Joseph's Struggle

The following is an edited version of a "A Rough Ride For The Righteous" - Sermon from Ross Bartlett, as shared for the morning of Sunday Dec 24, 1995 on the TELOS INFORMATION SERVICE. I found an edited version of it at Rev RJ Fairchild's site for Fourth Sunday of Advent 1998. A link to that site may be found on my page of links. It appeared as a monologue and I have shortened it considerably and interspersed the questions.

Recently I interviewed St. Joseph and this is how the interview went.

My name is Joseph. I’ve been at your celebration of Christmas for quite a while but I suspect you don’t know me too well. I feel sort of like the father of the bride at a wedding. Nobody pays much attention to him but he gets to pay the bills. I want to tell you, your Christmas cost me a great deal!

Where did you grow up?

I grew up in Bethlehem. It’s only a few miles from Jerusalem and making a living was difficult. So as a young man I moved to Nazareth. Nazareth was so small. It was the butt of jokes. "Can anything good come out of Nazareth?" people used to joke. But I didn’t go to Nazareth for the night life. I went there to find work.

What do you work at?

I’m carpenter. I do things like make furniture, build houses, make tools and yoke for oxen. If it’s made out of wood, I’m your man. But woodworkers are practical people. I like things you can handle and see, that you can measure, cut and saw. I’m not much for ideas. Oh, I enjoy listening to the rabbis when they come to our synagogue, but I prefer more practical things. Wood is honest. I understand that some of you have doors that are hollow in the middle - is that true? Now, I don’t want to insult you, but that sounds dishonest to me. No, I like things that are wood right through. Wood has integrity. I like that - I like that in people too.

What else is important in your life?

The other thing that shaped my life was Mary. She was about 13 years old then, the usual age for becoming betrothed. A Wonderful girl. We were betrothed.

What is becoming betrothed?

That’s something like your engagement only it’s much more permanent. It lasts a year, sometimes longer. During that time the families get to know one another. They work out a dowry. They search the records in the temple in Jerusalem to make sure the couple are not too closely related to marry. Our betrothal can only be broken by divorce. And getting a divorce isn’t easy. You have to show a proper reason.

What dreams about the future did you have?

I dreamed about building a home for Mary and myself and the kids we’d have. About the wonderful life we’d have. I dreamt about how wonderful life would be. It’s strange isn’t it, how quickly dreams can turn into nightmares.

How did your dream turn into a nightmare?

I noticed that Mary became quiet, withdrawn. I wondered if something was wrong, but when I asked her she said she couldn’t tell me about it. I had to go out of town to do some work and all the time I was away I hardly slept with worry. Had I done something to displease her or her family? Maybe they’d found something in the Temple records to prevent us from being married! When I returned I begged her to tell me what was going on, but I was totally unprepared for her answer. "I’m pregnant". She began to weep.

What a shock. How did you feel?

I felt like I’d been kicked in the stomach. Of all the things, I’d never dreamt that! I knew I wasn’t the father, but who? We had respect, we had a future. How could this happen? What about our dreams? That’s when she told me her story. About how an angel had appeared to her and told her she was going to be the mother of Israel’s Messiah. The Spirit of God had come upon her and put a baby in her womb. I was furious! It was one thing for her to betray our love like that and quite another to treat me to a story that bordered on blasphemy. Do I look like an idiot?

How did you react?

You wouldn’t believe it. I wanted to lash out, I wanted to hurt her as she had hurt me. The Law said that a woman found in adultery should be stoned to death. Now I understood that law in a way I never had before. I wanted to get back at her, for ruining our love, my faith and trust, wrecking my reputation.

But you didn’t have her stoned.

I calmed down. Because of my love for her I didn’t want to make a public example of her. Of course, there was no way I could marry her, but the Law left it up to the man what was to be done. I could get a couple of my friends and give her a private decree of divorce.

It must have been difficult on Mary?

Mary had to get away. The caustic gossip down by the village well would be too much to handle. So she went south, to Hebron. She had relatives there, who would give her support and a place to stay.

When she was gone that gave you time to think.

I walked around and worked at my bench. I didn’t care about eating. I didn’t pay much attention to life. Then the dreams started. Always the same. Walking down a dark corridor and suddenly this blinding light and an angel would be there.

How did you know it was angel?

There are times when you just know. That’s the best answer I can give. The angel told me not to be afraid. "Joseph", the angel said, "don’t be afraid to take Mary for your wife. The child she bears is from the Holy Spirit. You will call his name Jesus and he will save his people from their sins".

You must have been happy then.

For a carpenter, that was hard to take. I mean, dreams come to prophets not wood workers. And I couldn’t talk about it with anyone without revealing Mary’s terrible secret. What was I to do? But the dreams kept repeating, but each time more forceful.

The time had come for you to make a decision about Mary

Nothing would ever be the same. It would be life without Mary, always wondering if those dreams were true, if God was somehow doing the most unexpected thing in the most unexpected way. Or it could be life with Mary, with all sorts of unexpected troubles and surprises, but following my faith. I knew well that my reputation would be ruined. If I didn’t divorce Mary and she had a child everyone would assume that I was the father. But I decided to marry her.

How did you tell Mary?

I went down to Hebron. I told Mary about my dreams and apologized for doubting her. I took her back to Nazareth and as soon as possible we were married. I figured, it’ll be rough, but if God is in it, it won’t be too bad. I had no idea how wrong I could be. Even the good get a rough ride sometimes.

The census in Bethlehem came at the wrong time for you both, didn’t it?

I wonder if you’ve ever really thought about traveling 90 miles, in the winter, on a donkey when you’re nine months pregnant. The crowds in Bethlehem! We finally found some shelter in a stable that someone had hollowed out of the rock. Mary had to be both mother and midwife. I’m a wood worker. What do I know about delivering babies? You’d think if God had been planning this for years some better arrangements might have been made.

But you saw an angel. I thought everything would be plain sailing for you?

I once thought, as a young man, that if I ever saw an angel I’d never have any doubts. I saw an angel, it was vivid and real to me. But I always have lots of questions.

What was baby Jesus like?

To be honest, as a baby Jesus didn’t seem like the Savior of the world. You sing "no crying he makes". You should have been in our house at 3 in the morning when he was getting teeth!

You must have a strong faith

Some of you have a faith like Mary’s. Some of you are more like me. You believe your doubts, you doubt your beliefs. I understand. I’ve been there. All I can tell you is that when I faced those questions I came down on the side of faith. I trusted, even when I didn’t feel like trusting, but God used me. As you celebrate, you might want to remember in a corner of your mind that God chose me to be part of the story. Joe, a carpenter who believed as best he could.

And if God used you with your questions and doubts and faith, how much God can accomplish using each of us with our questions and doubts and our faith.

See the full list of dialogues on this site.