Summary: In the first Christmas, we learn from Joseph and Mary how to trust God. It begins by making ourselves available, then treating others with respect, and finally following the nudges of the Holy Spirit.
Learning to Trust God
Have you ever been driving down the road, trying to get somewhere with your navigator or your smart phone giving you directions? And you start doubting whether that thing really knows what it’s talking about? Now I’ve had it work out both ways. Sometimes that little device has taken me around in circles, until I finally refuse to listen to it anymore. But others times...oh, if I’m honest, most of the time I’ve doubted, Siri was right and I was wrong! It’s hard to trust your GPS.
And sometimes it’s hard to trust God. Consider the parents of the Messiah. Have you ever tried to imagine that first Christmas through their eyes? The gospel of Luke has the most detailed birth narrative, but this year we’re going to look at the shorter version in the gospel of Matthew. Here you won’t find any shepherds. The wise men come later. What we do find here is Joseph’s story. And we’ll borrow a little from Luke to get Mary’s perspective. And let’s watch this young couple as they learn to trust God through some very difficult moments, all revealed through that first Christmas. Three lessons from the earthly parents of Jesus: First,
1. Make yourself available
The second half of verse 18 tells us of a pending scandal Mary and Joseph faced:
18b Before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit.
Well, this could be a problem, could it not? Biblical teachings and Jewish culture call for sexual purity before marriage. Mary was a Jewish teen, deeply committed to God, when the angel Gabriel showed up and threw her world upside down. He told her she would birth the Savior of the world, the one who would inherit King David’s kingdom and rule forever. When she asked how that would be possible, since she was a virgin, he replied that it would happen through the Holy Spirit. And her response?
“I am the Lord’s servant...May your word to me be fulfilled.” Luke 1:38
Mary made herself fully available to God. She recognized that God was her master, and she was his servant; God was the potter and she the clay. She was perplexed by the scientific possibility of it all, but she was made herself a willing vessel in the hands of God.
Joseph felt the same way about God. Matthew 1:19 says he was “faithful to the law,” or a “righteous man” (v. 19), which tells us he was trying to order his life to be most pleasing to God. God’s law was Joseph’s plumb line.
When you live your life committed to God, one moment at a time, one decision at a time, one day at a time, you open up your availability for God to use. Joseph and Mary became part of the very first Christmas and helped change the world.
Make yourself available to God, and #2,
2. Treat others well
It’s not enough to seek to please God; we are also supposed to love one another. Listen to these verses, from 1 John 4:19-21:
19 We love because he first loved us. 20 Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. 21 And he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister.
Joseph gets high marks for love in the Christmas story. Catch his dilemma in Matthew 1:19:
19 Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.
Back then, if you were faithful to the Law (or your translation might say, you were a “righteous person”), and your fiancée cheated on you, the righteous thing to do was to denounce them as quickly and as loudly as possible. That way, everyone knew you stood on the side of the Law. It was the only way to protect your own reputation. Some people still act like that today.
Yet, that was not the case with Joseph. He went to bed sad that night. He wanted to stay in God’s plan, fully available to God (point 1), yet he also wanted to treat Mary with compassion and respect (point 2). So he decided to divorce her quietly. (Yes, back then, if you wanted to break an engagement, you had to get a divorce.) That was his way forward, to treat her graciously regardless of how he felt she might have treated him. He was living the Golden Rule, to treat others how he would like to be treated.
Couldn’t this world use a little more application of the Golden Rule? Could this world use a little more civility? I believe that is why the new Mr. Rogers movie is doing so well, because we emulate someone who lived by the principle that everyone deserves respect. We can show our love for God by showing our love for each other, like Mr. Rogers, like Joseph.