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Homily for 1/9/11 - afternat - Joseph the Betrothed

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  • Fr David Moser
    In the Sundays before the Nativity, we recalled all the forefathers, both of the flesh and of the spirit, who lead up to Christ. Today we celebrate the memory
    Message 1 of 1 , Jan 9, 2011
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      In the Sundays before the Nativity, we recalled all the forefathers,
      both of the flesh and of the spirit, who lead up to Christ. Today we
      celebrate the memory of three particular saints who are closely related
      to our Lord, David the King, Joseph the Betrothed, and James the Brother
      of the Lord. The prophet and King David is the source of the royal line
      of the Hebrews from which both the Virgin Mary and the righteous Joseph
      were descended. Because of this lineage, Jesus Christ could properly be
      called, “King of the Jews” for in the flesh, He is of royal lineage. Of
      course, because He is also God, the maker and ruler of all creation and
      was therefore not only King of the Jews but King of all that is.

      From each of these righteous men – David, Joseph and James – we learn
      much about the spiritual life. David, of course, was a man after God’s
      own heart, as the scripture tells us and so from him, we can learn how
      to draw near to God. Even when he fell into grave sin, we see from
      David’s deep and heartfelt repentance our own path back to God when we
      fall away. James, the Brother of the Lord, was the first bishop of the
      Church in Jerusalem. He presided over the first apostolic council (which
      is described in the book of Acts) and was finally martyred for his
      confession of Jesus Christ. Joseph, the betrothed of the Virgin Mary,
      was chosen by God to be the guardian of Jesus Christ and his holy
      Mother, a task which he performed with great humility and diligence.

      Too often when we consider the saints we tend to project our own
      situation and passions on them and as a result they become a bit
      clouded. Few are more distorted in popular life than the righteous
      Joseph and so it is important to stop occasionally to see who he really was.

      First we must remember that Joseph was not a young man, he was indeed
      already a widower of many years with at least six grown children (there
      may have been more as the number of daughters is uncertain). At the time
      he was chosen to be the guardian of the Virgin Mary he was already 80
      years old and according to the great menaion of St Dimitri of Rostov he
      lived to be 110 (meaning that he died just before Jesus began His public
      ministry). Although he was of royal lineage (being in the line of David
      the King) Joseph was a poor man who earned his living by means of hard
      labor (for he was a carpenter). Being a carpenter in that time did not
      mean going to the lumberyard and picking up a load of 2x4’s, plywood and
      nails with which to build a house – rather it meant going out, felling a
      tree, sawing it and shaping it into what was needed and then, without
      nails, assembling that lumber into what was desired. It was extremely
      hard labor, and this was the daily life of Joseph.

      He was miraculously chosen by God to be the guardian of the Virgin Mary
      when she was no longer able to live in the Temple. Although it was the
      custom for young women such as her to return home and wed and raise
      families, she was unable to return home as her parents, Joachim and
      Anna, had died and she was the only child. Also she had made a vow to
      remain a virgin dedicated to the service of God and the priests
      recognizing her piety and holiness did not wish to force her to break
      that vow. Therefore all the eligible widowers were gathered at the
      temple and from each one was taken a staff which was then placed in the
      Holy of Holies. The staff of Joseph began to bud just as the staff of
      Aaron had in ancient times to indicate that he was the one chosen by
      God. Though he sought to avoid this honor, Joseph finally submitted to
      the will of God and took the Virgin Mary into his household and for her
      protection she was betrothed to Him (otherwise she would be considered a
      prostitute or a mistress, being found in the household of an unrelated
      man.) Thus we call Joseph, “the betrothed” to set him apart as the
      chosen protector of the Virgin Mary and her divine Child.

      Joseph was also righteous, that is, he heard the word of the Lord and
      kept it. When the Virgin was found to be with child, he assumed this
      pregnancy to be the result of youthful passion and adultery. He set out
      to resolve the matter secretly so that she would not be accused or
      exposed to public dishonor. But before he could accomplish this, an
      angel came to him in a dream and revealed to him that this pregnancy was
      not the fruit of sin, but rather that it was the miraculous fruit of
      righteousness and that the Virgin had been chosen by God to bear the
      Messiah, miraculously conceived without an earthly father. Joseph
      became, at this moment, the very first convert to the Christian faith
      for he abandoned his own fallen opinion and received with joy the
      revelation of God that this Child would be for the salvation of not only
      the people of Israel, but of all mankind. Even though this belief was
      tested by the evil one (as we see depicted in the icon of the Nativity)
      Joseph did not doubt but remained faithful to the word of God that had
      been given to him by the angel. Later, after the birth of the Child, an
      angel again came to him and instructed him to take the Child and his
      mother (note the words here – the angel did not say “your wife and son”
      or even “your betrothed” but “the Child and his mother” indicating the
      true relationship between them all) into Egypt to avoid the wrath of
      Herod. Here we see a man, over 80 years old, in obedience to the word of
      God embark upon a very difficult journey of months over the sands of the
      desert from Israel into Egypt. Even today this is a difficult journey by
      car or train and at that time the only transportation was to walk. But
      Joseph, putting his trust in God, obeyed.

      From this journey to Egypt and the return we can see the complete
      dependence and faith in God’s providence in the life of Joseph. Joseph
      had no real idea where he was going; he did not know anyone in Egypt; he
      had no resources or connections. Like the Hebrew people of old, he
      simply followed day by day the leading of God. Even after having arrived
      in Egypt and settled there, when they returned again Joseph was
      redirected throughout the journey avoiding Jerusalem and Judea going
      into Galilee and finally returning to his home in Nazareth. Throughout
      this whole time, Joseph acted out of simple trust and obedience to the
      word of the Lord. He had no guarantees or even any idea of what he would
      find each day, but trusted in God’s provision on a day to day basis,
      knowing that as long as he was living in obedience to the word of God
      that God would in turn provide for him his needs. Some 30 years later,
      Jesus Christ would reiterate this very attitude of simple daily
      dependence on God in the sermon on the mount. Because he heard the word
      of the Lord and kept it, because of his simple and unshakeable trust in
      God, and unwavering dependence upon providence of God, Joseph is known
      as one of the Righteous Ones.

      In being the betrothed of the Virgin, Joseph is also known as the
      guardian and protector first of the Virgin Mary and then of her child
      the God/man Jesus Christ. This ministry as guardian of the Virgin and
      child is an angelic calling. From the intervention of the angels in the
      birth of Christ we can see that they themselves descended from heaven to
      serve God Who would become man and to wonder at the mystery of the
      incarnation. God, Who was above all things, submitted Himself not to the
      angelic life, but descended even to the physical world and become man.
      He was subject to all the dangers and corruption of the fallen physical
      world. He could be harmed, he could be injured and even killed. But the
      angels continued to serve and protect him and when they saw danger they
      warned those who were charged with the protection of the divine Child.
      When the angels saw the intent of Herod to destroy the Christ Child
      through mass murder of the infants, the angel came to Joseph who was the
      earthly protector. The angel warned Joseph in a dream and committed the
      Child into his care. Joseph became the agent on earth of the angelic
      host who served God in heaven. In taking the Child and his mother to
      safety in Egypt, Joseph was doing the work of the holy angels and so
      shared the angelic calling. In Egypt, and later in returning to Israel,
      he continued to be the agent of the angelic host and even after his
      death, he performed the angelic task of proclaiming the good news for
      when he descended into Hades to await the coming salvation of the
      God/man Jesus Christ, he proclaimed the good news of the coming of the
      promised One to those among the righteous who awaited His coming that
      they might be freed from the captivity of the evil one.

      Joseph was indeed one of the righteous and as the betrothed of the
      Virgin Mary, he became the agent of the angelic host in protecting and
      serving the incarnate God. His unfailing and undoubting trust in God
      stands for us as a shining example of how we can order our own lives.
      Just as he did we trust in God, we hear the word of the Lord and order
      our lives in obedience to it. Just as he served God in imitation of the
      angels, so also we serve our Lord Jesus Christ. The righteous one,
      Joseph the betrothed, is the very first convert to the Christian faith
      and stands even now before the God/man Jesus Christ and His mother, the
      Virgin Mary as the first of us all who have left behind our own fallen
      and sinful lives in order to serve God and follow Jesus Christ as He
      leads us from earth to heaven.

      Archpriest David Moser
      St Seraphim of Sarov Orthodox Church (ROCOR)
      Homilies: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/propoved/
      Website: http://stseraphimboise.org
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