Summary: Hope expresses itself through obedient determination.
A HOPEFUL DETERMINATION
SERMON #4 OF THE ADVENT SERIES “HOPE IS ON THE WAY”
Big idea: Hope expresses itself through obedient determination.
18 This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit.19 Because Joseph her husband was a righteous man and did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly. 20 But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, "Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins."22 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: 23 "The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel"--which means, "God with us."24 When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. 25 But he had no union with her until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus.
Joseph has been called “The Man in the Shadows.”
He seems ordinary, and quiet; yet faithful. Joseph might have been uncomfortable in the spotlight. But Matthew invites us to look closely at him, because through the quiet faith of this ordinary man, God was accomplishing extraordinary things. God’s arrival, His Advent, was made possible because of the “Hopeful Determination” (obedience) of this man.
In the history of Christian reflection on the birth of Jesus, from the heights of Renaissance art to home-spun Christmas pageants, Joseph is almost never front and center. In paintings of Mary and the child, Joseph is often absent. If he is present, he seems set off uncomfortably to one side.
He reminds me of a guy who is not too fond of family pictures. When the camera comes out for the family photo, Joseph is like the husband who is a bit embarrassed by the whole thing. He knows that as wonderful as pictures are, they distort reality, because life isn’t all wonderful moments. Life is more about the grace of daily obligation, the hundreds of small decisions we make every day. For Joseph, a carpenter, a man who was probably more comfortable working with his hands than talking, life is more like finding the right tool for the right job than a series of photographable moments.
And yet, what we get in the Matthew’s Gospel are just that; “snapshots” of Joseph. But in each snapshot a little more about the man shines through and we see him with admiration. We see a real man with a real faith that expresses itself in a real relationship with God.
IN TODAY’S SNAPSHOT WE SEE A MAN OF CHARACTER
Much of our attention is focused on the angelic visit that Joseph received but that is actually the wrap-up of this little story. It starts by showing us the character of Joseph. You see, there is this lady he knows – that he loves – who is about to be caught in her “apparent” adultery. Everything suggests that Mary has done the unthinkable.
Joseph’s response? He goes to the Word of God. He chooses to act in obedience and response to what God said and Joseph knew that, according to the Old Testament Law, he had two choices. He could expose her publicly and stone her; in which case he would cast the first stone; or he could gather 2 witness and privately write out a document to “divorce” against her … or in our day it would mean he had called off the wedding.
Because Joseph was a righteous man, he had to choose one of these options. As much as he might have loved Mary, he could not disregard the law. He could not put his own will above the will of God as revealed in the law. To do so would be to say that his relationship with Mary existed outside of their relationship to God. He was a righteous man. But as Joseph apparently knew, God’s righteousness is always tempered with mercy. He decides to dismiss Mary quietly.
It is here, even before the angel of God appears, that Joseph shows us what he is made of. He was a man of God who knew the Word of God and would live in obedience to that Word.
What admirable character this man possessed… righteousness tempered with mercy.