Everyone imagines themselves as the hero of their own story. Especially every child — and I was a child. They all imagine themselves as heroes. That’s not a new thing; it’s like that here in your twenty-first century American lives, but it was like that where I lived, in Nazareth two thousand years ago, as well. Your boys and girls have the heroes that they imagine: Wonder Woman, Iron Man, PJ Masks, Moana, GI Joe, Harry Potter. They’re inundated with them: hundreds of heroes, on television screens and in movie theaters, in newspaper comics and novels. Watch the children sometime, and see how they play: averting global disasters at the playground, setting up elaborate Lego battlefields, going on daring adventures through their back yards, covering themselves with temporary tattoos. They all want to be heroes.

So did I, but our heroes were a little bit different.

You have to understand that those Roman soldiers could do anything. There was no due process, no body cameras, no professional code of ethics — not that those things always make a difference for you, but even those flawed safeguards were not there for us. Rome had conquered my town and those soldiers could do anything they wanted.

So we would go to our religious services, passed off to the authorities as innocuous. They respected things that were ancient, and our faith was as ancient as they come: ancient stories, ancient scrolls, ancient traditions. They thought our religion kept us busy, kept us industrious, kept us docile. But every little child, boy or girl, wants to be a hero, and that’s what I was. So I learned the stories of our heroes. Moses, who led the people out of slavery in Egypt, who stood in the presence of God on Sinai. David, who as a boy stood fearless with his slingshot and felled the giant Goliath. Jeremiah, who heard the voice of God in his boyhood and fearlessly reprimanded the wicked and faithless. And there were other heroes, too: Ruth and Naomi, left widowed and making their way in the world. Jael, deceiving and impaling Siserah, Esther, risking everything to advocate for her people to the king.

Those were the stories that shaped me and formed me as a child. Read more

Matthew 2:13-23 – a sermon for Christmas 1A

We also know that Joseph is descended from the house of David, which allows Jesus to be the fulfillment of prophecies that the Messiah would come from King David’s line. The Bible tells us that Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit, but the Bible also references Joseph as Jesus’ “father.” This creates a level of uncertainty about Joseph’s role. Then Joseph disappears completely from the Gospels after the time Jesus is left behind at the temple, when he is twelve years old. Joseph’s absence from accounts of Jesus’ public life has been interpreted by most biblical scholars to mean that he died before Jesus began his teaching and public ministry. Our opportunities to get to know Joseph within the biblical witness are quite few.

Throughout history, church historians and theologians often lifted up Joseph as an example of the kind of father who parented “by love and service.” Early Franciscan scholars downplayed Joseph’s lack of biological connection to Jesus, instead focusing on the obvious parental nature of his actions. Jean Gerson, a leader in the 15th century French church, characterized Joseph as giving “all the care that a good and loyal and wise father can and should show to his true son.” Joseph speaks to us today because “after Mary, he was the first Christian, a model believer,” says Father Joseph Chorpenning of St. Joseph’s University.

Today’s scripture passage is the Biblical “version” of post-partum depression. After the warmth and glow of Christmas – the excitement caused by the arrival of a new baby – today is the Sunday that reality sets in. For most new parents, this is when you discover that your meek and mild infant is a terribly colicky baby. This is when you wonder how someone who weighs less than ten pounds can truly turn your whole house, your whole life, completely upside down. You think you will never sleep again, you will never spend time with your spouse again, and you will never have an adult conversation again.

But for Mary and Joseph, the situation is much more dramatic. They discover that their baby, meek and mild, is causing political uproar and Herod, the leader of the nation, is attempting to murder all baby boys. Instead of spending time getting to know their son, they suddenly find themselves as refugees, struggling to protect their child in a strange land. It is not a natural or ordinary start to their family life. Read more