Advent 3 Philippians 4:4-7 Matthew 1:18-25
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Joseph – a solid man, an enabler, decisive but not afraid to change his mind, brave, kind, a man of faith. That is how our Bible group described Joseph as we met last week to examine today’s gospel reading.
Today we have Matthew’s version of the birth of Jesus. Gospel writers Luke and Matthew give us quite different versions of the birth stories.
They are conflated in our minds and added to liberally by carols and Christmas card scenes.
Matthew has the angel appearing to Joseph, the wise men bearing gifts, and the escape to Egypt. Luke has the angel appearing to Mary, the travel to Bethlehem, the shepherds and the angels. The two stories are quite different.
We did our best last week to stick with Matthew’s version and not bring in assumptions from Luke. We discovered in Matthew’s version that Mary is silent, and has no power; everything is done to her, not by her. Now never fear – next week we are back with Luke and we will see Mary in a different light.
But Matthew’s version is a realistic portrait of the life of a woman in first century Palestine. Women belonged to their fathers and then their husbands, and were at their complete mercy. Joseph and Mary are engaged – which means they are legally bound to each other but are not yet married, nor living together. Joseph discovers Mary is pregnant – he would have been expected to denounce her to the community and call for her death by stoning.
He chooses not to take that route and plans to dissolve the engagement – which would still leave her as an outcast, but alive.
However Joseph has a dream and an angel appears to him, telling him to take Mary as his wife.
In our discussion we appreciated that Joseph was willing to change his mind; he was willing not to listen to the prevailing world view but seek his own counsel; he was willing to risk public ridicule; all in order to follow the instructions of the angel.
We called to mind another Joseph, son of Jacob, from the book of Genesis, who was also blessed with dreams. This Joseph, was sold into slavery by his jealous brothers, ends up in Egypt and interprets the dreams of the Pharaoh, thus saving the people of Egypt from famine.
He also saves his family who are reconciled with him.
Matthew’s Joseph is told to name his son Jesus “for he will save his people from their sins” – Jesus can be said to mean “God saves”.
While Joseph might not be Jesus’ biological father he is father to him in every way – in particular he names him which is his right as father, and in biblical writing the power to name is always significant.
Joseph is resolute, he acts decisively; he acts with compassion and care; he heeds advice; he follows the call of God given to him by the angel and the words of the prophet Isaiah. Joseph is a good man.
Where do we get our guidance from?
How do we make good decisions?
How do we raise good men like Joseph?
This week there has been much discussion about violence in our community as a result of the murder of tourist Grace Millane.
The light of judgement has been shone on our very bad track record as a country in partner violence.
A major government report has also been released – it is called “Every four minutes” because there is a police or child protection notification of family violence on average every 4 minutes. That is a mind blowing figure!
The fact that 1000s of people attended the vigils on Wednesday is perhaps a sign that we are ready to take stock and bring about change.
The conversations on social media about what women can and can’t do safely are informative. The comment by many that Grace and other young women like her “should” not be travelling alone and going out alone have been soundly condemned with the reply – men should not be violent towards women.
The report states
Preventing family violence is very simple and very complicated. Day-to-day, it’s about not ignoring the way your friend’s partner behaves towards her, or not judging the disruptive kid at school and just wanting him kicked out. But it’s also about reflecting on our beliefs about relationships; who is responsible for family wellbeing in our communities; and how public and private resources should be applied. It should be simple to take note of implementation science: start with the needs of children. 
This affects every single one of us – some people sitting here today will have suffered from violence; some will have committed the sin of being violent towards someone else. We are all collectively responsible for the way our society is.
We can all be proactive – challenge things we see in our extended families and workplaces – anything from comments that belittle a woman to outright violence and control. 
The Christmas dinner table with extended family is often a place we see or hear things we avoid all year because we do not see family members. This year call it out.
Encourage our boys to be compassionate and caring; encourage our girls to be strong and confident.
When I was growing up my father worked in what was then called the Dept of Industries and Commerce, which included the overseas Trade Commissioner service. I can remember him telling me when a woman was first appointed as Trade Commissioner and when women were promoted to senior positions. I wasn’t really that interested – it just seemed like boring stuff from the office. I realised years later he was giving my sister and I role models to aspire to. He also always made a point of saying when we went on holiday – we can afford this holiday because of the salary your mother earns. Again modelling respect.
I thought of him this week as our daughter Hannah graduated with a Masters of International Trade and gained her first promotion at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. He would have been so proud!
We can make a difference – from conversations at the dinner table, to conversations at work; we can act and make change; we can seek help if we need to change ourselves and don’t know how; we can offer help.
Joseph listened to the inner guidance of the Spirit. Joseph was able to change and step beyond what was “normal” for his time. He cared for Mary and nurtured Jesus. He raised a good man.
We can too.