Thursday, March 20, 2014

Homily for the Feast of St. Joseph, Guardian of Our Lord

(painting: Saint Joseph and the Christ Child, 1670-75, by Bartolomé Esteban Murillo (1617-1682)

"An angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you, for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” And he rose and took the child and his mother by night and departed to Egypt and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet, “Out of Egypt I called my son” (Matthew 2:13-15).

Grace, mercy, and peace be unto you from God our Father and from our Lord Jesus Christ.  Amen. 

Fathers day is sometime in the middle of June but it generally gets passed over with the end of school and summer vacation.  Today, on the feast day of St. Joseph, it’s probably a better day to commemorate fathers.  Joseph is really a man for our times. His fiancé Mary agrees to bear the Son of God in her womb. And as her tummy got bigger it’s hard to imagine what all the locals said. And if they called her the Virgin Mary, no doubt it’s was out of cruelty rather than praise.

And what did they say when they walked past Joseph’s wood shop?  But Joseph marries her anyways and decides to love her. He stays by her side. They are poor so he helps her give birth in a barn  – holding her hand, he comforts her and speaks kindly to her.

Jesus is born. And Joseph is his earthly father. In our text tonight Joseph is visited by an angel in a dream warning him to take his baby boy and Mary down to Egypt to escape the bloody swords of Herod’s hench men. Just as Joseph in the Old Testament guarded the grain in Egypt, now Joseph in the New guards the grain in Egypt – the very bread of life – Jesus.  Joseph fulfils his calling. He honors his wife, he guards and protects his family. This is what fathers do.

Joseph would no doubt teach Jesus to take his first steps. He would stay near his bed when he got sick. He would teach Jesus how to make a living through carpentry. Jesus would learn a trade.  Most importantly Joseph would bring Jesus every Sabbath to the synagogue to learn more about His Heavenly Father and His will for His Son.

This boy of course is the Son of God, but even the Son of God needed a dad to keep him safe. He who made the heavens and earth still needed a dad to point out and name the stars for him. Jesus grew in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man – very much through his dad – through Joseph.

But in father’s carpenters workshop, filled with wood and nails, he never forgot the will of His Father in heaven.  

Joseph is something of an insignificant woodworker of an unknown town. He was for the most part poor.  He trusted in God. He loved his wife. He cared for his son. He worked hard and put food on the table.  They prayed and he brought his family to hear God’s Word.

For fathers, husbands, and sons what better example could we have? Joseph likely died early on because only Mary is at the cross. Perhaps work, sickness, or fatigue got the best of Joseph but so what?  His work was accomplished. He obeyed his calling. He trusted in God, he cared for His Son, and was saved through Him. He trusted in the same heavenly Father, and cared for the fruit of Mary’s womb and he too entered into eternal glory.

It’s no secret fatherhood is under attack. Men sleep around with women, use them, abuse them, and then leave them. These days guys get girls pregnant and rather than protect the wife and child they morph into Herod himself and have their firstborns put to death before they can escape the womb.

The children that do somehow survive are increasingly growing up with no father at all or a series of boyfriends who come and go, leaving them broken and beaten. No guardians and no protector to keep them safe.  

But Joseph shows us a better way. Fathers care for the weak and protect the most vulnerable. Joseph doesn’t obey his fallen flesh, he doesn’t look out for his own interest but only to the interest of those whom God has entrusted to his care.  Tonight Joseph obeys God and does what the angels tell him. He shows us and the whole world a better way. That fatherhood is about self-giving sacrifice, gentleness and love - forgiveness and grace.    

Like St. Joseph, the guardian of Jesus, you too are called to be the guardian of Jesus in your heart. Hold him in your hand in the sacrament and cradle him in the manger of your soul. Like Joseph listen only to the voice of the angels and keep your eyes on Jesus – and keep him close.

Remember that you too have a place in the holy family.  Did not Jesus himself say to his disciples “For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother” (Mt. 12:50).

Therefore you can approach the altar with the whole family of God. With angels, and archangels, and the whole company of heaven. With Mary, Joseph, and Jesus and all the saints in glorious light. Like Joseph hear the angel voices and follow their commands – they bid you to come - eat, drink, and be merry. Because tonight sinners are forgiven and loved by God. Families are reconciled, and Herod and hell itself are destroyed. In the name of Jesus. Amen. 


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