ST. STEPHEN’S PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH DECEMBER 24, 2017
Rev. Sabrina Ingram
CHRISTMAS LETTERS: JOSEPH
Isaiah 9: 2 – 7; Matthew 1: 18 – 25
Dear Rabbi Arazi, I’m writing to ask you to perform the wedding ceremony for me and my betrothed wife, Mary. I am hoping to get married in the month of Sivan after the 6th day so it will not interfere with Shavuot, when our people celebrate God’s gift of the Torah. Mary’s father has agreed to this time. I know you must travel from Cana and you’re busy with your congregation there as well; please let me know what day is best for you. Rabbi, as you suggested, I did ask to meet Mary and speak with her. Although it was an unusual request, her parents agreed it was a good idea. We went for a walk and her father followed close behind so that propriety was kept. I did most of the talking I’m afraid; she was very nervous. I like her. She has a purity to her – a natural beauty – as well as a lovely smile and a quick wit. She has learned her domestic skills well and enjoys them. I think it will be a good match, God willing. I await your response, Joseph ben Jacob.
Dear Rabbi, Thank you for responding so quickly. Our families are already making wedding preparations. Tell me, Rabbi, when God made Eve from Adam’s rib did they have a big dinner with a dance? Joseph
Dear Rabbi, Of course you are right. Adam and Eve only had the Lord and each other and I have a mother and soon a mother-in-law and they have many ideas that the Lord never thought of. There are so many details to arrange; do you think the Messiah will come before they finish? Joseph
Dear Rabbi Arazi, I’m sorry to say I’m writing because the wedding has been cancelled. I need your advice. It has come to light that Mary is pregnant. Tell me Rabbi, how could this happen? She comes from a respectable family and she seemed like a nice girl. Of course, I was angry when I heard the news. I’m afraid I did not behave well, but who could blame me? Adultery is a grave sin and even if she was forced in some way, do I not have the right to be angry? I feel sick from grief and shame. How could she do this to me? Rabbi, I am worried for her mind. Perhaps she is possessed? Tell me what you think. She says an angel came to her and told her she would be given a baby by the Holy Spirit. Is this possession or does she blaspheme? She seems to think this child will be the Messiah. I don’t want to doubt her, but how can this be? Rabbi, I know it is written that an adulteress is to be punished by stoning, but the Law also says we should not kill; would it be pleasing to our Lord if I took the life of another, even under these circumstances? On the other hand, won’t the Lord be displeased if I do not make a righteous judgment and regain my honour? I’m in a quandary Rabbi and am looking to you for direction. Joseph
Dear Rabbi, You asked how I have been coping so I will tell you. I have been working at my carpentry – a lot. I had hoped it would help me to forget these terrible circumstances. It doesn’t. But sawing the wood helps me think and sanding is soothing, and hammering feels good when the anger wells up inside me. You have made an interesting suggestion, Rabbi. My mother doesn’t feel divorce is punishment enough for such an immoral woman, she is pressing me to have her stoned as is my right. However, you are right, I could divorce her publicly, then the shame would be hers and her Father’s to bear. I suppose he could always chose to have her stoned if I left her, but at least her blood wouldn’t be on my hands. I don’t think he would; even though she is a daughter and he is very angry I think he loves her too much. I could ask for compensation. Since she will never marry he will be hers to keep for the rest of his life – after that, I don’t know. I suppose she will either beg or sell herself. Given her lack of modesty, Rabbi, does that matter? Is this my burden to carry? Continue to pray Rabbi so that I will make a choice pleasing to God. J
Dear Rabbi, I find my anger has subsided and my sadness has grown. I have decided to divorce Mary privately. She has brought so much shame on herself there is no need for me to increase it. It will soon be evident to the whole village what has happened and that will be enough for her to bear. I spoke to her father and he seemed relieved although he is still so humiliated, I doubt he will forgive her but I don’t think he’ll stone her either, which is good. Thank you for your help, Rabbi. Joseph
Dear Rabbi, Tell me what the scriptures say about angel visitations and dreams? Do these things still happen today? Or were they something from the time of Jacob and Joseph? I will tell you what happened. I was asleep. In my dream an angel appeared. He called me “Joseph, son of David”. You know Rabbi that my father’s name is Jacob yet the angel referred to me by this ancestral name. What do you make of that? He told me not to be afraid to take Mary as my wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. Is it possible, Rabbi, that the Spirit would do such a thing? Then the angel told me the baby would be a boy and I was to name him Jesus – Yeshua, which as you know means “saviour” for he would save the people from their sins. He quoted to me from scripture – do you know this passage? “Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel.” I believe that means “God is with us”, is that correct? Rabbi, could God be with us? Could Mary’s story be true? Does this mean the child is the Messiah? Or am I losing my mind? Tell me, Rabbi, what is written? What do you advice? Joseph
Dear Rabbi, Thank you for the scriptures you directed me to. I didn’t realize the Messiah would come from the line of David. Thank you also for finding another rabbi to do the wedding on such short notice. I am at peace and will do as the angel directed when the baby comes. In the meantime, I will not fulfill my rights as a husband until after the child is born. We are heading to Bethlehem to register for the census. Mary’s time is getting close. Remember us in your prayers. J
Dear Rabbi, Well, we made the journey to Bethlehem. It took longer than I’d planned due to Mary’s condition. I felt sorry for the donkey! He must have a strong back. We arrived late but there was nowhere to say. The inn was full. A local man has allowed us to use his stable. It is little more than a cave and a bit chilly inside which is nice in the heat of the day. Mary went into labour and we were without help but she was delivered of the baby and both are well and safe. Although I am not his father, he is amazing. I find I feel protective – of them both, actually. We will be staying in Bethlehem a little longer. Mary needs to rest and it is easy for me to pick up work if necessary. Joseph
Rabbi Azari – no sooner had I sent you my last letter than shepherds came by our cave for a visit. They said angels had appeared to them proclaiming the birth of the Messiah. They had come to see the baby for themselves. My faith is growing Rabbi. So is my affection for Mary – she is a very kind and gentle person and since my dream I have been able to forgive her. Although the baby consumes much of our attention, we are more tender to one another. God is good. Joseph
Dear Rabbi, we have had other visitors. Foreigners to the house of Israel, people who are not part of the covenant. They were mystics and they appeared to be wealthy. Maybe even noblemen. What is written Rabbi, is the Messiah to come for gentiles also? It’s shocking to think that. They said they’d followed a star looking for the King of the Jews. They had gone to see Herod, the Great because they assumed a Jewish King would be born in a palace – they said that Herod wants to pay homage to the baby also. That seemed strange to me – it made me very uncomfortable. They were respectful and quite taken with the baby. They gave him gifts – interesting ones – gold, frankincense and myrrh. They seemed like gifts you’d give to kings and priests and dead people! I noticed when they left, they did not head towards Jerusalem but were taking a different path home. Later that night I had a dream – yes, another dream with another angel who told me to take the baby immediately and go to Egypt because King Herod has heard about the baby and wants him dead. We are packing up quickly which doesn’t take long when you don’t own much but a baby really slows down the process. Thankfully Mary is stronger now. Her sparkle is coming back. As I look at her, I see that she is still the wholesome girl I met a year ago. Thank you for everything Rabbi, I couldn’t have done this without your guidance. Pray for our safety. I don’t know how long we’ll be gone; we’ll stay until it’s safe to return. When I get home, I’ll come to see you. I’ll bring Jesus for you to meet. No doubt he will be an interesting child. In the meantime, I know that God is with us. Take care, my friend. Joseph.