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Knoxville, TN, United States
Interim Pastor of Evergreen Presbyterian Church (USA), Dothan, AL.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

A Christmas Without Joseph

Matthew 1:18-25 
A Christmas Without Joseph
Lake Hills Presbyterian Church (USA)
Sunday, December 22, 2013

There's a story of a church Christmas Pageant.

A few hours before showtime, the mother of the boy who's supposed to play Joseph calls the church and frantically explains that her son's come down with the flu, and can't leave the house.

The director of the pageant thinks for a moment, and says, "That's OK. We'll just write Joseph out."

They still have Mary. Still have three wise men. Still have sheep, shepherds, angels, and a baby-doll Jesus.

By the time you get all those kids up there in bathrobes and cardboard wings, it's one crowded manger.

So, the pageant goes on sans Joseph. 
And no one even notices.


When you think about it, Joseph didn't really have that much to do with Jesus' birth. Joseph doesn't have a speaking part anywhere in the Gospels and after Jesus turns 12, Joseph is never mentioned again. It's almost like he never existed, or didn't have to.

Was Joseph really necessary? Could he have been written out? Could he have been replaced by a Robert or a Doug?  Could you still have a Christmas without Joseph?


Every Christmas movie ever made shares the same problem. Christmas is in trouble. It's up to one man, one woman, one girl, one dog, one Cat, one toy, one spy, one Care Bear, or Ernest - to save Christmas.

Another thing the movies have in common is it's always the alleged misfit who has to do the saving. The one everybody overlooks, the one you'd least suspect is always the one who overcomes his fear or anger or humbuggery. It's always the one voted Least Likely to Succeed who saves Christmas.

Kevin gets left home alone. Jimmy Stewart has to believe it's a wonderful life. Charlie Brown has to prove what a little love can do. Rudolph has to overcome his nasal issues. Karen has to get Frosty to the North Pole. Buddy has to go searching for his father.

In the movies, Christmas will be lost without the courage of that one weird and wonderful person, animal, or elf. If not for the courage of the fearless One will this Christmas will be lost.

Why is this? Why do all the movies and specials have pretty much the same problem, that is, saving Christmas? Why is that so popular? Is anyone really worried Christmas won't come, even if Walmart checkers are forced to say "Happy Holidays"? Seriously? Is Christmas *that* fragile?


Speaking of Walmart, there are only two and a-half shopping days left 'til Christmas. Did anyone else's blood pressure just go up? Why are you sitting there? There's so much left to do! 

That's what people do at Christmas. We do. We do. Do. Do do. Do the Dew. Dude. Otherwise Christmas might not come. We're Kevin. We're Buddy. We're Karen and Rudolph. We're The Chosen One who saves Christmas. Well, maybe not. But we might be. It's always the one you least expect, isn't it? 

So maybe it IS you. Or you. Or YOU! You're "The Presbyterian Who Saved Christmas." You're THE ONE. Isn't *that* just the nightmare before Christmas? Maybe that's why the movies all share the same problem. Because you think that without you and what you do, Christmas is just tearful orphans with empty bowls. If you mess up, we may just have to cancel. Of course it's irrational. It's fear.


The Bible tells the story of Christmas. It tells the story of the Christmas the world will never forget. It's the first and it's still the best.

The Bible's Christmas Story has its cast of characters, too. There's Mary. There's the Baby Jesus. There's the shepherds, the angels, the star.

And then there's Joseph. About whom we know precious little. And that's another problem. Joseph's just not that interesting.

So people make up backstory about Joseph. They try to make the his story more suspenseful. People embellish Joseph's character and give him all sorts of psychological and social issues to resolve because, you know, if he doesn't take the chance on this one dream, the first Christmas might not happen.

The truth is, pretty much all we know about Joseph is what we read in today's scripture. And that's not much. Joseph's not all that much, truth be told.

The Bible says, "Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly. But just when he had resolved to do this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, "Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins." ... When Joseph awoke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him...."

Here's what we know: Joseph is a righteous man who doesn't want to expose Mary to public disgrace. He's afraid. He has a dream. He obeys.

Could there have been a Christmas without Joseph? Could it have been somebody else from the house and lineage of David? Would anyone really notice if he got written out or replaced? Because, honestly, he didn't do anything super-heroic. He's just a man. It's not Christmas that's fragile; it's Joseph.

Joseph - obviously - isn't the star of the show. He's not the hero. And yet. And yet while he might not be so essential, Joseph *is* special. I think Joseph is special for us. Because when you think of the Christmas story from *our* point of view, he might be the person we have the most in common with.

Each of us is very special. But essential? None of us can create the magic of Christmas. None of us is the savior. None of us can "save" Christmas. None of us can stop it. We're each unique and special, sure. But our importance is very fragile. Our sense of importance is fragile. It can be taken away by a cruel word or thoughtless action, a case of the flu, or something else. That's the frightening thing. That we could just be written out, that the show would go on, and no one would notice.

And yet, God kept Joseph in the story. Joseph was an average person, a guy trying to do the right thing, to whom Christmas just happened. Nothing that he did or could have done would have stopped Christmas or saved it, because the Director of this pageant is God and God always finds a way. 

Nothing we do, or try to do, or wish we had done, or didn't do - nothing in our power can ruin Christmas. Nothing in our power can save Christmas, either. Joseph is proof that we can let go of the fears that keep us doing, and there will still be Christmas.

Christmas is God's doing for human beings. Christmas is not a human doing for God's being. We don't save Christmas. Christmas saves us. Joseph isn't essential, but he is special. Breakable people like Joseph are the reason we need Christmas. Fragile people like you and me - are the reason the show goes on. Not because of us, but for us. Because we need it.


In the original Christmas story, Joseph didn't say a word. It was a non-speaking role. Which, if you're staging a pageant, makes it a very good assignment for anyone nervous about being in front of large group of people. No lines to memorize. Nothing to do, really. Maybe pull the donkey. Look at the baby. Anyone could do it. And everyone can.

Everyone has a role in God's pageant of salvation. Everyone has a part in the story of Jesus. It's as simple, and as available, as just staring in wonder at the love God has for folks like us... and for someone like you.

So Joseph didn't do anything that special. So Joseph didn't say anything. The ridiculous miracle of Christmas is that God would care so much about fragile little people that God would slip into human form, and that God would involve people in the production as ordinary and as replaceable as Joseph. There will never be a Christmas without Joseph because Christmas is *for* people like Joseph. 

It's such an outrageously loving idea. So hard to believe, that maybe the only right response is the Joseph-like silence of wonder and awe.