Sermon – Sunday after the Holy Nativity of Christ 2021
The After-feast of the Nativity of Christ
and the Commemoration of Joseph the Betrothed,
David the Prophet and King and James the “Brother of the Lord.”
By V. Rev. Timothy Baclig
December 26, 2021
Today is the “Second Day of Christmas” and the Sunday after the Holy Nativity of Christ when we commemorate David the Prophet and King, and James, the “Brother of the Lord” who also became the first Bishop of Jerusalem. However as the day following the Feast of the Birth of Christ, we commemorate the All-holy Lady Theotokos who is called the “Redemptress;” who because of her obedience, is also called by the Church: “The New Eve,” because she fulfilled the divine will of God by being the instrument for salvation, whereby our Lord, God and Saviour, Jesus Christ became Man, and saved us.
Today’s Gospel reading is the continuation of the events of the Holy Nativity according to the St. Matthew. It covers the period of time that begins with Mary & Joseph, who after facing the hardship of not having a place to lodge, were forced to become refugees in Egypt, in order to escape from the wrath of Herod, who forced the killing of fourteen thousand innocent children, who are commemorated on December 29. Following the death of Herod, the Gospel records that Jesus journeyed with Mary and Joseph to their home in the city of Nazareth in Galilee.
The sequence of events of the birth of Christ can at times be somewhat confusing. That is because we are often presented with the nativity scene with everyone in place: Mary, Joseph, the Baby Jesus, the shepherds and the Wise Men – all there at once; like an edited video!
Today, “Joseph,” who is called “the Betrothed,” is among our commemorations and deserves our attention, because he is often overlooked. Joseph is described in the Gospel as a righteous man. In the first chapter of St. Matthew’s Gospel, just prior to today’s reading, we hear: “Then Joseph, …being a just man … did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him” (Matthew 1:19, 24). We learn by the example of Joseph “what it means to fear God more than men; also what it means to obey God more than men” (Prologue of Ohrid).
The Apocryphal book called: The Proto Evangelium of St. James described Joseph as a master builder, a craftsman who was very gifted with his hands. We are told that he was married to Salome, and together had four sons: James, Joseph, Jude, and Simeon; also three daughters: Esther, Martha, and Salome. Joseph and Simeon, the elder sons of Joseph were married and had families of their own. Their daughters were also married and lives in their own homes. So there remained in Joseph’s house Jude and James – who has the honorable title “James, the ‘brother’ of the Lord.” James was also the first bishop of Jerusalem – commemorated today with David the Prophet and King, and Joseph “the Betrothed.” Joseph’s wife, Salome died after a blessed marriage of about 40 years.
Joseph, therefore, was a widower and was chosen by the Temple priests to be betrothed to the Virgin Mary. Following the events of the Annunciation, when Mary was in her sixth month of pregnancy, Joseph was overwhelmingly troubled in learning that Mary was with child. This image is shown to us on the icon of the Holy Nativity. But as a man who was a “servant of the Lord,” he heeded the Angel of the Lord who spoke to him in a dream: “…do not fear to take Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit; she will bear a son, and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.” (Matt. 1:19-21). Joseph, who was a man knowledgeable of the Law and the prophets remembered the prophesy of Isaiah: “Behold a Virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and His name shall be called ‘Immanuel’” (Is. 7:14). Being a just man, he was committed to care for Mary by keeping her safe in his home; accepting her as his wife (Matt. 1:24) and in this way protected her from being stoned for adultery.
In obedience to the Law of Moses, Joseph took the Child and His mother and had him circumcised on the eighth day, and named Him “Jesus.” (Luke 2:22). This commemoration is next Saturday, the eighth day of following the birth of Christ. It happens to also be our Civil New Year and the Feast of St. Basil the Great (when we will also serve the Divine Liturgy).
It cannot be overstated that while Joseph was an accomplished builder and carpenter from a family well known in Galilee as well as Judea and to the Jewish leaders, his spirit was refined and elevated with the knowledge of the scriptures. Joseph was the head of his household, however, it was a home governed by love and devotion to the Law and the Prophets. Most importantly, Joseph was a man of God who not only faced great challenges, but made some very difficult choices. He is the icon of responsible manhood that demonstrates Godly virtue.
Joseph was able to make wise decisions because he learned to respond to God’s call, readily, willingly and repeatedly. In a few passages of the Gospel, Joseph appears as a strong, courageous man; a working man; yet in his heart we see a tenderness, which is not the trait of the weak, but instead a sign of strength of spirit with a capacity for concern, love and compassion.
As a man of faith, that the scripture also describes as a righteous and just man, Joseph was a man of great kindness and compassion. This righteousness was not “self righteousness.” Nor is it based upon self-interests. It is a righteousness grounded in compassion and mercy. It is a righteousness that is rooted in love and obedience. Most importantly, Joseph’s righteousness is grounded in his relationship to God, steeped in the knowledge of the scriptures. It defines who he was. His righteousness was not even based upon what he was called to do or even the fact that he did it. Joseph, the son of David, was simply a committed “servant of the Lord.”
For a man in today’s world, and certainly no different from the spirituality of women, Joseph models the importance of being vigilantly attentive to God; open to the signs of His presence, receptive to God’s plans and not our own; realizing that without God, life is futile. (What a message for our day!) The man, Joseph is also a “protector” and responsible guardian. Discretely, humbly, silently, but with patience, diligent attentiveness and fidelity, Joseph took care of Mary and gladly dedicated himself to Jesus’ upbringing, even when it may have been hard to understand—from the time of his betrothal, to the finding of the 12 year old Jesus in the Temple in Jerusalem. Joseph is present with loving care as the spouse of Mary. He is at her side in good times and bad, on the first journey to Bethlehem, and then to Egypt, and for the frantic search for the child in the Temple; later in northern Palestine, in a day to day life in their home at Nazareth; in the workshop, where (tradition tells us) he taught his trade to Jesus.
And so here is the point of the lesson: Joseph is able to hear God’s voice because He made it his purpose to seek and to be guided by God’s will, and for this reason is all the more attentive to Jesus and Mary who are entrusted to his care and safety.
God has given us hope in the Feast of His Birth; in the revelation of God born as a little child. In the coming Feast: He is Baptized at the hands of John on Holy Theophany – again bringing us hope, not only you and I, but the entire creation, of which we are called to be stewards. It is a message of renewal and sanctification. For you and I, Christ’s life in us is our hope for all that really matters.
St. John Chrysostom describes Joseph’s hope and trust in God this way: He says, “It is like the sun not yet risen, but from afar more than half the world is already illumined by its light. [And] So did Christ, [who was anticipated and promised] …before his birth—cast light upon all the world. In this way, even before [His Mother’s] birth pains, prophets danced for joy and women foretold what was to come.” May we have this kind of hope that is grounded God’s real presence with us. May we have the courage of Joseph, the purity of Mary, the diligence of the shepherds and the wisdom of the Magi to be servants of God our King, and truly glorify Him! Christ is born! Al-Massih woulid! Χριστός [Ge-NAH-teh] γεννάται! Hristos se naște! Kristos Rozhdastsya!