I think I had better introduce myself. My name is Joseph Davidson. Many of you already know me. I've been hanging around Christmas for a long time. But I suspect that you do not know me very well. Sometimes I feel a bit like the father of the bride in a wedding. Nobody notices him, but he has to pay for the whole affair. I know that you enjoy celebrating Christmas, but I want you to know Christmas cost me a great deal. Let me tell you a bit about myself.
Who was Joseph?
My small claim to fame is that I happen to be a descendent of David, Israel's greatest king. That really isn't much to boast about. David lived a thousand years before I was born. By the time I came along, there were hundreds, even thousands, of people who had been descended from David. Yet, it was something I was proud of, the same way that some of you are proud of being daughters of the American Revolution. You boast a bit about tracing your family lineage back to people twelve generations ago who came over on the Mayflower. That is sort of what it is with me.
When I lived, King David had long since died, and his reign had lost its glory. We were living in moral and spiritual darkness. There were times in which things were so dark my countrymen didn't even dare to dream. But I'm telling you my story.
I grew up in the town of Bethlehem. It's a little town about seven miles south of the capital city of Jerusalem. It was difficult to make a living there. When I was a young man, I went up north to the hill country near the Lake of Galilee, and I settled in the town of Nazareth.
I'm surprised some of you know Nazareth. It was just a hamlet. It was so small it was the butt of jokes. Some of my countrymen would say, "Could any good thing come out of Nazareth?" Having lived there, I wondered if anything good or bad could have come out of Nazareth, it was so small. But I didn't go to Nazareth because it was a great city. I went there to work my trade.
I'm a carpenter. That tells you something about me. I mean, carpenters are practical people. We're not poets or philosophers. I like to work with things you can handle and measure, cut and saw. I enjoy working with wood. You know, there is a spirit in wood—cedar, oak, pine. Some wood is as hard as metal. Other wood is as pliable as clay.
But wood is an honest thing. I understand that some of you have doors that are hollow in the middle. I don't want to insult you, but you ought to be ashamed. I like wood that's wood clear through, wood that has integrity. I like that in wood; I like that in people.
Times in Nazareth were good for me. It was especially delightful that in Nazareth I met Mary. She was about 15-and-a-half when I met her—wonderful girl, wonderful woman. Before long we were betrothed. Betrothal was sort of like engagement, except that it was much more serious. It lasted a year, even more. During that period, families got to know each other. They worked out a dowry. They searched the records at the temple in Jerusalem, because it would have been possible in a country as compact as ours for near relatives to marry and not even know it.
It was a period in which I came to love Mary more. She was a wonderful combination of girl and woman. There were times when she laughed and her eyes danced with joy. It was ecstasy to be with her. And as a woman she was as solid as the pillars at the temple. She was thoughtful. She pondered life. And not only that, she could also give expression to her thoughts in songs. Some of her songs were absolutely magnificent.
That period of betrothal was a period in which I dreamed. I thought of building a house for Mary and for the children we would have. I dreamt of what life would be with her.
How did he feel?
It's strange, isn't it, how quickly, almost overnight, dreams can turn to nightmares and your best plans can be shattered.
I noticed Mary had become quiet and withdrawn. When I asked her what was wrong, she told me she just couldn't talk about it. I had to go up to Capernaum to do some work, and while I was away, I wondered about her silence. I wondered if I had done something to offend her or if her family had been displeased with me or if they had found something at the temple to indicate that we could not be married.
By the time I came back to Nazareth, I was beside myself. I asked Mary not to shut me out of her life, but I was completely unprepared for her answer.
She looked at me and said, "I'm pregnant." She began to weep. Of all the things that had been in my mind, that one had never occurred to me. Pregnant! I had not been with her. If not me, who? How could it have happened? How could it have happened without my knowing or without her parents knowing? We had love. We had trust. We had plans and dreams. Why?
I needed to ask questions, but I was afraid to hear the answers. When she did answer me, it was like a slap in the face.
She told me an angel had appeared to her and told her, a 16-year-old girl living in a fifth-rate little village, that she was going to be the mother of Israel's Messiah. Then she told me something else. She told me she was still a virgin, that the Spirit of God had come upon her and planted a baby in her womb. I was furious.
It was one thing for her to betray our love, and it was another thing to treat me like a fool by telling me a story that bordered on blasphemy. I could not believe it. You would not believe it. I wanted to lash out. I wanted to hurt her as she was hurting me.
Back in the old Law, it said that if a woman were taken in adultery she should be stoned, and I could understand that law. Although we did not practice it then, I wanted somehow to get back at her for what she had done to our love, to my faith, and my reputation.
I want you to understand that I am a righteous man. I try to live according to the Scriptures. I had a reputation in the community. As soon as they knew that Mary was pregnant, they would assume I was the father, and my reputation would be destroyed. I was furious. I was going to make it public. I was going to go before the elders at the gate and sever this relationship and explain I was not responsible.
I couldn't do that; I loved Mary. Even though my trust was shattered, and I felt I could not marry her, I would not expose her to public shame. I decided that I would sever the thing quietly and make up some kind of story.
Mary knew she had to leave Nazareth. She knew that the caustic gossip in that community would be impossible to stand. She decided to go south, to the area of Hebron to live with her cousin, Elizabeth, and Zachariah, her husband. They would give her a home, a place to stay. They would protect her. Elizabeth had been like a mother, like a grandmother, to Mary.
After Mary left, however, I couldn't get her out of my mind. I'd walk and work at my bench, but I could not pay attention to what I was doing. I could not eat; I could not sleep. One night I had a dream. I dreamed I was walking through a dark place, and suddenly up ahead there was a blinding light. In the center of that light, I saw an angel. I was terrified, and the angel told me not to be afraid. The angel said, "Joseph Davidson, don't be afraid to take Mary as your wife, because this child she bears is of the Holy Spirit. And you shall call his name Jesus because he'll save his people from their sins."
When I awoke from that dream, I was elated. I had a message from heaven. I realized that Mary had told me the truth. I was so filled with joy that, as soon as I could, I went down to Hebron and told Elizabeth and Zachariah what I had heard. I apologized to Mary for doubting her word. I took her and went back to Nazareth, and as soon as we could, we were married. I made her my wife. I swear to you in all that time I never touched her.
A wise man has to know what time it is in life. And I knew from that time forward, our lives would never be the same. I also realized that this was of God, and he would smooth the way. Even though I could anticipate difficulties, I was sure, since God was in it, troubles would not occur. I told you I was a carpenter and not much of a theologian. I could not imagine how wrong I was.
What happened to his young family?
During Mary's ninth month, Caesar Augustus sent out a decree. He wanted a census for the purpose of taxation. That meant all of us males had to go back to the place of our births. In your day, the census taker comes to you. That never occurred to Caesar Augustus. I knew I had to make that trip from Nazareth back to my hometown of Bethlehem.
I wondered if I ought to take Mary. But when I thought of the criticism and the gossip in Nazareth, I felt any risk we took was better than that. So we made the trip: three days, hard journey. I knew when I got to Bethlehem there would be people who would give us what we needed, and there were relatives who would take us in.
What I did not anticipate was the crowd that would come because of the census. We got to Bethlehem, and the relatives had taken in more people than they could handle. The trip had caused Mary's pains to begin. I searched desperately for lodging. I looked at the caravansary where the poor people stayed, but it was packed. Finally, desperate for some place, I found a cave out at the edge of town. It was a place where a farmer kept his oxen. At least we were out of the elements. Mary lay on the straw. There was no place else. There was no bed. There was no board. There was nothing.
I lit a fire to keep us warm. When the baby came, I didn't know what to do; I'm a carpenter. Mary had to be both midwife and mother. I severed the cord then cleaned the child as best I could and wrapped him in cloths. I put him in a manger because the only other place to put him would have been on the filth of the cattle floor.
I had all kinds of questions. If this wife of mine was highly favored of God, and if this is something God had planned from years before, how do you explain the cave? How do you explain the dirt, the cattle, and the loneliness? No one came from Jerusalem to celebrate the birth of our son. Nobody even came from Bethlehem. We were alone, completely alone.
No, that's not really true. There were shepherds, some country bumpkins. They came with the smell of the wineskins about them, and they said they had heard an angel choir out on the hillside. They came to look at our baby boy. But we felt the loneliness. Mary and I were not stone.
After all of the hubbub of the census had subsided, I decided we would stay in Bethlehem. I wasn't about to go back up to Nazareth with all of the gossip there. We rented a house, and I took whatever jobs I could. After we were there a year or more, we had some visitors—astrologers from beyond the rising sun—from Iran. They said they had seen a star, and they had followed it to Jerusalem. They had gone to Herod, our half-breed king, and asked him about a pretender to his throne. Then they had come further south to Bethlehem.
And here was our boy, Jesus, just a toddler. These pagan dignitaries came in, and when they saw him, they fell down on their knees and worshiped this toddler. They gave him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Then they left.
We needed those gifts. In a short time, I was warned in another dream that I was to take Mary and the child into Egypt. Had it not been for that gold and expensive perfume, we could not have lived in Egypt. We were aliens. We were strangers. And they had no time for poor Jewish carpenters. I saw that gold as a kind of provision from God.
We stayed in Egypt almost two years. After Herod died, we came back. I wanted to settle in Bethlehem because of the relatives and all. But there was still political unrest. God directed us back to Nazareth. Here he is, the Creator of the entire universe, and he sends us back to Nazareth with its gossip and its raised eyebrows and its dirty jokes. I had all kinds of questions.
When I was young, I thought that if once in my life I were to see an angel, just one angel like our forefathers had seen, I would never doubt. I would always believe. I saw an angel. It was in a dream. When I had that dream and saw that angel, it was vivid and real to me.
Joseph as a father
There were times I wondered if it was possible that I so desired Mary that somehow in my dream I had made this come to pass. To be honest with you, Jesus didn't seem much like a savior of the world. Oh, he was good. He was obedient. But when he was an infant, Mary fed him from her breast. You sing that hymn "the poor little Jesus, no crying he makes." He cried. When we were back in Nazareth, he came to the table along with the other children. He didn't perform any miracles. When he fell in the streets of Nazareth and skinned his knee, it bled. I held him on my lap to tell him stories, and he fell asleep. He wasn't that different.
When he was about twelve, we went down to Jerusalem for a feast day. Our relatives and friends all went. On the way back, we were gone a day's journey, and we lost him. We thought he was with the relatives. They hadn't seen him. I had lost the Son of God. I didn't know what to do, so we retraced our steps. We climbed the mountain to Jerusalem. Here he was talking to the leaders of the people asking them questions.
I said, "Look, you've driven us frantic. We didn't know where you were!"
He said, "Don't you know I have to be about my Father's business?"
That sounds good in church, but when you hear that from a 12-year-old, you don't quite know what to do. My point is, he wasn't that much different. I wondered. Oh, I wondered.
I could never express my doubts to Mary. I could never let her know that I did not have faith enough to shout down all my questions. And I couldn't talk to the people in the village. They had much more earthy explanations for Jesus' birth. In fact, he never lived it down. There were times when they would throw it in his face.
"We weren't born of fornication," they would say. "You have two fathers. We have one. You have a real father and then you have Joseph." They never let him or me forget it. I certainly wasn't going to bring it up to them. I just wrestled with it.
One thing I did have was a passage in the Old Testament. Eight hundred years before I came along, a prophet by the name of Isaiah said that a virgin would conceive and have a son and would call his name Emmanuel, which meant God with us. It was just a sentence, but I held onto that scrap of Scripture for dear faith. It's really all I had.
Some of you here have a faith like Mary's. It's obedient. It's strong. It's rich. It's devout. You're God's special people. Some of you, I think, are more like me—practical people. You live in a world of cause and effect. You like things that you can touch, feel, and measure. You find it hard to believe.
Faith has its moods. After I was confronted by the angel, there were times I thought I would never doubt again. But there were times when the whole thing didn't make sense to me. Some of you are like that. You believe your doubts; you doubt your beliefs. Sometimes you wonder if you really believe at all. I understand.
All I can say is that when I faced those questions, I just came down on the side of faith. I faithed it through in spite of my questions and my hurt. I felt I had to trust when I didn't feel like trusting.
And that's what God used. I, Joseph Davidson, put my thumbprint on Jesus Christ. I taught him to be a carpenter. He was creative. He could make oxen yoke that were easy. In fact, the folks in the village referred to him as "the carpenter." I taught him that; I put my thumbprint on him.
Of course, he was the Savior of the world. He put his thumbprint upon my soul, but it wasn't easy. It's just that, when I thought I knew what God wanted me to do, I did it. I had faith enough for that.
That's my story. I thought I'd share it with you. You want to celebrate Christmas and worship again the birth of Jesus. And you ought to. But I just wanted you to know that I, Joseph Davidson, had something to do with that. When God sent his boy to Earth, he put him into the care of this carpenter, who sometimes believed his doubts and doubted his beliefs but faithed it through. You might want to think about that.
I'm not the main character of the story. But when you celebrate, you might remember that when God wanted someone to take care of his boy, he chose Joe Davidson, a carpenter who believed the best he could.
For Your Reflection
How has this sermon fed your own soul? ___________________________________________
What did this sermon teach you about how to preach? ____________________________________________________________________________
Exegesis and exposition:
Highlight the paragraphs in this sermon that helped you better understand Scripture. How does the sermon model ways you could provide helpful biblical exposition for your hearers? ____________________________________________________________________________
What biblical principles in this sermon would you like to develop in a sermon? How would you adapt these ideas to reflect your own understanding of Scripture, the Christian life, and the unique message that God is putting on your heart?
How would you improve on this outline by changing the wording, or by adding or subtracting points? _____________________________________________________________________
What is the main application of this sermon? What is the main application of the message you sense God wants you to bring to your hearers? ____________________________________________________________________________
Which illustrations in this sermon would relate well with your hearers? Which cannot be used with your hearers, but they suggest illustrations that could work with your hearers? ____________________________________________________________________________
Do you plan to use the content of this sermon to a degree that obligates you to give credit? If so, when and how will you do it?
Haddon Robinson was a preacher and teacher of preachers all over the world. His last teaching position was as the Harold John Ockenga Distinguished Professor of Preaching at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary.