DISTRESS DELAYED DELIGHT
This is the first of five special Christmas sermons dealing specifically with Joseph which I have titled: “Joining Joseph’s Journeys.”
Joseph, the most underrated man in the New Testament, deserves our careful attention. We often value Mary and rightly we should, but what would have happened to our faith if Joseph had kept to his first inclinations when he heard about Mary and her soon coming Baby? Needless to say, Christianity would not have reached its high heights as it has if there were no earthly dedicated male to fulfill the need of a father to our Lord and Saviour.
We can only imagine the trauma that Joseph experienced when Mary told him of her situation. Things that would not bother some men today were vitally important to Joseph and to his culture. How was he to deal with the situation with which he was confronted? We have read about the consternation he faced in the Bible, but can we really ever fully grasp the depth of his emotions during that time of his unsettledness? The answer is in the negative. We can never fully comprehend what he experienced when he was confronted with a situation that was completely out of his hands. The Scriptures give us only a small glimpse of his inner turmoil, but there is no complete way to grasp his dilemma at that most critical time of his young life. His heart was torn; his mind was unsettled; his emotions were raw; his future was put on hold; the love he had was being challenged; the society in which he lived was going to react in ways he could not fully predict; and, yet, he wanted to do what was right to Mary and to his God. He had no compass by which he could study to guide him through such troubled waters. The questions far outpaced any and all answers to the storms that swirled inside his heart and head.
Yet, in the midst of this quagmire, God came to him and showed him what to do. May Joseph forever be a lesson to us to emulate-to wait until the answer comes from God. According to the reading of the Scriptures the answer to his problem did not come as soon as he encountered the situation, but the answer did come-eventually and it came at the right time.
As I study this giant of faith in the New Testament, I see three things about him that are worth studying. The first thing I note is the terrible DREAD that he faced and feared. The next thing I see concerns his life changing DREAMS that finally showed him which way to go. Then, these two lead me to study the final sweet DELIGHTS that he experienced as he finally received his message from God on just what he had to do.
I. DREAD: Getting engaged, planning a wedding, trying to tie up all lose ends before the big day can be nerve wracking even for the groom. Somewhere from the time of the proposal to the wedding, some enter into a state of, “What on earth am I doing getting married?” For those who experience such misgivings, the awesomeness of what is about to happen can make anyone stop and take a hard look at one’s situation.
These feelings must come in all cultures and with all people. Even Joseph had the jitters concerning what he was about to undertake. Although the engagement and the actual wedding were different than today, Joseph was troubled about what he was to do after he had learned about Mary being with Child. In the days of our hero, once an engagement was announced, the couple could take up to a year to finalize the wedding itself. And, like a real marriage, the couple could come together for conjugal rights during the engagement period. Often the time spent between the engagement and the actual wedding, the young lady stayed at her father’s house while the husband-to-be would build a house for his new bride. On the day/night of the wedding, the young lady was make herself ready through out the day and then when night time settled over the area, the summons would be given by the groom and the lady would leave her father’s house, go to her husband’s home where the marriage feast would commence for seven to fourteen days. Every one was to be ready because when the summons was given, the bridal party would leave the bride’s home, and journey to the groom’s house. Once the wedding party entered the doors of the groom’s house, the doors were shut and the festivities would commence. It was during this time frame of engagement leading up to the marriage that Joseph was told about Mary and the Baby. Besides all else weighing on his mind, he now was faced with a terrible fact that his bride to be was with Child and it was not his. Welcome, MR. DREAD!!!
The first thing I note about this most unusual situation was the fact that everything was turning out to be the opposite of what he wanted and he was soon held by chains of the utmost Disappointing events ever to besiege a man. How could things go from so good to so bad so soon? Where was the happy bird of harmony now that he needed one? What happened to that cloudless day when all things looked so bright and cheery? How could the bottom of his world drop out so fast with no forewarning? Needless to say, the dreads of disappointment drugged his delight. Gone were the hopes that he once had. Now, in the wake of this tidal tsunami all that was left were former memories and lost hope. Joseph was living out a life of DREAD and drudgery.
Not only was he disappointed beyond words, he was also caught in the vice of more Delays for his own happiness. Our Catholic brethren think Joseph was a good deal older than Mary due to their positions on certain aspects of the whole scheme of the birth of Christ and any more children who were to be born between this special couple. We Protestants call the children born after Jesus His brothers and sisters; the Catholics term them His cousins. Hence the Catholics say that Joseph was a good deal older than Mary and they never had any children of their own. We Protestants view Joseph as not being that much older than Mary and the two of them had children after the birth of Jesus. I guess we will never know until we get to Heaven and find the answer to this riddle. Regardless of the age of Joseph, the DREAD which accompanied his grave disappointment was the fact that if he “put away Mary” as he thought, this would only Delay him of finding another wife and of himself getting married. As it was a near curse in the day of our couple for a young, normal girl not to be married, it was also a curse for a young, married women not to have children. Likewise, it was also a society stigma for a young man not to be married. We do not know how long Joseph waited until he found Mary, but the thought of canceling the whole wedding was equivalent of postponing his chances for finding a young girl to be his bride and he dreaded that thought.
Besides the deep feeling of DREAD that enveloped him regarding his own Disappointments and a possible Delay in finding a wife for him, the third aspect of my first point concerns the Damages that he dreaded which would follow if he either married her or put away (divorced) Mary. There were bound to be repercussions regardless of what he did and he was torn more than most men as to what he should do. If he married her the damage control would be hard to corral, but if he divorced her, the damage would be not only to Mary, but to the Child and also to him for not helping a young lady in need.
With these thoughts and troubles, it is no wonder that the Bible states he was troubled and ill at ease. Who could or who would help him? The answer would come but it would take some agonizing days and nights before God would reveal Himself and His plans to Joseph. May Joseph be a lesson to us. Let us remember, that God does not always answer when we think He should but through persistent prayer and waiting, God does indeed, answer prayer.
II. DREAMS: Joseph, a man of the Old Testament, was known for his dreams while he was a youth at home and later while being held a captive in an Egyptian jail. No one knows if our hero, Joseph of the New Testament, was named after his counterpart, but the two men did have one thing in common-they both had dreams which affected their lives until the days of their death.
Our present subject had more than just dreams to affect him, he also had some thoughts which were very Disturbing to him which no doubt led him to finally be given dreams for his betterment. The Bible tells us that “While Joseph thought on these things…” which signifies that what he was presently enduring in his life unsettled him greatly as he often contemplated his situation.
Joseph had great hopes for his future and for the wife he was to marry, yet all was turned upside down and he entered a time in his life when his dreams for a better tomorrow were no longer what he had planned. We are not told just how long he pondered on his situation, but we can be certain that what he faced on a day by day basis was the fact that dreams are tenuous at best. His DREAMS were now bordering on the side of a night-mare and he did not know what to do. His alternatives to solve his problem were not appealing, regardless of how he studied the facts.
Yet, in the midst of his quandary, God did not abandon him to his own thoughts. God might be late, according to our time clock, but He is always on time according to His time piece. Again, we are not told how long Joseph studied and fretted over his situation, but we do know that God came to his rescue. We also do not know when God intervened by sending Joseph his dream, we just know he had an answer from God when it came to him.
Not only did Joseph have a dream sent to him by God, but I note who brought the message-an angel. I have had good and pleasant dreams in my life, but I have never had a dream sent from God by a Dignified messenger such as Joseph received. Not only did God send an answer to Joseph on what he was to do, but He sent one of Heaven’s best-an angel to deliver the message. How much more could a man ask than first to receive a direct answer from God and then have that message delivered by one of the Angelic Host? If there were any doubts left in Joseph’s mind when he awoke then he was not the man that God had selected to be the earthly father of His Son on this Earth.
I find it absolutely wonderful when I stop and think about what God does for we common people-He visits us in so many ways. I have never had any president, nor any royalty stop by my house and sit with me, but I have had the King of kings and Lord of lords come to my humble abode and sit with me and I have sensed His presence in my home, my cars, and while being alone. God thinks we are important enough to visit us with His Presence from time to time and he did so with Joseph. He sent the young man a message, wrapped it in the bosom of a sinless creature and that Angel came at the right time, at the behest of God the Father, to tell Joseph what he should do. Our God is good.
Not only did Joseph receive his answers amidst his troubling thoughts which were sent from Heaven to him by a very Dignified messenger, but I note that his dream on that one night was very Detailed. There were no shadows, or hidden messages in that dream that night. Note what the angel said: he called Joseph by his name, told him to marry Mary and assured him that the Baby was the result of the Holy Spirit of God working on a young maiden. Note, the names were given with complete clarity; the Baby’s origins were delineated, and the matter of the marriage was to be completed. Unlike charlatans, astrologers, and soothsayers, who speak in generalities, this dream delivered by the angel was full of correct data and no vagaries. Following God means that we might pass through times when we are uncertain about which way to go, but when the answer is given, we will know for certain what is to be done. God leads with clarity.
III. DELIGHTS: Awaking from such a dream must be mind boggling. Joseph had spent days, no doubt, wandering just what to do and now everything was settled in one night. At the first he had such DREAD about his Disappointments, along with his fears that he would have to Delay his time of matrimony while he tried to assess the Damages to his and to Mary’s name, but found that one special dream solved the whole matter. Now, free to pursue his heart’s desires, he quickly acted upon that dream and began to make plans for his marriage.
The first thing I note was his details to what he had to do and that was to be a Dutiful son of Israel and make an honorable woman out of his espoused wife. Even though he was quick to obey the messenger of God and proceeded to marry Mary, he knew that tongues would still wag and they did. This is evident in John 8, when the Pharisees told Jesus that they “knew who their father was” a reference to Abraham for their heritage and a slap at His questioned parenthood. Regardless of the fallout, Joseph was obedient and proceeded not only to marry his bride, but he stood with her as the Holy Family faced what Satan and his hordes threw at them.
I then notice the pure DELIGHT of Joseph as he at last married his bride-he had to Dance with joy. The wedding that these two people had was no doubt very similar to a typical wedding ceremony of the times.
On the night of the wedding, the bridegroom attended by his friends, musicians, and singers went to the bride’s house where she was dressed in embroidered robes, with much jewelry, dressed in white and wore a veil covering most of her face. Once receiving the bride’s parents’ blessings, the whole wedding party then returned to the groom’s house or to his parent’s home. Along the way, other friends and neighbors joined the party and all were congratulating the couple which was accompanied by singing, dancing and jesting.
Once in side the home, the feast was eaten and the young couple were escorted to the bridal chambers. In the morning, the festivities resumed and would last for one or two weeks. It was a most joyous time, and for Joseph, he Danced to his heart’s DELIGHTS: he had a right to celebrate.
The final part of his inner joy came when the Baby was born at Bethlehem and Joseph, according to Matthew, was able to name his Son, Jesus, the Messiah. The name, “Jesus” which was given to our Lord by Joseph is that name by which men are saved from their sin. That name given to our Lord by Joseph, has elevated the status of women; it has helped stop the slave trade; and, it has opened more hospitals, orphanages, food distribution centers, more charities than any other name.
That name given by Joseph to his earthly, adopted Son, has freed man from the darkness of hopelessness, sin and degradation. That name given by this lowly carpenter of old Judea to a precious little Baby so long ago still saves men today. That one name bestowed by Joseph, makes Hell shudder and demons flee. That name of Jesus reverberates off of the celestial walls and streets of pure gold in the New Jerusalem. Mankind has tried to destroy that name, but it lives on still. Moslems of our day hate that name and try to rip it out of the very woof and weave of our society‘s fabric, yet it stands and shall forever stand. Never let anyone tell you that Joseph did not play a crucial role in the birth of that precious Baby so long ago. Praise God on high, Joseph obey the angle that day and said, “His name shall be Jesus” and Jesus shall be His name forever, forever and forever.
The roller coaster life and emotions of Joseph were indeed trying but he survived. God knew what He was doing when He brought these two people, Joseph and Mary, to be the earthly parents of His Son. I do not think there was any other man in the whole of Israel that could have endured what Joseph did for his love for Mary and for God’s Son. Both of these individuals were related to David and both had royal blood in their veins. However, the throne of Israel was long gone when these two individuals appeared on the scene, but nonetheless, they were still royal and they gave their Heavenly Son a royal heritage from which He reigns now and forever. Just because these two individuals were of royal blood did not exclude them from undergoing some sever tests; they did endure tests and they survived. Likewise, God may have a special mission for each one of us, which does not necessarily exclude us from being tested to the limit, but like these two heroes of my sermon, they refused to surrender to their circumstances and when it looked the darkest for them both, God broke through with a ray of His Son shine and He will do the same for us. Let us learn from Joseph and Mary-we cannot ever surrender to the outside pressures because, “Greater is He that is in you than he that is in the world