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Father

Written by Pastor Aaron Decker. Posted in Light and Life

For two thousand years, Mary has been hailed as the one chosen to bring Jesus, God-made-flesh, into the world.  The gift of carrying the fullness of God within her for nine months, the challenge of raising the child who would be the savior of the world, and the sorrow of watching him die on a cross makes her truly worthy of the esteemed place she has among the saints.  In Eastern tradition, she is called the theotokos, the God-bearer.  In the Roman church, she is venerated more highly than any other holy person throughout history.  In Protestantism, she is seen as a powerful exemplar of obedience to and trust in God.

And so, a few weeks ago, as I examined the great Roman Catholic cathedral in Santa Fe, New Mexico, I was unsurprised to find a chapel on the north transept dedicated to her.  This is where the holy relics owned by the church were stored, where candles were lit in memory of loved ones who had passed on, where donations were accepted for the work of the church.

What surprised me was that this chapel was devoid of worshipers--and not because it was a sleepy Tuesday afternoon.  Instead, the handful of people bent quietly in prayer, awaiting the beginning of a weekday mass, were found in the southern Chapel of the Blessed Sacrament, dedicated in memory of Saint Joseph, Jesus’ earthly father.

What do we know about Joseph?  Very little.  Betrothed to Mary, he planned to break off the engagement (as custom demanded) when he found out she was pregnant.  He could have done so in a very public way which would have caused her disgrace.  Instead, the Bible tells us that he planned to dismiss her quietly.  A man of the law, but a man who was kind nevertheless.

Instead, after a series of visions, he decided to keep his engagement and trust the promise that the child belonged to God--a very unlikely promise, to be sure.  Moreover, when word came that Herod was out to kill the boy, he moved his family to the southwest, just outside of Herod’s reach.  Joseph trusted God, even when it meant considerable hardship.

Joseph was either a manual laborer or a skilled artisan.  His identification as a carpenter, specifically, is traditional but uncertain.  Scripture calls him a builder of some sort, but the word is general in its meaning.  Already in the second centurey of the church, he is identified as a woodworker.  He certainly taught his trade to Jesus.

Like most fathers, Joseph certainly had difficult days with his son.  The Bible records a day at the Jerusalem temple, where Jesus gets separated from his parents.  When they find him, the boy quips, “Where would I be, but in my Father’s house?”  This story always made me chuckle a bit as a young person.  How many times must Jesus, as fully human as the rest of us, have tried to get out of following his father’s instructions by insisting, “You’re not my REAL dad!”

After this story, Joseph disappears from the Biblical narrative altogether.  Generations of interpreters have taken this to mean that he must have died rather early in Jesus’ life.

And yet, in that short time, he must have made quite an impression on this boy he raised as if he was his own.  Jesus knew Torah well, the teaching of which was an obligation of the father.  He developed and taught a powerful system of ethics during his life, something which--even though he was God--must have been shaped through the influence of his parents.  And when he spoke of God, he often used the most familiar word for “Father.”  Jesus knew what it was to have a good father, and taught his disciples to see God as one as well.

There are many people in this world who have had strained relationships with their fathers, and have even been the subject of abuse and their fathers’ hands.  For their sake, we must seek out new metaphors and language to talk about God.  But there have been many, many more people whose fathers have done the best they could as they worked to raise their children.  We honor them and their holy, baptismal calling to nurture each new generation each time we proclaim that we believe in God “The Father.”

Grace and Peace,
Pastor Aaron

Provider God, lift up all fathers and mothers, and make us thankful for our own, as we come upon this Christmas season.  Amen.