The naming of a child: … in Biblical times it was the father decided on the name. Today it is more of a mutual decision of both parents. In some families I suppose it’s not significant. Any name will do. Then, for some families the naming of a child is a joke. Like Johnny Cash’s song, “A boy Named Sue.”
In most families, though, the naming of a child is a big deal. If the parents are organized, they start out with a list of names. Then it is whittled down to just a couple. One parent says that she gave up her last name when she got married, so she wants him to be named “Howard.” The other parent says, “My Dad was a war hero so if it is a boy he should be called Sam.” Or the mother is close to the church and wants to use a Biblical name, but the father feels that a Biblical name is old fashioned. And back and forth it goes until some compromise is reached.
There are cases of naming a child in which there is a lot of symbolism. In Hebrew Jesus means “The Lord is my salvation.” In the Hebrew Scriptures, the name Jesus sounds like Jeshua, or “Joshua.” It was a common enough name. In fact, the prisoner who was released by Pilate when our Jesus was on trial was named “Jesus Barabbas.” It is not an uncommon name even today, though in some places it is pronounced “Haysoos.”
Sometimes the naming of a child is kind of disturbing. One of the most famous monsters in the California prisons died on Nov. 17 last year. He was 83. His name was Charles Manson. Many of you remember Charles Manson. If you go to Cincinnati Ohio, however, and look up his birth certificate, it says simply, “No Name Maddox.”
His mother, Cathleen Maddox, had the baby when she was 16 … didn’t want the baby, tried to give it away to relatives, strangers. “No Name Maddox.” … Horrible, horrible things he did. But when I think about him I also think of all the children who have such a beginning. Not even bothered to be named. No Name Maddox.
Another unmarried young girl- Mary- had a baby. Mary was more fortunate than Cathleen Maddox. This Mary had a man who cared for her. His name was Joseph.
Joseph is Hebrew for “God will bless.” What a rich name that is. You may recall Joseph with the coat of many colors in the Old Testament. Jealous brothers had sold him into slavery in Egypt. But that Joseph was a dreamer. Because he dreamed and because he interpreted dreams, this Jewish boy rose to be the second in command in all of Egypt. When his brothers went to Egypt for help during a drought in Palestine, they didn’t recognize the Vice Regent. He had to tell them, “I am Joseph your brother.”
The Joseph of our Scripture reading, same name, has the same capacity to dream. And like the ancient Joseph of the Hebrew scriptures, when Joseph dreamed, God spoke to him. Joseph is engaged, betrothed, to Mary. Engagement in that day was a legal matter. It could be broken only by divorce. During the time of engagement, anything she does comes under the laws of marriage. Joseph discovers that the woman to whom he is engaged is pregnant.
What’s he going to do? If he follows the law, if he follows his Bible, he will report her to the authorities and she will be brought before the synagogue, whipped 39 stripes and expelled from the community. In the old days, according to Deuteronomy 22, she would have been stoned to death, but they had modified the law. But it was still the Law of the Bible that she should be reported to the authorities and punished.
Joseph should obey Scripture, don’t you think? He is a righteous man … but because he is righteous he can’t do it.
Sometimes doing what a Bible verse says to do isn’t so righteous after all. To do what the Bible says to do would have abused and shamed Mary, the woman he loves. He is a righteous man. He has to rise above the letter of the law.
So Joseph wrestles with his dilemma. Because he is a good man, he will put her away privately without shame or disgrace … and that’s his intention. But he has a dream. And in the dream God says, “Marry her, Joseph, son of David. And when the Child is born, you be the one to name him as a father should.” “But he is not my child!” Joseph replies. “Joseph, son of David, name the child.” And he does.
So the Child is not denied a name- “No Name Maddox”- because Joseph names him Jesus. He is the son of Joseph from the line of David. How can Jesus be the son of David? By becoming the son of Joseph! He is Joseph’s son. Look it up in the courthouse. He was Joseph’s son because Joseph named him! By all the laws of the land, the father is the one who gives the name of the son. Jesus is the son of Joseph the carpenter of Nazareth.
Therefore, by Joseph’s naming, becomes one of the line of David. That’s important to remember. For you see, the prophets foretold that the Messiah would come from the line of David. When the Messiah comes, whose son shall he be? Oh, he will be the son of David! … Jesus is the son of David because Joseph said “His name is Jesus.”
Now as Scripture continues, we learn that Joseph has another dream. There he is in Bethlehem when he has this dream that he should flee to Egypt, because King Herod is out to kill his son. His son.. So Joseph follows that dream and runs with his family. Then, having spent a year or two in Egypt, Joseph has yet another dream that he and his family should return to the land of Israel. But because of political unrest, he returns not to Bethlehem but to Nazareth.
Joseph is clearly guiding that little family. He is the head of the household. He is the father … the father who cares so much for his son that he would become an immigrant in a foreign land to protect his baby, Jesus.
When Jesus is 12 years old, Mary and Joseph take Jesus up to the Temple. Jesus is fascinated by all that was being taught there. When his parents head off in the caravan back home, Jesus stays behind. When His parents discover he is not with them or with any of the other caravan members, they are sick with worry. They go back to Jerusalem, find him, and Mary tells Jesus, “Your father and I have been worried sick about you.” And he goes home with them and Luke says, “He was obedient to them both.”
And later an early follower of John the Baptist says to a friend, “Come, we found the Messiah.” “Who is it?” “It is Jesus the son of Joseph from Nazareth.”
I want to talk to you today about Joseph because he is so often overlooked. When we have a traditional Christmas pageant, we pick a special doll to be the baby Jesus. Mary and the Angel Gabriel are both with speaking parts. And three of the older kids are selected as magi. The little kids get to put on wings and bathrobes to be angels and shepherds. And then there are the animals, and the star of Bethlehem. Have we forgotten anyone? No, I think we have all the important parts… Oh… but what about Joseph. In the background, no speaking part. But what about Joseph?
Joseph is not just an afterthought. He is essential to the story. Joseph ends up marrying Mary. They have a lot of kids. Jesus has four brothers (James and Jude and Joseph and Simon), and several sisters. We don’t know their names because girls weren’t counted in those days. But Jesus has brothers and sisters. He is the oldest. How many times, I wonder, does Mary have to go to market while Joseph is busy in his wood working shop, and she says, “Jesus, take care of the little ones ‘til I get back.”
There is Jesus, taking turns doing the chores, going to school. Being the oldest, Joseph would take him out to the shop and make Jesus his apprentice, teaching him to be a carpenter. Joseph does it because he wants the best for his oldest son, wants him to have a trade.
If you are a country western music fan you may recall Skip Ewing’s song entitled, “It Wasn’t His Child.”
“He was her man, she was his wife And late one winter night he knelt by her as she gave birth It wasn’t his child. Yet still he took him as his own As he watched him grow it brought him joy He loved that boy..” And the refrain repeats: “It wasn’t his child. It wasn’t his child.”
But Joseph was still Jesus’ father. And the song goes on to tell how the son grows up to be like his father, strong and kind and good. It tells how a father molds a son. Even though it wasn’t his child, Joseph is a father to this boy.
Aren’t you glad Joseph was such a caring father? In 325 AD in Nicaea the church fathers decided that Jesus was divine … and some people are so anxious to preserve the fact that Jesus was different from us, that they lose the fundamental beauty of Christmas: that he also was like us. He grew up in a family.
In school the teacher would have them sit in a sharing circle. The teacher would ask him, “Have any brothers or sisters?” “Oh yeah, lots of ‘em. We hardly have a place to sleep there’s so many of us.” Then the teacher would naturally ask, “Well, what does your father do?”
“He’s a carpenter.” And then he would boast about how his father was teaching him to plane wood because he was the oldest son. That’s Jesus. All his life he knew what you know and I know: what it is to be in a family, what it is to laugh and cry, to tease and argue, and what it is to sing, “Happy Birthday.”
Some folk want to keep talking about how Jesus was so different. But he died like we all do. He died on a Cross. Everybody here knows what it’s like to deal with absolutely meaningless suffering. Why? Why? And on the Cross he says, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me,” like we have said ourselves in our darkest hours.
Let me ask you, “What do you believe about Jesus?” As a pastor, lots of people who don’t go to church tell me what they don’t believe. That business about feeding the 5,000 … walking on the water … Jonah in the whale’s stomach… They like to recite what they don’t believe. But what we don’t believe isn’t much to build a life on, a faith on.
So this morning I’m asking you, “What do you believe about Jesus? What do you believe about Jesus of Nazareth?” … I’ll tell you what I believe. “Come, we have found the Messiah,” they say to John the Baptist. “Who is he?” Jesus … Jesus, the son of Joseph from Nazareth.
In the Name of the One whose fathers loved Him, and gave themselves for Him, even Jesus the Christ. Amen.
Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way: When His mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit.
Her husband, Joseph, was a righteous man, and didn’t want to expose her to public disgrace. He planned to dismiss her quietly. But just when Joseph 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 has 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.”
All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet: “Look, a young woman shall conceive and bear a Son, and they shall name Him Emmanuel,” which means, “God is with us.”
When Joseph awake from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded. He took Mary as his wife, but had no marital relations with her until she had born a Son. And Joseph named Him Jesus.
Friends, listen to what the Spirit would say to us today.