Who needs Joseph, anyway?

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Bulletin Message Watch

Advent: A Mighty River of the Spirit

The world does not place a great deal of emphasis on holiness. It cramps our style. It restricts our freedom. Contemporary voices frequently emphasize the importance of keeping one’s religious devotion a private matter, severed from public morality. Add to this the fact that our world often equates holiness with being “holier-than-thou,” and the challenge of affirming the contributions of the holiness tradition to Christian faith and life is all the greater. Yet Christians are called to the pursuit of holiness. Both the Old and New Testaments affirm that we are to be holy because God is holy. The closer we get to God, the more like God we become. Richard Foster puts it this way: “Holiness is progress in purity and sanctity. We are set apart for divine purposes” (Streams, p. 84).

No wonder Joseph—a righteous man who earnestly seeks to do God’s will, no matter the cost—is such a good representative of this tradition. Joseph models holiness, what Foster calls the ability to do what needs to be done when it needs to be done. Have you ever noticed that Joseph does not speak a single word in the gospels? His actions matter more. And among his actions, his decision to reevaluate his concept of righteousness stands tall. Joseph had every right to divorce Mary. The law was on his side. But God’s message to Joseph made it clear that the baby Mary was carrying redefines righteousness.

As Frederick Dale Bruner puts it, “from the instant that Jesus appeared on the world scene, even at his conception, he caused righteous people to rethink what was righteous.” This transformation is precisely what every believer experiences. Jesus redefines righteousness because he is himself the righteousness of God, who reveals God’s holiness, models it perfectly, and invites us to participate in it.