Soli Deo Gloria. Amen.
Invocation: In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
1. "I promise." Words we've all spoken. Words we've all broken. We know the joy of a promise kept. We also know the pain and disappointment of a cherished promise broken. Our souls are blessed by the joy of keeping a promise. Our hearts are burdened by the sin of breaking one. So what does all this have to do with St. Joseph? To understand, we must look to God's Word. In II Samuel, God speaks a promise to King David through the prophet Nathan.
[2 Samuel 7:11b-16]
'The LORD declares to you that the LORD himself will establish a house for you: When your days are over and you rest with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring to succeed you, who will come from your own body, and I will establish his kingdom. He is the one who will build a house for my Name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. I will be his father, and he will be my son. When he does wrong, I will punish him with the rod of men, with floggings inflicted by men."
The promise had been spoken, but was the promise kept? It certainly was. King Solomon, David's son, succeeded him on the throne. Solomon built the temple. Solomon was loved by God as a father loves his own son and the kingdom flourished. But Solomon also did wrong, later in life. He built idolatrous houses of worship for all his foreign wives where they could worship their pagan "gods." So God punished him with the rod of men, and after his death the kingdom was split in two. Even so, the house of God, the temple had been built; and a son of David still sat on the throne God had established. Promise spoken. Promise kept.
2. Now, fast forward hundreds of years. The kingdom has been taken from the line of David and Herod the Great--not from the line of David--sits on the throne. The promise had been spoken, but was the promise kept? Yes it was. We see God's faithfulness to his promise as one night an angel comes to Joseph in a dream. Joseph has been contemplating the fate of his pregnant fiancee, Mary. The angel speaks the promise:
[St. Matthew 1:20b-21]
"Joseph, son of David," do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins."
While the earthly kingdom seems to have been taken away from the sons of David, the sons of David still live. The angel calls St. Joseph, "Son of David," a title often used of the Kings of Israel. He was not sitting on the throne in Jerusalem, but St. Joseph was a keeper of the promise God had made centuries before. God had protected the descendants of David over the course of a thousand years; all the way to St. Joseph. Now the promise rested on him. You could make the case, and a strong one too, that Joseph was the rightful king of Judah, and should have worn the crown. The kingdom continues, even if hidden from the eyes of the people. The line of kings continues as well, in the person of St. Joseph. Promise spoken. Promise kept.
3. Joseph does as the angel instructs him, and takes Mary home as his wife. When Jesus is born, Joseph serves faithfully as his earthly guardian. Trusting the promise of God to establish his kingdom forever, Joseph trustingly raises Jesus as his own son. Joseph's faith was undoubtedly strengthened by the message of promise Gabriel has spoken to Mary.
[St. Luke 1:30-33]
. . . "Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God. You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end."
As the guardian of our Lord, Joseph is the protector of God's promise; for Jesus is the promise in the flesh. In him the promise has come to fulfillment. So when the angel of God warns Joseph in a dream to take Jesus to Egypt, Joseph does it--for the sake of the promise. About ten years later, when Mary and Joseph freak when they can't find Jesus on the way home from a trip to the temple, they go and find him--for the sake of the promise. Everything Joseph does for Jesus as he grows and matures is done for the sake of the promise. Joseph knows that by guarding and rearing Jesus, he is guarding God's promise to sustain the kingdom promised first to King David. Joseph knows that to him the promise has been spoken. So through his faithful guarding of Christ, the promise will be kept.
4. In Jesus, God's promise is completely fulfilled. The kings of the Davidic line from David all the way to St. Joseph, reminded the people of Christ. The kings who sat on the throne were an earthly preview of the heavenly kingdom God had established through King David. The kings, like St. Joseph, who were never crowned, pointed to the humility of the King of Kings. The temple in Jerusalem, the house built for God by Solomon, also pointed to Jesus. Every sacrifice, every thank offering, every prayer spoken by the priests pointed to Jesus, the promised Son of David, whose reign would never end. The earthly kingdom. The line of the Davidic kings. The earthly temple. They were all visible signs of the promise God had spoken. They were the things God used to remind the people that he was faithful--that he would keep his promise. St. Joseph, as the guardian of Jesus, served in faith as the keeper of this promise. He knew the promise God had spoken. In faith, he trusted that the promised would be kept.
5. All this makes two things painfully clear. God is faithful in keeping his promises. We are not. Through hundreds of years, From King David down to Jesus, God kept his promise. Even the part about disciplining the kings and the people with the rod. They were subjected to the flogging of humiliation in battle. They were deported after defeat in warfare. But even then, he never wavered from the greater part of his promise. Many people forgot his promise. God did not. Countless people ignored his promise. God did not. The people who did remember often seemed indifferent and uncaring to the promise of God, but God the Father always held the promise of an eternal kingdom for his people close to his heart.
6. Trusting in God's promise, Joseph strove to be faithful to the promise. He loved Jesus and raised him in an effort to be worthy of the promise of God. Undoubtedly though, he failed at times. He did somehow manage once to travel three days without Jesus before becoming concerned enough to go back to Jerusalem to look for him. That's at least one time we know of when he broke his promise to faithfully raise the Son of God.
7. So think of how well you keep your promises. If ever you have broken a promise--even once--you have not lived up to God's standards. Think of the promises you've made to others. How far back do you have to go to find one that you've broken? Not too far, in all probability. Think about the promises you've made to God. At confirmation, we all promise to faithfully conform all our life to the divine Word, to be faithful in the use of God's Word and Sacraments. We promise to faithfully attend divine worship here in God's house. And we promise to remain true to our faith, no matter what, even in the face of death. If you were to ask me, "Have you lived your entire life in conformity with the Holy Word of God?" the answer would be, "No, I have at times broken that promise." If you asked me if I've been faithful in the use of God's Word and Sacraments, my answer could only be, "I have done my best, but I know I have not been perfect in keeping that promise, either." If you asked how my faith hold up under hardship, persecution and the threat of death, I could only say, "I will have to rely on Christ to do that for me, I know my promise alone is not enough." If you're honest, your answers to these questions would be much the same. How do I know? I know because experience has told me I can't keep all my promises. And I also know from experience that neither can you, whether you've made promises to others or to God. More importantly, I know from the Word of God that people break their promises, St. Joseph, included. So when we look at our own lives we must say, "We have sinned. We have spoken promises, and we have broken far too many of them."
8. So we must not look to ourselves to see promises spoken and kept as they should be. We only see promises perfectly spoken and perfectly kept when we look to Jesus Christ, our Lord and our God. Only Jesus can keep a promise perfectly. In him the promise of the eternal kingdom is fully kept. And it was kept at great cost. Before we could enter into Christ's everlasting kingdom, something must be done about our sin. Every broken promised to any person on earth must be made right. Every promised made to God but not kept requires atonement and redemption. Our broken promises are sins which need forgiving if we are to live under Christ our King. So Christ, as our promised King took it upon himself to grant us that forgiveness through the shedding of his blood. As he prayed in the Garden he sweated great drops of blood. He was arrested and taken before Pilate. But even then he confessed his identity as the King of Heaven. The promise had been spoken. The promise had to be kept.
[St. John 18:36-37]
. . . "My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jews. But now my kingdom is from another place." "You are a king, then!" said Pilate. Jesus answered, "You are right in saying I am a king. In fact, for this reason I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me."
Claiming to be a king in the presence of the Roman governor earned Jesus an excruciating beating, a crown of thorns and in the end, crucifixion on the cross. But it was not Rome that hammered the nails through his hands and feet. It was you and me and our broken promises. Even in the face of such suffering; even in the face of death, Christ kept the promise that was spoken centuries before. In order to be true to the promise he had to suffer. To bring us into the place he had prepared for us, he had to spill his blood on the cross. To keep the promise he had spoken, he had to die. In dying he gives witness to God's faithfulness to the promise he has spoken. In his death, Christ gives sure and certain hope that the promise has been kept.
9. Seeing such devotion to his own divine promise moves the faithful heart to repentance. So we come to the cross and pour out our confession. We tell God of the promises we have made but not kept. We tell God of the promises we have made and never intended to keep. Without souls bowed low, we confess our sin of broken promises. And by the blood of our dying Lord, God opens our eyes to the promise of forgiveness. The blood of Jesus wipes away all the promises you should have kept, but didn't. The blood of Jesus cleans up the mess your broken promises leave behind. For in the blood of Jesus a promise flows down onto each and every one of us. A promise of grace and life. A promise of life in a kingdom not of this world. A promise of a king who will sit on his throne forever and ever. A promise to be transformed into a faithful guardian of God's promises, much like St. Joseph was. But this promise is for St. Joseph, too. This promise is a promise of forgiveness. God's forgiveness is the best part of his promise of a King. This promise God has spoken. This promise Christ has kept.
10. Knowing God is faithful in keeping his promises, in faith we strive to keep the promises we make. It is a daunting and difficult struggle. There will be events beyond your control that cause you to break your promises. The devil, the world, and your sinful flesh will constantly tempt you to break the promises you speak. But in Christ's suffering and death, we have God's promise that we will be forgiven these awful sins by Christ, the promised king from the line of David. So we struggle every day to keep our promises knowing that Christ has spoken a promise to us that he will never break. In that struggle we look to St. Joseph, and see in him a faithful servant who can serve as a model in guarding and believing the promise of God. When we look to St. Joseph, we also see someone as flawed and sinful as we are, someone in need of the gracious promise of God in Christ. So trusting in the promises of God, we listen with joy as we hear again that Christ has promised to each and every one of us that we will dwell in the house of the Lord forever. We raise up our song of praise as we give thanks that Christ has promised that we shall be his own and live under him in his kingdom and serve him in everlasting righteousness, innocence and blessedness. Through all our struggle to keep our own promises, we hold on to the promise of our Lord because he has promised us that even though we die, we shall rise again, and be gathered round his throne in heaven. For there we will see the fulfillment of the promise once made to King David: Life in the blessed, unending, everlasting, kingdom of God. By God our Father, the promise has been spoken. By Christ our Lord, the promise has been kept. By God the Holy Spirit, we have been made the people of the promise. The promise has been spoken. The promise has been kept. In the name of Christ. Amen.
Blessing: The peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.
Rev. Keith R. Weise
February 22, 2008
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