Let’s begin this morning with a recap of our collect for this day. “O God, who wonderfully created, and yet more wonderfully restored, the dignity
of human nature: Grant that we may share the divine life of him who humbled himself to share our humanity, ….”
This and other collects are a specific form of prayer that literally collects the threads of the appointed readings and distills them into a succinct prayer. Thus the collect of the day taps into a theme within the readings for the day. Today is no exception; in fact, I think it would be profitable for us to reflect upon a two aspects of our collect for today. First, what does “the dignity of human nature” look like? Second, are we prepared to humble ourselves “to share the divine life” with Jesus Christ? Let’s see what the wisdom of the Spirit – the sanctifier – may reveal to us today.
First though, I must say, you gotta love Joseph! He’s a man and a saint always and obediently on the move – except, that is, when he’s facilitating someone else’s move by being buried upside down in the yard.
In case you’re not familiar with this popular piety among anxious home sellers, the superstition goes that if you’re having trouble selling your home, you can buy a statue of St. Joseph, bury him upside down in the front yard – facing the house – and pray to him to help find a buyer. Go figure; but it’s a real thing. Frankly if I was buried head down in the dirt I’d be useless; but I’m no saint. So let’s get back to the point.
In our Gospel lesson we meet this compliant man who has the humility to look beyond his own preferences: 1) not to marry Mary when he learns she is pregnant; 2) to leave his ancestral home when he learns his step-son’s life is threatened; and 3) to pull up stakes a second time and leave a safe place to return to an uncertain place. These are not un-counseled decisions, in each case an angel of the Lord appears to him in a dream and tells him that his natural preference doesn’t jibe with God’s preference. Which looks more like dignity to you: Following our own preference, or complying with God’s preference? If we agree following God’s preference is the answer, are we then willing to humble ourselves by setting aside our own preference in order to accompany the Lord in his divine life?
As an aside, did you know Joseph’s dad’s name is Jacob? So Joseph is also called Joseph bar Jacob. “So?” you may ask. Well there’s another Joseph bar Jacob, this one is of Old Testament fame. We don’t read of this other Joseph today, but his legacy is invoked indirectly today through: First, Jeremiah’s oracles; and second, through Jeremiah’s personal experience. Like Mary’s Joseph, Jeremiah and this other Joseph are taken to places they do not want to go, and they both have a knack for dreams and visions.
This other Joseph is the son of the patriarch and matriarch Jacob and Rachel. Because he so annoys his brothers as the precocious favored son of his father, this Joseph finds himself stripped of the symbol of his favor – the coat of many colors – and is humiliated by being sold into slavery, only to have his dignity restored because of his gift for interpreting dreams and visions. Nonetheless, the very thing that got him first thrown into a pit and sold into slavery is also the thing – after healthy doses of humility – that frees him and later makes him the de facto ruler of all Egypt, and makes him content to remain where God has taken him. Joseph’s humility in accepting God’s preference allows him to see the divine purpose in his own life.
So how on earth do Jeremiah’s oracles lead me to this recap of the elder Joseph bar Jacob’s life? Well it’s the intersection of the common elements of their lives. Like the elder Joseph, Jeremiah’s oracles make him a pain in the you know what to others, especially those who are critical of the King Josiah. As a result, when Jerusalem falls to Babylon, a dissident group of Israelites take Jeremiah hostage and haul him off in exile to Egypt. Sound familiar? Yet even there Jeremiah continues to share in the divine life, a prophetic ministry among the dispossessed.
In the grand scheme of this tenuous scriptural connection, both Josephs ultimately fade into relative obscurity. As obedient servants of the divine life they are agents in God’s greater narrative – not the headliners but the indispensible supporting cast. As such they are willing to find themselves in pits in the ground only to be extracted when it is time to move on.
So, back to our two points of reflection. First, what does “the dignity of human nature” look like? I argue it looks like a willingness to get into the ditch with one’s neighbor to help them climb out even when you’d rather not. Still the question remains, are we prepared to subject ourselves to such humility “to share the divine life of him who humbled himself to share our humanity[?]” Only we (individually) can answer the question of what cost to our pride we are willing to pay to share in this life as the Josephs and Jesus do. So my prayer remains, “Grant that we may share the divine life of him who humbled himself to share our humanity, ….” Amen.
Oh, and by the way, don’t forget to pull Saint Joseph out of the hole in the yard when you’re ready to move on!