Summary: Christmas sermon on the example that Joseph gave to us. He was a quiet, righteous man who played an important part in the nativity story. He believed and obeyed. His faith resulted in an act of submission to God and an act of mercy and compassion to Ma
Joseph’s Example: Believe and Obey
Pastor Scott Jensen
When asked about obeying God, a preacher once said, “Brethren, whatever the good God tells me to do in this blessed Book, that I am going to do. If I see in it that I must jump through a stone wall, I am going to jump at it. Going through it belongs to God; jumping at it belongs to me.” (A. Ahlquist. “Concordia Pulpit 1939”, 284) That is a message about faith and obedience.
Today’s Gospel message contains a story about Joseph. It’s a story of belief and obedience, mercy and compassion. It’s a story about believing in the direction God gives us and obeying those commands. It’s a story about following the will of God and showing respect and love for his fiancé Mary.
Today’s message looks at Joseph and his reaction to a difficult situation. Mary and Jesus are always central to the images we see at Christmas. But Joseph is more of a background character. We never hear Joseph speak, but yet he is central to the fulfillment of the scriptures in Isaiah and it’s through him that the line of David is shown. Today, I’d like to focus on the difficulty that Joseph faced, how he approached the situation and what we can learn from his example.
Joseph was engaged to Mary. It was customary to be engaged for a year or even longer before marriage. However, during this time, the couple was treated in many respects as if they were already married. For example, the couple would have to formally divorce to separate. Mary and Joseph, although not married, were not free to date who they wanted. Yet, they could not consummate the marriage. That was reserved until the two were married.
The couple had obeyed the law and avoided uniting in this way. In our gospel message, Joseph knew that Mary was pregnant. He hadn’t been told by Mary, an angel or anyone else. He knew because he could see it. As many of you know, it takes a few months for a pregnancy to show. In the first part of a pregnancy no-one can tell because the child is too small. The mother may not even realize she’s pregnant. It takes time for the baby to develop to the point of making a bulge. Mary must have been a few months pregnant because she was starting to show. Joseph knew that she was pregnant, but he also knew that the child was not his. This likely hurt Joseph deeply. He believed that his finance had not been faithful to him. So, how should he respond to this situation?
In Deuteronomy chapter 22, the law had very specific requirements. An engaged woman was treated the same as a married woman. If a woman was guilty of adultery, the penalty was clear. She was to be stoned to death in front of her father’s house. A similar fate was given to promiscuous couples, but both would be stoned for their unrestrained act.
But it was up to Joseph to determine if justice was needed. Joseph was in control of the situation. How he chose to react would determine what would happen to Mary and the unborn child. If Joseph followed through with the requirements of the law, the outcome was clear. Mary would be stoned to death in front of her father’s house and killed.
But not every option was so final. A second option was for Joseph to divorce without subjecting her to the stoning normally associated with adultery. Giving her a writ of divorce, he could dismiss her as his future bride and continue on with his life. This could be a public or a private affair but would end up disgracing Mary while maintaining Joseph’s standing in the community. Joseph’s reputation would be safe and he would continue to be seen as a righteous man.
A third option was to marry Mary quickly before anyone noticed that she was pregnant. However, it’s likely that others noticed that Mary was pregnant just as Joseph did. This option would reflect badly on both Mary and Joseph as it would look like the couple had relations prior to marriage. It would look like they had broken the law prior to being married.
Joseph was troubled with losing his status as a righteous man and with the pregnancy Mary bore. Regardless of what took place, this was not going to be comfortable. Either Mary would have to bear the weight of adultery or Joseph would lose status in society. Neither option was good. So, he agonized over the choices and thought hard about what to do.
What was he to do? Joseph obeyed the law. He observed the Sabbath, ate only clean foods, followed the religious rituals and paid his temple taxes. He followed the letter of the law as an upright citizen. Joseph was a man of integrity who chose to be a respectable man.