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Micah 5.2-4

Matthew 1.18-25; 2.13-15, 19-21

The Joe Next Door

A Sermon in Dialogue

Fourth Sunday of Advent

At Christmas time, you and I hear a lot about Mary and the baby who was born to her; we hear about shepherds and magi, about camels and cattle and sheep, even about the innkeeper, who in reality never even appears in the biblical story.  But there is one person we don’t hear that much about; somebody who, like the groom on his wedding day, shows up and says what he is supposed to and then fades to the background except for the occasional obligatory group photograph.  I’m speaking of course about poor old Joseph, son of Jacob, who barely gets a walk-on part in most nativity stories.  We’ll probably never know for certain what Joseph thought of the whole thing, but as the victim of so much unlikely circumstance, I’m sure many of his contemporaries had an opinion or two of Joseph.  I wonder what the neighbors thought...

Second Neighbor:  Good morning neighbor!  What’s the good news this morning?

First Neighbor:  Good morning, neighbor!  I was just on the way over to tell you!  Did you know

 the Jacobsons were back in town?

Second Neighbor:  The Jacobsons... the Jacobsons...  Oh!  You mean Joe and Mary, those

 Jacobsons?

N1:      The very same. They got back to Nazareth a few days ago, and they have a little boy now – I think he’s about two years old.

N2:      Two years – that’s about how long they’ve been gone, isn’t it?

N1:      You’re right.  Last time anybody saw them was back when that rascal Quirinius was still governor of Syria, and we all had to go back to our home towns to be enrolled for the census.  I think it was the second enrollment.

N2:      No, it was the first enrollment when Quirinius was governor of Syria.  Now there was a royal mixup: some people got counted twice, some people didn’t get counted at all.    Can you imagine if we actually had elections around here!?  Luckily my family was born right over the ridge there so it was fairly simple for us, but wasn’t Joe born in Bethlehem?

N1:      Sure was, poor guy – talk about the least of the cities of Judah!  And he and Mary had to pack everything up and make that long trip, with her eight months pregnant!

N2:      That house of theirs sure has looked empty for the past two years.  I really missed them.  Weren’t they only recently betrothed at the time?

N1:      They were, and I missed them too.  I can remember the many nights young Joe and I spent after work, telling stories, sipping on a few barley beers.  In fact I just came from there – I went to say welcome back - and you wouldn’t believe the stories he had to tell.  They are unbelievable!

N2:      Now you know that Joe always had a way of pulling your leg.  I mean, do you really believe the story he tells about being directly descended from Abraham?

N1:      I’ve heard that one more than once, but that’s only a small part of the tale he told me; if even half of Joe’s stories are true, he has got to be the most gullible fellow since Jonah!  Did you know that Joe and I went to temple school together, more years ago than I care to count?  We lived in different neighborhoods back then, but we still took our religious instruction together.  And as far back as I can remember, he always had this fascination with angels.

N2:      I remember that – he told me once, that if he ever had a son, he wanted to name him Gabriel Michael Raphael Josephson!  Try saying that three times fast – not that I believe in angels, mind you.

N1:      Well get this:  he and Mary did have a son, and you’ll never guess what they named him:

N2:      Not Gabriel Michael Raphael....

N1:      Not even close – they named him Jesus – Jesus!  I mean, you can go back through all Joseph’s ancestors and never once meet a Jesus, or even a Joshua or a Jeshua, in Joe’s family tree!

N2:      Don’t I remember a Jehosaphat back there somewhere?

N1:      Well, let’s not go jumping into that, shall we?  I was talking about angels, or rather Joe was.  Maybe he’s just an innocent rube, but he sure seems naive to me.

N2:      I’ll say!  You’d think he’d know better than to marry that young girl with all those rumors swirling about her.  Especially in a small village like this one, where everyone knows everyone else’s business.  A shotgun wedding, is what I heard.

N1:      I heard the same, and what makes it worse than her being – how shall I put this delicately – “great with child” – at the time of their marriage, is that Joe swears on a stack of Torah’s that he’s not the father.  Of course, we all know the little lad is Joseph’s legal son, but from what I hear, the boy’s actual paternity is still open to debate.

N2:      You know I don’t take to gossip, but I wouldn’t be surprised if people were still talking about this years from now, strange as it all is.  But if I know Joe the way I think I do, I’ll bet he loves that little guy as if he were his own flesh and blood.

N1:      You’ve got that right.  Even if that’s all there were to Joe’s story, it would be enough to keep the tongues yammering for years.

N2:      There’s more?  Don’t tell me it comes back to those angels of his.

N1:      You know Joe as well as I do.  Not many people know this, but when Joe discovered his fiancée was pregnant, he decided against marrying her - that’s right: he was ready to call the whole thing off.

N2:      And who could blame him?  Most people in his position would have had her stoned to death, or at least subject to public ridicule.  You know as well as I do our laws leave plenty of room for such remedies.

N1:      Of course, but he always was too good a Joe for any of that barbarity.  No, he resolved to divorce her quietly.  But this is where it gets a little crazy.  Just when he was ready to break the news to her, what do you think he saw?

N2:      Della Reese?

N1:      Who?

N2:      Della Reese?  Touched by an Angel?  Oh, never mind.  Who did he see – no, you don’t have to tell me:  an angel, right?

N1:      Bingo!  An angel who told him everything was going to be OK, that his child was some kind of divine offspring.  And poor Joe swallowed the whole thing hook, line and sinker -

N2:      - as gullible as Jonah –

N1:      Bad enough to find out your fiancée is expecting, but then to have some apparition appear out of the night and announce that the father of your son is the Holy Ghost!  I told him more than two barley beers before bed will give you the night willies, but good old Joe just went along with it like it was the most ordinary thing in the world.

N2:      Now that you mention it, he did seem a little preoccupied just before they left town two years ago.  But then again, who wouldn’t?  What with that lunatic Herod and his insane decision to hunt down every male child throughout the region and... now just a minute – didn’t you say that Joe and Mary’s little boy was about two years old?

N1:      That’s right, and I know what you’re thinking.  “How did that little family of theirs manage to avoid the heartache and grief that engulfed us all back then?”  I don’t suppose I need to tell you what Joe had to say about that one...

N2:      Don’t keep me dancing on the head of a pin!  What was it - another angel?

N1:      The very same.  This one came to him and told him to skedaddle out of town and get to Egypt as fast as his little donkey’s legs could carry them.

N2:      That isn’t fair!  I had a nephew who perished because of that crazed emperor’s edict.  Why couldn’t I see an angel, and be spared the sorrow?

N1:      I thought you didn’t believe in angels.

N2:      Well, I don’t - but from the sound of things that Joseph believes in enough angels to cover us both!  How he can suspend disbelief with such regularity is beyond me.

N1:      Still, it saved the day for that little Jesus of his.  Of course, it also means that there aren’t too many little boys his age in the neighborhood for him to play with.

N2:      Say, was that the little boy I saw playing with the neighbor girls Mary and Martha?

N1:      Yes, I think their big brother Lazarus is watching them all for the day.  Those two get along really well – I wouldn’t be surprised if they became fast friends in the years to come.

N2;      But if they went to Egypt like you say, what made them decide to come back to Nazareth, and why now?

N1:      Well, for one thing, the coast has been clear ever since Herod died last month; Joseph and Mary must have known it was safe for them to return.

N2:      But Herod has only been dead less than a month – how in the world did they hear the news so quickly...

N1:      [Knowing shrug & raised eyebrows]

N2:      Right – an angel.  No matter, at least the Jacobsons are back, and it’s a good thing, too – I have some cabinet work that needs doing, and you know how difficult it is to find a good carpenter these days.

N1:      He sure has been busy since he got back, that’s for sure.  But I have to say, Joe ought to think about slowing down a little - the signs of wear are beginning to show around his face, and he isn’t that old.

N2:      All that angel business is probably getting to him too.  I know how jumpy I would be if every time I turned around another angel was there to tell me all the strange things Joe claims he’s heard.  It has to wear on a soul!

N1:      At least he hasn’t lost his sense of humor though – he joked the other day that he wouldn’t be surprised if the little lad didn’t grow up to be king –

N2:      A King!  That’s rich – as though the Caesars would ever turn their throne over to a Jew!  Must be all that travelling – hiking from here to Bethlehem to Egypt and back again, and dabbling around in the spirit world – beginning to take its toll.

N1:      And don’t forget he’s always been under a lot of pressure to live up to the family name.

N2:      You mean his strange contention that both he and Mary are related to King David himself! – was it fourteen generations twice removed, or twenty-eight generations once removed?

N1:      If I’ve heard it once I’ve heard it a hundred times:  “Did I ever tell you that King David was my great great great great great great great great great great great great grandfather?  And on Mary’s side King David is her great great great great great

N2:      All right already, I get the idea; no wonder he’s seeing angels around every corner!

N1:      Now listen, I know none of this sounds too believable, but tell me what you think – about Joe I mean.  Doesn’t it seem a little unusual that he stuck it out with Mary even though she was already expecting?  Angels or no angels, I wonder how many people would do what he did?

N2:      Maybe his timing was off – maybe the boy is really his, but he couldn’t bring himself to admit it publicly.  Joe may be a little slow on the draw some times, but he’s no hypocrite.

N1:      Remember, it is customary to announce a betrothal with a pregnancy –

N2:      - a sign of good fortune, as my own mother never tires of reminding me!

N1:      And one look at the little tyke tells you he must be his father’s lad.  Look at his hands – I wouldn’t be surprised to see him grow up to be a carpenter just like the old man.  Let’s be honest:  for all we know, they could have been gone for two years because they were too embarrassed to face their neighbors.

N2:      People do like to gossip...  other people, I mean.  But that could be one explanation; it sure makes more sense than all this angel rigamarole.

N1:      It’s likely we’ll never know for certain.  Still, he’s a neighbor – one of us – and we owe it to him and Mary, and that little boy of theirs, to stick by them, no matter what.

N2:      Angels and all?

N1:      Afraid so.  I’m just glad the Jacobsons are back.  They bring a lot of life to the old neighborhood.  And who knows, maybe that Joseph’s dreams will come true.

N2:      You mean about the boy growing up to be a King?

N1:      Why not?  These days, anything can happen!

N2:     And they usually do!

N1:       Say, why don’t we go find Joe and grab a barley beer together?

N2:      A beer?  Sounds good to me – do you remember where he lives?

N1:      Sure, it’s down the street and around the corner, the little house.

N2:      Meet you there!

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