Sunday’s Sermon Today (DNBA – Advent 3): The Other Important Yes (Matthew 1:18-25)

This is the third sermon in the DNBA Advent series.

Every year during Advent, I find myself wishing we could unlock the personal journal of Joseph. Not the coat-of-many-colors guy, but the one who became the earthly father of Jesus.

Joseph intrigues me because he was a man who became a father – a man who potentially had the same questions about fatherhood I did but going into his marriage, he knew his wife would have a kid who wasn’t his! Let’s be honest – if you’ve had a child, and you have no apprehensions about being a dad or a mum, well, let’s just say I won’t hook you up to a lie detector.

Joseph has to deal with the ‘normal’ concerns – like how will he provide, what will change about his schedule, can he really get to know his wife while waking up at 2 a.m. to change a diaper … and what will the world his son grow up in look like, thanks to Roman oppression?

Some of these questions we might relate to – and some we might not. Just like the set up between Mary and Joseph.

See, Joseph and Mary are not married yet but they are contractually joined. They don’t live in the same house, they aren’t joined together yet, but they might as well be married.

Matthew tells us that Mary was “found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit.” We don’t know exactly how, but the news got to Joseph somehow, the way that spectacular (or dangerous!) gossip travels through small towns. So, Joseph found out.

Think about that for a minute – on top of Jesus not being Joseph’s, it wasn’t even Mary he told him!

But it says that Joseph was “faithful to the law,” that is, he obeyed the Ten Commandments, he followed the rules. By law, Joseph could’ve exposed Mary’s pregnancy, and she would’ve been stoned in the streets per the laws of the Old Testament.

But it says that Joseph “did not want to expose her to public grace,” and intended to quietly divorce her. While everyone else seems to be abuzz about her pregnancy, Joseph uses his own soul, his own innate goodness, to absorb the criticism for Mary. He doesn’t yet understand what is going on but he still wants what is best for Mary. Joseph puts Mary first.

What is going through Joseph’s mind?

I can’t imagine having been in Joseph’s situation. You are about to get married, and suddenly, the gossip around town is that your fiancee is having someone else’s baby. And it’s your fiancee by an arranged marriage, so it’s not like you and this woman can just fall back on your longstanding courtship, or your mutual admiration for each other. No, this stranger you are supposed to love and cherish as your very own appears to have betrayed your trust, your contract.

And the letter of the law says that Mary has to die because it’s what your society does, and frankly, it’s the only way for you to save face.

But on top of that, Mary, you’ve heard, has told her closest friends that God appeared to her, and that the baby is actually God’s, and that he will be the Messiah who will save his people from their sins.

Seriously, where does she get the idea that spinning that wild tale makes it better?

Still, you’re a classy guy. You follow the law, but you were raised in a home that emphasized grace. You know what you can do, but you don’t want to live with the truth that you condemned a woman to death. So you decide to tell her father that the wedding is off, and move on with your life, even if that brings you more ridicule, even if you never get engaged again. Because that’s the kind of guy you are.

But, and it’s a big but, Matthew 1:20 says that when Joseph had considered all of these things, that an angel of the Lord also appeared to him. The angel quickly connects the dots: Joseph is called “son of David,” highlighting the historical line from Israel’s highest king to the king who was to come. He tells Joseph “don’t be afraid,” which seems to potentially care a different type of weight to it here, like “don’t be offended.” And he tells Joseph, as Zechariah was told, what they will name their baby, breaking the historical pattern of a father choosing the name. (Or actually letting the Father choose the name…)

And the angel tells Joseph that he (Joseph) carries a higher purpose: he will now raise up a young man who will “save [God’s] people from their sins.” No pressure, right? Joseph just went from a “what was Mary thinking?” moment to a “what was God thinking?” moment. And the author of Matthew quotes Isaiah 7:14, “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.” Which the God-fearing, rule-abiding, Old Testament-literate Joseph would have known.

For Joseph to be the kind of guy who knew what should happen to Mary and be the kind of guy who chose not to fulfill the letter of the law, Joseph was just the kind of man God wanted teaching his/His son Jesus what it meant to be human. What it meant to be a man.

Joseph could have been afraid of how things might look or what people might say, but he chose to trust God. 

Because when Joseph woke up from his dream, he did what God had told him to, implying that he immediately went and claimed Mary. That he immediately went and took responsibility from her parents for caring for her. That he did not consummate their marriage, but that from a public perception situation, he claimed her as his wife. No more gossip. No more rumors. End of story.

I wonder if God would find us to be “that kind of guy” or “that kind of gal” who would answer the call. We still have “what was God thinking?” kinds of moments, right? But do we respond the way that Joseph did? Are we obedient?

I recently asked my Facebook world to answer the question, “what rule or law do you have the most trouble following?” The answers ranged from forgiveness to abstinence to the speed limit. My best friend from high school highlighted the rule that governed the “Holy Lawn” outside of the school’s Catholic church that stated we must not walk on the grass. But most of the responses centered around forgiveness and “loving one another.”

For me, as I explore Advent, I recognize that there’s no Nativity Scene without Joseph. That there’s no holy family without Joseph saying yes, too, that Jesus couldn’t have been raised by a single mother in those days, and that while Mary did the heavy lifting (and she was obedient, too!), that Mary and Jesus needed Joseph to be “that kind of guy.”

Joseph was the man. He was the husband Mary needed, the father Jesus needed. He was faithful to the laws God had given his people, but he understood that grace overrode the letter of the law. He chose, even before the angel, to put his own desire and his own status and reputation below Mary’s; he chose to take the brunt of the community’s gossip on himself by claiming Mary obediently after the message from the angel.

So, after we’ve recognized that God is speaking to us, we must choose whether or not we will obey. Whether we will obey the Ten Commandments, like the one that instructs us to only worship God and nothing else before him; whether we will obey the greatest commandment to “love the Lord our God and love our neighbor as ourselves”; whether we will follow the instruction of Jesus based on both his teaching and his self-sacrificial example, to “lay our lives down for our friends.”

That would make us “that kind of person.”

From hearing or experiencing, to obeying. Somehow, this seems tougher, doesn’t it?

If we struggle to keep our speed under control on the road, how can we change our deeper psyche, our deeper love of self and instead put others first?

Will you obey this year? Will you hear the voices of the angels speaking to you… and be the angel this year for someone else? Will you recognize that what seems crazy to you is beautiful to God, that God continues to move?

It doesn’t matter what you think you have. Someone else has less. Less confidence, less faith, less time, less money. How will you obey God’s command to love, to give, to be like a brother or a sister to someone in need?

I wonder what Joseph was thinking. Michael Card put it this way in “Joseph’s Song”:

How could it be this baby in my arms
Sleeping now, so peacefully
The Son of God, the angel said
How could it be?

Lord, I know He’s not my own
Not of my flesh, not of my bone
Still Father let this baby be
The son of my love

Father show me where I fit into this plan of yours
How can a man be father to the Son of God
Lord for all my life I’ve been a simple carpenter
How can I raise a king, how can I raise a king?

He looks so small, His face and hands so fair
And when He cries the sun just seems to disappear
But when He laughs it shines again
How could it be?

Father show me where I fit into this plan of yours
How can a man be father to the Son of God
Lord for all my life I’ve been a simple carpenter
How can I raise a king, how can I raise a king?

How could it be this baby in my arms
Sleeping now, so peacefully
The Son of God, the angel said
How could it be? How could it be?

Joseph knew Jesus wasn’t his son, but he still was. God knew what Jesus needed to be when he grew up, and he knew that Joseph was the kind of person who could teach Jesus how to be a man.

Sounds mysterious, ridiculous, and otherworldly. With God, it often is.

How will you be “that kind of person”… right now?

Step up – follow Jesus unabashedly. Say yes. Do not be afraid. 

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About Jacob Sahms

I'm searching for hope in the midst of the storms, raising a family, pastoring a church, writing on faith and film, rooting for the Red Sox, and sleeping occasionally. Find me at ChristianCinema.com, Cinapse.co, and the brand new ScreenFish.net.
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One Response to Sunday’s Sermon Today (DNBA – Advent 3): The Other Important Yes (Matthew 1:18-25)

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    Like

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