Summary: A sermon for the Fourth Sunday in Advent

4th Sunday in Advent

Matthew 1:18-25

"A Man of Faithfulness"

A father was telling his small son the story about the lost sheep who left the other 99. He explained, how the little sheep crawled through the hold in the fence -- running and skipping and playing in the sunshine. Out of the woods came a wolf, that was about to attack the-lamb. But in the nick of time, the shepherd, who had been searching for the lost sheep, appeared. He grabbed the lamb, placed it on his shoulders, and took it back to the fold.

The father was surprised when his son climbed up on his knee, clasped his hand and asked, "Daddy’ did they fix the hole in the fence?""

The good news of the birth of Christ is that the hole in the fence has been fixed--the great sign of a loving God has come to us. "It is the fixing of the fence", this love of God for us that we celebrate during this season of advent and Christmas. As you know our theme throughout this season of Advent has been to answer the question of our hymn of the day, "What Child is This" We saw in the first Sunday of Advent, this child is a child who will judge us, second, we saw that he gives us the power of repentance. He makes it possible for us to change, to turn away from our sins. In the third Sunday, we saw that not only did he come for judgment, but he also came as redeemer. He brings hope for a better life because he is God’s hand in the world.

And today, the 4th Sunday of Advent, we see this child as a human child, born to human parents, in a most humble, of dwellings assuring us that indeed our God put skin on. To get a handle on what it means that our God put skin on, that this child was indeed human, I would like to look at the birth story of Jesus through the eyes and feelings of Joseph.

Of all the characters in the Christmas Story, I can relate to Joseph the best. Who ever gives him any credit? From the biblical record he is the most nondescript person you will ever find. Why, even his identity with his son is lost. Most Jewish boys were called son of Joseph, as in Matthew’s gospel when Jesus was referring to Peter at the time of Peter’s great confession of faith, he said, "Peter bar Jonah," Or Peter son of Jonah, but what about Jesus himself, in our hymn of the day; the last line of the 1st verse says "Haste, haste to bring him laud, the babe, the Son of Mary." Son of Mary, not son of Joseph. He might not of bore him, but he helped raise him, he was a son in the sense that Joseph trained him in the skills of a carpenter. But beyond this, Joseph had a problem with his betrothed. We need to take a moment to understand the Jewish marriage system for all of this to make sense.

A man and woman were engaged when they were small children and this was announced by their parents. The next stage was the betrothal. This was the one-year-period during which the couple ratified the previous engagement during which they were known as husband and-wife, lived together, but did not have the rights of husband and wife. Then the finally stage of marriage was when the couple were granted all the rights of a husband and wife.

Our text originates in the betrothal stage, so it is understandable why Joseph is devastated by the pregnancy of Mary. Joseph is a just man, a righteous man, a man of principles. No wonder he was humiliated!! The woman he loved was pregnant, and she cannot explain to him exactly how.

This righteous man knew his options. He could expose Mary by bringing her before the court, or he could privately hand her a bill of divorcement in the presence of 2 witnesses. But his righteousness was clothed in compassion. There were rules covering his situation, but the love of Joseph was more than legalistic. His sense of what was right was also tempered by compassion and forgiveness. Even though he was deeply hurt, he was not vengeful, he could forgive Mary.

Joseph was faithful to Mary. Joseph thought of Mary. Not himself, not of what others might think. He thought of Mary. Even though he didn’t understand all about her condition, he was not willing to put her to shame. Don’t call him weak. He was strong in a compassionate, caring kind of way.

Not only was Joseph compassionate, caring, as he related to Mary, but Joseph also learned to listen to God’s voice in his life. God came to Joseph in a vision and told him he had a special plan for him. God wanted Joseph to stay with Mary, and name this baby Jesus. God came to Joseph and asked him to break with tradition. To do something out of the ordinary. God said to Joseph, stay with his wife who was pregnant even though you aren’t - even in the marriage stage of your relationship, stay with her, support her, and then raise this son as if it were your own. And beside all of this, God says, "and you don’t have to worry about a name for your son I have taken care of that already too, his name will be Jesus."

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