Imagining the Words of Joseph
The Rev. Hal Chorpenning
Plymouth Congregational UCC, Fort Collins, Colorado
18 December 2022
That was one of the strangest nights of my life. And it was such a difficult situation. (You think the holidays are stressful for you? Try being engaged to a wonderful, kind young woman who manages to become pregnant without the benefit of a husband…or even a human!) Try explaining that to the neighbors. You know there have been times when I have seen an unmarried woman stoned to death for becoming pregnant. It is not tolerated in our culture.
I was absolutely shocked when I found out that Mary was with child, since she and I had never had sexual relations and I had been sure — well, almost entirely sure — that she had not been with another man. My plan was to send her away to relatives during her pregnancy and to quietly end our engagement. She was the love of my life…what else could I do?
I’m not usually one to remember my dreams, but I do remember this one. The messenger of God appears to me (nothing like this had ever happened before) and he was radiant and spoke with the voice of authority, and said, “Don’t worry what everyone will say. Don’t be afraid to take Mary as your wife. The child she carries was conceived by the ruach ha-kodesh, the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son and you will name him Jesus.”
I kept thinking to myself: why Mary? And why me?
You wouldn’t believe what both Mary and I endured during the pregnancy…the whispers, the gossip, the righteous people who gave us the cold shoulder, many family members turned their backs on us. Two things kept us going: our deep love for one another and our faith in the Lord and the messages he sent to us through the angels. It wasn’t just Mary who was chosen to bear a son; God knew it would take a compassionate father to love and raise Jesus, and I hope that I’ve done that well.
They had to find someone whose lineage could be traced right back to King David. In my family, we can trace our ancestors not just to David, but all the way back to Abraham. My father was called Jacob and his father was called Matthan, and his father was called Eleazar… back beyond the time of Exile. There are 14 generations from our ancestor Abraham to King David and then another 14 generations from the time of David to the Exile and then another 14 generations from the Exile in Babylon until my son Jesus was born.
Now that years have gone by, one thing puzzles me: I’ve heard that in all of the accounts being written about Jesus, they seldom about me, and while they recount the song that Mary sang about her soul magnifying the Lord and the poor receiving good things, there is not one word from me. I know, I shouldn’t be bothered about it.
But, I have to correct a few things about Jesus. Don’t get me wrong, he is a great son. But when they sing, “the little Lord Jesus, no crying he makes”… that is just plain wrong. The lungs on that child…ear-piercing shrieks when he needed to be changed. And that other song they sing, “All throughout his wondrous childhood, Jesus honored and obeyed.” Sometimes he honored and obeyed, but not all the time. You know about the time when he was a smart-Alec adolescent and he just disappeared. He scared the dickens out of Mary and me. We were up in Jerusalem to celebrate Passover, and we thought he was right there with us and our other children when we were headed home with all the others. One minute he’s with us and the next, he had vanished into the crowd. “Honored and obeyed,” as if! We were terrified, and then when we searched the crowd and didn’t find him, we headed back to Jerusalem, and there he was in the Temple Courts with the elders, asking questions and acting as if he knew it all. I’ll tell you, we were not only angry with him, but also astonished. He was holding his own.
Not bad for someone who worked with his father as a carpenter. He wasn’t a big kid, and sometimes he needed a little help hefting the larger logs that we sawed into boards, but he was great with his hands. Nothing rough-hewn about his woodworking…it was all well designed and put together. He had a real knack for carpentry. In some ways I wish he had stuck with it. His life would have been so much simpler.
He always admired his cousin, John, who frankly was a little “off-beat.” John had visions of being a spiritual teacher, which is fine. But instead of staying at home and becoming a rabbi, he set off into the wilderness, out toward the Jordan. It isn’t the most hospitable territory, and I heard that he subsisted on anything he could find out in the desert. Of course, there was no manna out there…just insects like grasshoppers and locusts and some wild honey, if you are lucky enough to find a bee’s nest. And John didn’t care what he looked like. He dressed in a rough cloak of camel hair that he had woven himself on a little hand loom. It still smelled of camel. Out there he was proclaiming that by being immersed in the River Jordan, people who truly changed their ways would be forgiven by the Holy One. And he had a following, to be sure. So many people trekked out to the Jordan to hear him and to be washed in the Jordan.
Jesus went out there also, and I told him to be cautious about his cousin, who… I didn’t want to say it, but … who is a little crazy. John baptized Jesus and then he said that John himself was not the one sent by the Lord, but that he was not worthy to tie the leather thong of the sandal on the one whom God had sent: his cousin, Jesus.
Jesus himself went into the desert wilderness for a full 30 days as if to test himself, to be sure that he was worthy of preaching about the realm of God, a world just as the Lord himself had intended us to live. No poverty. No hunger or thirst. No injustice or oppression. No empires to steal land and lives from those they invade. Instead, a world of healing the ill, restoring sight to the blind and hearing to those who were deaf. A world where peace and compassion and wholeness were the order of the day, instead of selfishness, greed, oppression, and ignorance.
I taught Jesus a lot about how to use a plane, a saw, and a hammer, but I couldn’t have taught him about God’s kingdom. That came from a different parent. So, that is where he is today, walking from place to place around the Galilee, proclaiming a new way of living in closer relationship to the Holy One. I know that he has made some of the religious authorities angry, because he sometimes says things that upset the Romans and even challenges some of the ritual observances that are central to our faith.
One thing that his mother and I did instill in him from the day of his birth right through to today: it’s all about love. We look around and we see the love of God everywhere: in the beautiful array of stars in the night sky, in the kindness of a parent, in the hospitality of an innkeeper, in simple bread and wine, in the births of children. And Jesus pushes the love of God even further. In fact, once I heard him say, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” An amazing boy.
How about you? What do you think life is all about? What is most important to you? What brings light into the world? What brings hope and peace and joy? If you listen to my boy, I know you will think that it it’s all about love.
I’ve thought a lot about its amazing power. That love is patient. Love is kind. Love is not arrogant or boastful or rude. It isn’t happy with injustice, but it is happy in the truth. Love trusts all things, hopes all things, and endures all things. Love never ends.
Maybe somebody should write that down and quote me for a change.
I bid you shalom!