Feast of St Joseph
March 19 2015
The Revd Canon Martin Seeley, Principal
2 Sam 7: 4, 8,9 Matt 1: 18- end
So here we are, for a while together, and then apart. I thank God Joseph is with us, accompanying us on this strange journey, pregnant with possibility, with uncertainty, with wonder. God has given us Joseph today as our companion and guide, and Joseph in turn says come, let me show you a little of what I know. It may help.
He is of course not as quiet as his reputation suggests, nor as retiring – which we find out as we walk along and he wonders out loud about what all the fuss is we are making over three parent babies.
While we are caught off guard by this remark, trying to work out what it means, he tells us there are three places he is going to take us.
The first is to our dreams. Joseph wants to know about our dreams. What are they like? What are we longing for, waiting for, working for? What hidden dream is shaping who we are and what we do? You need to know, he tells us – you need to know what your dreams are. They have their own power over you, and you need to know what they are so when they are disrupted you understand.
His dream, he reminds us, was for a quiet life, a settled life, with plans, of course, for his business, and for a new family with a new young wife; he was a widower with children. Lots to look forward to, with a new family, and a quiet, normal dream, a human dream, that felt ordered and secure.
But – watch out, he says. It did not last, his dreams were good, but not God’s; and God’s dream for him was so shocking God had to send him an angel in a dream to get his equilibrium back.
Well, we say, we know this. We are in a room full of people whose own dreams have been disrupted, cast aside, undone by God’s dream. And we are also in a room of people whose own dream has been disrupted because the one they love has been given a new dream. Joseph, the patron saint of ordinands’ partners and clergy spouses.
Joseph reminds us, God doesn’t call us to conflicting vocations, as hard as that can be at times to believe. When it makes no sense, when your world has been turned upside down, or dashed to pieces – as his most certainly was – he says, wait. The new dream will come, and it will make a new sense. And this is true for everyone of us here, for every family and friendship, and it is true too for who we are together, this House, this community and all it will become.
OK. We think we have got that Joseph, though it is very hard, particularly the waiting, and the not knowing, and seeing the stress and anguish in those closest to us when God throws our plans up in the air. I know, he says, indeed, I know. So now let’s go to the second place.
The second place. Except it is not a place. It is a word. The word is “fulfil”. When the angel spoke the words, “son of David” Joseph registered something about himself that he had not noticed before. Something about who he was. In his name, Jo Davidson. And he will tell us, as will Will, that Matthew in his Gospel cites Scripture fourteen times; Mark once, Luke maybe three times. And of those fourteen five are around Jesus’ birth. And they are about the word fulfill. Matthew is keen that we get what “fulfil” means, and that it is about God.
Fulfil. Reality and truth long anticipated coming into focus, into being. So for us tonight, the truth and reality we heard told to David by the prophet Nathan is being fulfilled. And he, Joseph, realised he is a crucial part of this fulfilling, he is part of the truth and reality that is coming into being. He heard his name – Joseph, son of DAVID – as if for the first time. He was the last one in the line of the fulfilment. He was part of its meaning; his life was part of its meaning.
Remember, Joseph tells us, fulfilling is about seeing yourself in a long line, a long divine tradition, and seeing God’s work in that long unbroken, continuing strand of life. Do not be lured by the idol of the present moment that takes no heed of the past, which sees itself only in terms of itself, detached from what has gone before. Do not be lured into the Church’s current idolising of the present – the detached present – the present crisis, they call it, as if God is not there in the past and in all that joins us to the present.
Remember too, Joseph tells us, fulfilling is not about being fulfilled. Fulfilling is being part of the truth and reality God has called us in to. All talk of feeling fulfilled, or seeking our fulfilment, is, Joseph politely points out, rot. That sort of fulfillment is for our own sakes.
Fulfilling is something far greater, being drawn into the ongoing drama of God, and finding we have a part to play, and that part mysteriously enables us to become ourselves, but our selfless ourselves, ourselves given away. Fulfilling means losing ourselves.
We know this. We know our calling is a dynamic synergy between how we do God’s work for others and the work God does in us. We ask each other – me of you, you of me, how is God saving you through this calling? I ask myself this today.
And Joseph asks us to see ourselves in a divine movement, a divine tradition, and that we are part of that movement and tradition being fulfilled. Just as he was.
Our being, our calling, is a fulfilment, fulfils God’s purpose in making us his daughters and sons. As Joseph recognises who he is and the part he plays when he hears the angel call his name, so we recognise who we are when we hear God calling us.
So to the third place now. Joseph takes us there, but it is also not a place, but a command. “Do not be afraid.” The angel spoke these words in the annunciation to Joseph, and the same words – albeit in a different tense – in the annunciation to Mary. Calling and fear go hand in hand, as we know.
For Mary the cause of the fear was first the messenger himself – even before she had heard the message.
For Joseph, his fear was about going against the order and rightness that had shaped his faithful living. Do not be afraid to take your pregnant betrothed as your wife. Do not be afraid to leave the straight path, the known place, the familiar, the ordered, the applauded, the sanctioned, the approved, the protected. Friends, routines, solutions, expectations, patterns.
Joseph is standing with everyone of us and for everyone of us. We all are moving now, soon, or later, into things to which God is calling us which are unknown and of which we are afraid.
God’s dream has interrupted our dream and may interrupt at any time again, and off we go into a new unknown, which as Joseph knows, can seem very dangerous indeed.
But Joseph tells us again, we are being drawn into all that is being fulfilled through the life of God, to be part of God’s fulfilling of the life of the world. Do not be afraid the angel said to Joseph. Do not be afraid Joseph says to us.
And, he adds, this may help, as we step out into the new and unknown, as we embark on God’s dream. It’s about names again. Remember, he says, my boy’s names:
Emmanuel, God with us.
Thanks be to God. Amen.