An Advent Lesson ~ The Righteousness of Joseph (part 1)

Joseph’s Struggle

Today’s special guest comes to us all the way from Bethlehem by way of Nazareth. Most of you know him as Jesus’ father, or the husband of Mary, but let’s hear from him. Please, share your story …

Well, first of all, let me introduce myself.  My name is Joseph. Joseph Davidson. I’ve been quietly attending many of your celebrations of Christmas for quite a while but I suspect many of you don’t know me very well.  I’m sort of like the step-father of the bride at a wedding.  You see, nobody pays much attention to him until its time to start paying the bills!  I know how much many of you enjoy celebrating Christmas but I want to tell you, your Christmas celebration cost me a great deal!

I guess there is another thing that you should know about me. My neighbors call me a “righteous man”.  In my time that meant something very specific. You see, way back when, hundreds and hundreds of years before even I was born, God gave Moses the Law for our people. The Law tells us how we should live for God, the things we should do, the way we should eat, the people we should associate with and so on. One thing you should know about the Law though, keeping it is not always easy. It makes great demands on us. But I believe that if we’re going to be God’s people we must do what God tells us. Anyway, all that is to explain what people in my day meant when they called a man a “righteous man”. That’s me. I don’t go around preaching to people or looking down my nose at others. I just think if a person believes something they should live it.

Let’s see, what else would you want to know about me? Well, I grew up in Bethlehem. It’s only a few miles from Jerusalem and making a living there was difficult. So as a young man I moved to Nazareth. Nazareth was so small I’m always amazed when I meet people nowadays who have even heard about it!  It was barely a village then, the butt of a lot of jokes.  “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” people used to kid. Remember, I didn’t go to Nazareth for the night life or the excitement. I went because I needed to find work to support myself and my future family.

As for my family, it’s an old and honorable one – probably with more emphasis on the old than the honorable!  My ancestors include King David. I know that isn’t really much to boast about. He lived a thousand years before I was born, so by the time I was born, there were hundreds and thousands of Davidson’s. But I am still proud of my birthright and my family name. Some people today can trace their heritage back to settlers in their home country or even further. Well, it’s like that with me.

I’m carpenter by trade. I do things like make furniture, build houses, make tools and yoke for oxen. If it’s made out of wood, I’m your man! I see woodworkers like myself as practical people. I like things you can handle and see, something you can measure, cut and saw. I’m not someone who puts a lot of stock in ideas. Oh, I enjoy listening to the teacher when he comes to our local synagogue, but I prefer more practical things. Wood is honest. I understand that some folks nowadays have doors that are hollow in the middle – that sounds dishonest to me. I like things that are wood right through. I like things that are solid. Wood has integrity. I like that – I like that in people too.

Of course, the other thing that was important in my life was my Mary.

Life was pretty good for me in Nazareth.  I found plenty of work, saved some money and then I began thinking
about getting married. That’s when I met Mary. She was about 15 years old then, just the right age for us to become engaged. She was a wonderful girl, and she became a wonderful woman and a wonderful mother. And so, we became betrothed.

I want you to understand what that meant for us. When a couple becomes betrothed, it’s something like your engagement only it’s much more permanent. It lasts a year, occasionally even longer. During that time period the families have a chance to get to know one another. They work out a dowry. They search the records in the temple in Jerusalem because in a little country like ours, it’s really easy for relatives to get married and never even know that they’re relatives. Our engagements can only be broken by divorce. And getting a divorce isn’t easy. You have to show real reason. It’s pretty disgraceful.

That stage of our betrothal was a time for me to dream. I dreamed about all kinds of plans for our future. I dreamed about the home I would build for Mary and myself. I dreamed about the kids we’d have. I dreamed about a little girl that would look as beautiful as her mother. I dreamed about a son who I could teach the ways of being a carpenter, to make useful things with his hands and to build something from nothing with no more than scraps and pieces. I dreamed about the wonderful life we’d have and how wonderful that life would be.

It’s strange though, isn’t it, how quickly life can go sour. How quickly our dreams can turn into nightmares. How easily your most treasured plans can be shattered in a moment. Maybe you’ve also had that experience.

My dreams became a nightmare after I noticed that Mary had become very quiet and withdrawn. This wasn’t the Mary I knew and loved so I began to wonder if something was wrong. I tried to talk to her about it, but she said she couldn’t tell me about it. I had to go out of town to do a job and the whole time I was away I could hardly sleep because I was so worried about what might be going on. I wondered, had I done something to displease her or her family?  I worried that they’d found something in the Temple records that would prevent us from being married!  By the time I returned to Nazareth I was beside myself. I went to Mary and I begged her not to shut me out of her life, to tell me what was going on, but I was totally unprepared for her answer. 

When she told me she was pregnant, I felt like I’d been kicked in the stomach. Then Mary began to weep.  I was in such shock I didn’t know what to do. I mean, of all the things I’d wondered and worried about – that was never one of them! Pregnant!  I knew I wasn’t the father, but who?  We loved each other, we respected each other, we had a future together. How could this have happened without her parents knowing, without my knowing?  What about our dreams?  Why?

That’s when she told me her story. About how an angel had appeared to her and told her she was going to be the mother of Israel’s Messiah. The Spirit of God had come upon her and placed a child in her womb. C’mon, she was a teenage girl from a one camel village! I was furious! It was one thing for her to betray our love like that but quite another to tell me to a ridiculous story that bordered on blasphemy. Did she think I was an idiot? Do I look like an idiot? I would not believe it. Many of you still don’t believe it.

Read the rest of Joseph’s story tomorrow on

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*The story above is my edited version of a “A Rough Ride For The Righteous” – Sermon from Ross Bartlett*, as shared with TELOS Online Community on Sunday, December 24, 1995.

*Ross Bartlett is an United Church of Canada clergyperson with a number of sermons posted to this site. This particular sermon was also preached by R. Haddon Robinson. Professor of Preaching at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, South Hamilton Mass, US around the same time period. Attribution is not certian and Dr. Bartlett may have shared Dr. Robinson’s material or vice-versa.


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