expect great things from him!
But times have changed by the time Joseph is born. The Israelites no longer have a living memory what it’s like to have a Kingdom. They are ruled under the oppressive fist of Rome. Their economy is in shambles. Maybe Joseph is proud that he comes from the line of David, and maybe it’s just something his grandfather talked about long ago. What matters, as Joseph finds out that the woman he is engaged to is pregnant, is that Joseph is interested in what is right and what is just. And, as he discovers through his dreams, that’s not always what is faithful. When we catch up with Joseph in this narrative, he is already getting ready to dismiss Mary, whom he has learned is pregnant. That’s what was considered right; that’s what was considered just. He’s going to do it quietly, so as not to embarrass her, but he knows what the right thing to do is. And then God intervenes. And God tells Joseph in a dream not to be afraid to take Mary as his wife; that the child she carries is of the Holy Spirit; and that this child should be named Jesus.
And all of a sudden, looking at his lineage, our focus may shift a bit. For if you look past the shiny times, the “successful” days, the Christmas card moments, what you will see are regular, everyday people, choosing to be faithful day after day. That’s what’s really courageous, isn’t it? The story of David and Goliath is full of drama and heroism. But it is much later in life, when the prophet Nathan points out to David how wrong he has been; how far from God he has gone; and David is able to hear his friend and confess his sin, that we see true courage. It is in the seemingly ordinary act of letting go of his youngest son that we see Jesse’s courage as a humble farmer. It is not in the decision to leave everything she knows, but rather in the daily actions of putting one foot in front of another and making a new life that we see Ruth’s courage in starting over. All of these people were both saint and sinner, wrapped up together; all of these people chose to act in spite of their fear, and be faithful to God.
And that’s exactly what Joseph chooses to do. God is active in Joseph’s life— God is in his dreams helping him discern his future, even as that future looks unsure at best. And God will continue to be fully active in their lives, helping Mary and Joseph escape danger in Egypt, and bringing them back home when the danger was gone.
I don’t know if you noticed, but Joseph doesn’t actually have any speaking parts in Matthew. This is most likely because it is God who is doing most of the action. But in the last verse of our passage this morning, before the wise men are introduced on the scene, we are told that Joseph names the child Jesus. For the writer of Matthew, there is no greater act of faithfulness than this— to raise this baby with Mary as his own, to adopt Jesus into his own lineage. Matthew uses his voice to courageously speak into the darkness words of hope as he names this child, “Jesus,” which means “God saves.”
We all come from somewhere. But one of the blessings of the Gospel, is that wherever we come from, through our faith, we are now also adopted into this family tree. A family that goes all the way back to the covenant shared with Abraham and Sarah. A family that we get to be a part of precisely because Jesus, and his disciples after him, were faithful enough to open their hearts and open the doors and let all of us non-Jews in. And it’s not a perfect family. Like your own, perhaps, there are many things people have done that we’d just as soon write out of the Bible. But we don’t. Because it is through these ordinary people that God’s light shines through. It is through you, church, ordinary people here in St. Cloud, that God’s light has a chance to shine.
Resources Consulted: Interpretation Luke Commentary by Fred Craddock Workingpreacher.org