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christmas Joseph

Joseph

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Who is your favourite person in the Christmas story? Mine is Joseph. I think Joseph was one of the most amazing people in the Christmas story and we hear so little about him. Here was a man who willingly gave up his life, his reputation, his livelihood and even his family to look after Mary and the promised child. We know he gave up his family because when he arrived in Bethlehem for the census a culture that is known for its hospitality did not have room for a relation and his pregnant wife. Part of the story we don’t get in our closed nuclear family world of today. But it was something that those few words that spoke of “no room” would have spoken to the audience it was written for.

I wonder how God showed up to Joseph. It could not have been full on angel vision with lots of trumpets and things because the whole town would have known and would have believed. Again we can so easily forget the way towns were in those days and how doors were open and everyone lived on top of each other, knew each other’s business, and didn’t have to put up with all the noise and light pollution we have just got used to. Though again with that in mind I wonder how Mary spoke with the angel and was impregnated. Probably much more subtly than we could imagine.

Anyway God managed to find a way to speak with Joseph in way he understand, listened to and believed, which caused Joseph change his mind about divorcing Mary and leaving her to possible stoning to totally looking after her. He took her with him to Bethlehem even though she was heavily pregnant. He would have already presumed that his family there would not welcome him in because news would have reached them that this girl was pregnant before they had wed. But by taking her he protected her from any harm that may have befallen her back in Nazareth. He was then being willing to move down to the Jewish community in Egypt to save the life of this child that wasn’t his.

Would we have been able to do this? To give up all including our reputation for something we don’t know to be fully real? But also why do we not honour Joseph in the way he should be? Why is he such a minor character? I think there needs to be more sermons focused on Joseph and the understated, Godly way he behaved as an example to us all.

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A Christmas Carol

Advert for BBC’s adaptation of A Christmas Carol

The BBC have done a fascinating interpretation of Charles Dicken’s A Christmas Carol, where they have given Scrooge a larger backstory than the Ghost of Christmas Past shared in the novel, as to why Scrooge is the way he is. Episode two where Scrooge is taken to Christmases past should be shown to all business people who put profit first. This is not a problem that has gone away

But the thing that stuck me most were the issues this version has chosen to highlight. Scrooge was as he was because he had been unloved and abused as a child, been told the only way to survive is to have money in the bank, not to trust others, and be be his own person. Bottom line – he was afraid and had built his own saftey net around him.

The alcoholic or drug addict doesn’t abuse their body and their families because they think it is a good idea. They do it because they are afraid. Even the person who abuses their partner or children or attacks others does so because they are afraid. And these are the things society notices. But there are also those who have more money than they could spend in a life time, but they are also afraid – of not having enough, of not being safe, etc, etc. If each of us is honest we are all afraid of something and have all built walls, big or small, to keep ourselves safe.

But this is the time of year when the Bible expounds with “do not be afraid” – to Mary, to the Shepherds, to my big hero of the Chrismas story, Joseph. Joseph has such a bit part in this story and never gets any of his own lines, but twice he is told not to be afraid; the first time when he finds out Mary is pregnant and is told not to be afraid of how she got with child, and the second when he has to leave everything he knows and go to Egypt to keep this child that is not his own safe. He is amazing because he marries Mary, but doesn’t sleep with her till after Jesus is born, takes her with him when he goes for the census so that there is no chance of her being stoned whilst he’s away, and then goes to a land to live as a refugee until God tells him it is ok to come home again, and home to a place he really doesn’t know what his relatives will think of him.

God tells him not to be afraid, and we too often read that as “dont be scared” but I think it means “to let go of all those issues you carry with you that will encourage you to build walls of self preservation around you and trust God“. I think Jesus learned a lot from Joseph about how to be open and trusting even in a place of fear. And Joseph through all that went on around him learned to trust God, to not be fearful, to put aside his own strength and not build up walls.

I believe fear kills because it causes us to shut ourselves away from not just others but from out true selves. Fear causes us not to trust others, causes us to use other things for our safety; like career, profit over people, having ‘enough’ money, etc, being accepted by others, alcohol, drugs, being the life of the party, food, overly caring for others at the detriment of ourselves, not being able to say yes, or not being able to say no, relationships, and … here ponder and name your own.

I don’t think God asks us not to be scared but asks us not to be afraid and to stay open and trusting to all the facets that make up the Godhead, and trusting others too. So as we enter this season of vaccines and Brexit and being unsure let us be open, trusting and not afraid, not build walls, and lean on the One who can hold us through.

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