IN NOMINE JESU
What do we really know about this man Joseph, whose feast day is today? What may we say about Joseph of Nazareth? What can we possibly hope to gain by having our Lenten season interrupted with such a minor festival? Is this feast day some new invention? And is this not something that the "Catholics" do? More often than not, we erroneously think that honoring a saint is something that the Roman Catholics do. But the truth of the matter is that honoring the saints is truly a "catholic" practice—catholic with a small "c," denoting that this is done throughout the Christian church, "the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church," as we confess in the Creed. Today we join Christians all around the world in giving thanks to God for the gift of St. Joseph, Guardian of Our Lord. This practice is truly meet, right, and salutary in the Evangelical-Lutheran Church, for the Confessors have stated thus: Our Confession approves honors to the saints. For here a threefold honor is to be approved. The first is thanksgiving. For we ought to give thanks to God because He has shown examples of mercy; because He has shown that He wishes to save men; because He has given teachers or other gifts to the Church. And these gifts, as they are the greatest, should be amplified, and the saints themselves should be praised, who have faithfully used these gifts, just as Christ praises faithful businessmen, Matt. 25, 21. 23. The second service is the strengthening of our faith; when we see the denial forgiven Peter, we also are encouraged to believe the more that grace truly superabounds over sin, Rom. 5, 20. The third honor is the imitation, first, of faith, then of the other virtues, which every one should imitate according to his calling. [Ap XXI 4-6]
And so we are here today to celebrate the Feast of St. Joseph, giving thanks to God for what He worked through Joseph for our good today.
What do we really know about Joseph of Nazareth? We know that Joseph was a carpenter by trade. We know that he was of the line and house of David, and, as such, he was required for the census of Caesar Augustus to register in his own hometown of Bethlehem. And we know that he was pledged to be married to a young virgin named Mary. We know that Joseph, upon learning that his betrothed was with child, a Child was not his, had in mind to put her away secretly, to quietly seek to be released from his bond to become her husband. We know that the angel Gabriel came to him in a dream with the word of the Lord, instructing him to take Mary as his wife and to not fear, for the Child she was carrying was the Son of God. We know that "Joseph, being aroused from sleep did as the angel of the Lord commanded him and took to him his wife, and did not know her till she had brought forth her firstborn Son. And He called His Name JESUS" (1:24-25), a name meaning "the LORD [YHWH] saves." We know that the Holy Family fled into Egypt upon word from the angel that Herod the Great sought to kill the infant Jesus out of jealousy and raging paranoia…and "that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet [Hosea], saying, 'Out of Egypt I called My Son'" (v. 15b). Herod died, and his son Archelaus reigned over Judea. Our text tells us that Joseph was afraid of returning there, and God instructed him to go to the region of Galilee, which Joseph did and settled in the town of Nazareth, "that it might by fulfilled which was spoken by the prophets, 'He shall be called a Nazarene'" (v. 23). We also know that Joseph was still alive when the boy Jesus was twelve years of age, when the Holy Family went to Jerusalem for the Feast of the Passover.
What we do not know about Joseph was when or how he died, for Scripture does not tell us even that he died. Scripture says little about him, and the Lutheran Confessions do not mention him at all. There is really very little that we know about Joseph of Nazareth, but we have all that we need to know in the Gospels, especially in our text. And for what God has given us to know of Joseph, thanks be to God, for what the Holy Spirit inspired the Blessed Apostle and Evangelist St. Matthew to write is sufficient for our salvation. You see, this carpenter, this righteous man, was a means by which his foster Son, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, won our salvation. Joseph was an active participant in our salvation. He took his family to and from Egypt to fulfill prophecies; that is true. But he did so because it was not yet time for Jesus to die. Joseph, Mary, and Jesus moved to Egypt and to Nazareth to spare the Christ Child's life—temporarily. The time would one day come for the Son of Man to lay down His life as a ransom for His people. By Joseph's protecting Him, Christ did just that, also protecting His foster father as well and His mother. One of the most famous Church Fathers, "Anonymous," said, "Do you see why Joseph was not chosen to be the husband of Mary, but her attendant? When she was going to and returning from Egypt, had she not been married, who would have attended her in such great need? For indeed, at first glance, Mary was nourishing a Child, and Joseph was looking after her. In point of fact, however, the Boy was nourishing His mother, and Joseph was being watched over…. Nor was it the Son's glory to have that mother, but rather it was her blessing to have that Son. She herself used to say as much: 'Behold, now every generation will call me blessed.'"
Another Church Father, Peter Chrysologus, wrote, "His flight then was not occasioned by fear but by what had come through the mystery of prophecy. The Evangelist planted the seed when he thus spoke: 'Take the boy and His mother and flee into Egypt.' And later, 'that what was written might be fulfilled: "From Egypt have I summoned My Son."' Christ fled so that He might establish the truth of the Law, faith in prophecy and the testimony of the psalter. The Lord Himself says, 'It was needful that what was written in the law and the prophets be fulfilled by Me.' Christ fled for us, not for Himself. Christ fled so that at the right time He might serve as a steward of the sacraments [the divine mysteries]. Christ fled so that by granting absolution He might take away the source of abuses to come and that He might give proof of faith to those who would believe. And finally, Christ fled so that He might bestow on us faith even when we have to flee, because in the face of persecution it is better to flee than to deny the faith. For Peter, because he was unwilling to flee, denied the Lord. John, lest he deny the Lord, fled."
Yes, O sinner, Christ fled for you. Christ bled for you. Christ died for you. Christ gave His body and shed His blood for you. Had Joseph not taken the infant Christ in the flight into Egypt, the devil might well have had his way through King Herod in destroying the Child. Yet God was with Joseph. God was with him in the Person of his infant foster Son, who is also true God. Because the Lord moved Joseph to act, the stable became the temple on that silent and holy night, and Egypt would become the Holy Land for a time, for there the Lord was present in His infant body, the body that would grow and be given into death for the forgiveness of your sins. Yes, O sinner, it was for your sins and mine that the Lord moved Joseph to take his family and flee, so that this infant Priest, holy borne, would return to sacrifice Himself, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world. Had you and I been sinless, there would have been no need for Him to flee, for we would be free.
But now we are free, for the Lord did not flee the cross. He did not flee death when the fullness of time had come. When it was His appointed hour, Christ died for us. Christ did not flee, but He set us free, free from the curse of sin and the sting of eternal death. Chrysologus said, as we heard earlier, "Christ fled so that at the right time He might serve as a steward of the sacraments [the divine mysteries]." Christ fled as an infant so that He would bind Himself today to His Supper, where He has promised to be found in His body and blood, bestowing upon us the forgiveness He won on the cross for us. Through this holy meal our Lord gives us the strength to flee—yes, flee—from the devil, the world, and our own sinful nature. The Lord gives us the strength to flee to Him, for He has defeated Sin, death, and hell for us by His death and resurrection, a death and resurrection Joseph did not himself see but from which he benefits as He is among the company of heaven, singing, "Holy! Holy! Holy!" And so it is today that we thank God for the gift of St. Joseph, Guardian of Our Lord, who took his foster Son and fled so that Christ would have us freed and on His body and blood we would be fed.
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
SOLI DEO GLORIA
Send Pastor Mark Schlamann an email.