Advent: Christmastime is family time. It’s true at your home. It’s true here, too. And this morning we gather as the family of God. Sisters and brothers, children of faith, old, young, knowledgeable and not as informed, each with rough edges in the process of being sanded down. The Lord has a hand on each of us, pointing out our failures and holding us securely in His grasp. As we sing the songs of the season, look around at your spiritual siblings. Thank the Lord for them. Thank the Lord for what He is doing in their lives. Thank Him that He is still at work within you. Thank Him that as His family we have a definable context in which we can reach out and touch in loving ways the world He came to die for. Let’s worship Him this morning as His grateful family.
+ Matthew 1:18-25 18This 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. 19Because 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. 20But 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. 21She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins." 22All 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." 24When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. 25But he had no union with her until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus. (NIV)
(Light the first two candles.) Last week we saw how through the example of the innkeeper how we can reach out to our neighbors and share the Christmas touch. This morning, we light the Joseph candle alongside the innkeeper’s. Josephfs patient and protective love calls us to look at our family struggles through new eyes. Lord, as we see these fragile flames flicker before us, may we be reminded of the imperfect people around us in our immediate, extended, and even in our church family who are weak, vulnerable and need to be protected and affirmed. Help us to learn from Josephfs example to love our families with an unfailing love. Amen.
✎ I heard an interesting news item this week. According to the US Government it will now cost $160,140 for the average middle class American family to raise a child to the age 18. If you are quick on the draw with your math facts you just estimated what it may cost you to raise your children. For Susie and I, if the estimates are correct, it will cost us around $800,000 to raise our 5 kids, and that doesnft include college! We could be over one million dollars if you were to add college costs for our five kids.
When you stop to think about it, the cost of raising our kids is still a real bargain. $160,140 over eighteen years works out to only about $8,897 per year, or just $741 per month. Now that is only $24.37 per day or about $1 per hour. Thatfs a deal!
Some might argue that investing our money in something other than children would give us a better return on our money. With the right investment strategy parents could skip having the kids and just get rich. Before we jump to any conclusions, just what can you get for your investment of $160,140 per child these days? For only about $1 per hour you will receive the following:
œ Babyfs first steps, and their first words, gMama, Dada!h
œ To play tickle monster, and blow raspberries on tummies.
œ Small hands to hold and bear hugs that hold on tight.
œ A lifetime supply of butterfly kisses (a.k.a. perma-kisses!).
œ The chance to be the tooth fairy.
œ The opportunity to always believe in Santa Clause.
œ Story books to read each night.
œ Bedtime prayers to peek inside their hearts.
œ More gI love youfsh than you could ever count.
œ You can play in the leaves each fall.
œ Build snowmen and catch snowflakes on your tongue.
œ Celebrate each victory and wipe the tears after each defeat.
œ Thatfs only the beginning!
As the MasterCard commercial would say, gRaising your kids to 18: $160,140. All the love and laughter you get through those 18 years: PRICELESS!h
In Matthew chapter one, a drama unfolds with romance betrayal and even supernatural intervention. The events surrounding the birth of Jesus are amazing; could you imagine putting yourself in Josephfs sandals?
Joseph was not a volunteer in Godfs divine plan; he was drafted. It must have been difficult for Joseph; I mean here is a guy who is not a stranger to disappointment. Even though Joseph could trace his ancestry to Israelfs most celebrated king, Joseph did not live in the shadow of the palace. In fact, he didnft even live anywhere near Jerusalem. Joseph was from Nazareth, and folks in Josephfs day didnft have anything good to say about that Galilean town. The popular expression of the time said, gNothing good can come out of Nazareth.h It was a blue collar community on the other side of the tracks (not train tracks; donkey tracks).
We read again this morning the account of what happened, but you know Josephfs story so well, you probably missed the restlessness Joseph was forced to wrestle with. His fiance was gfoundh to be with child (thatfs a politically correct way of saying Mary was pregnant with someone elsefs baby, an illegitimate baby conceived out of wedlock). Needless to say Joseph was pretty upset!
Maryfs explanation was unbelievable. Can you imagine the how Joseph might have responded to Maryfs gnews.h gYou mean to tell me you’ve been talking to an angel; Mary, how gullible do you think I am? And this angel said your would just suddenly end up pregnant without the intimate help a girl normally need to have a baby? You really expect me to believe God just put you in the gfamily wayh? Donft play games with me; Ifve never seen an angel, and now you want me to believe what an angel told you. How can the father of this baby growing inside of you be God? Mary, how could you make something like that up? Itfs hard enough to accept the fact that you are pregnant with somebody elsefs baby, but for you to play innocent and tell me God made you that way. Why donft you just tell me the truth?h A pretty natural reaction, wouldn’t you say? Wouldnft you or I have responded the same way to such a story.
Joseph wrestled with what to do; his feelings and thoughts were spinning on an emotional roller coaster. Yet despite how he felt, Joseph didnft mistreat Mary. The Bible tells us he was a grighteous man.h Although human and imperfect Joseph wanted to honor God by how he lived his life. As a result, Joseph (though confused and perhaps angry) did not think twice about embarrassing the girl he loved. Joseph couldnft believe Maryfs story, but he loved her too much to expose her to public ridicule and the consequences of being pregnant and unmarried. Did you know Jewish law permitted public execution by stoning for such an offense?
Joseph had made up his mind. The Jewish law also allowed for him to break off his engagement by divorcing Mary (in Josephfs day the engagement was binding. He had been making preparations to bring Mary home to be his wife; it would be a great celebration.) His hopes and dreams all came to a sudden end. All that was left to do was to divorce Mary quickly and quietly, then, just maybe, Joseph could get on with his life.
And then the unthinkable happens. God sends an angel to this carpenter from Nazareth and stopped him in his tracks. (Well, actually in his sleep. The Lord gave him a dream.) God let Joseph know everything had happened just like Mary told him; gdonft be afraid to bring Mary home as your wife because her child was conceived by the Holy Spirit.h The Bible tells us that when Joseph woke up he did what the angel had told him; he brought Mary home to be his wife.
Letfs hear it for Joseph; he did the right thing. Joseph wasnft a super-spiritual giant; he was human just like you and me. Righteous? Yes. Perfect? No. Only his wifefs supernaturally conceived Son can qualify for that adjective.
Through Joseph story we can learn how we can reach out to a family member with the Christmas touch. Someone has said, gThe best thing about Christmas is being with family, and the worst thing about Christmas is. . . well, you guessed it being with family.h
What can we learn from Josephfs example to help us reach out to our family members in meaningful ways? Joseph loved Mary with a big love. His love was not just mere infatuation or puppy love; Josephfs love for Mary was more than just sexual desire. Joseph had an unfailing love, a love that would endure difficult circumstances. Letfs allow the Holy Spirit to help us to love our family with the same kind of love Joseph had for Mary.
Someone is thinking, gWait a minute pastor. I thought we were supposed to be like Jesus; why should we try to love our family like Joseph?h
Youfre absolutely right. We donft want to follow just any Tom, Dick or Harry. . . or even Joseph who comes along. If we are going to try to live according to someonefs example then we ought to hold them up to a higher standard–not just any standard, but Godfs standard.
The Bible is Godfs Word. The Bible is the inerrant [without error or mistake], and it is infallible [reliable, certain and unfailing]. God has shown us what our love for others is to be like.
+ 1 Corinthians 13:4-8 4Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. 8Love never fails. (NIV)
Authentic, genuine love will always be consistent with Godfs description of love. As we think about emulating Josephfs love in our families, lets ask ourselves if his love measurers up to Godfs standard.
1. Joseph respected Mary.
Joseph loved Mary so much he did not want her to be humiliated. Even though he had in mind to divorce her quietly, it was to keep her from gpublic disgrace.h
Josephfs respect motivated him to want to do what was best for Mary, AND IT SLOWED HIM DOWN SO HE COULD HEAR FROM GOD. Godfs plan was better than Josephfs.
Does Josephfs love meet Godfs standard for love? God says, glove is kind. . . it is not rude.h Love will always look for what is best.
2. Josephfs love was patient.
Joseph did what the angel told him and brought Mary home to be his wife, but he waited until after Jesus was born to be sexually intimate with Mary. Love is patient; it is willing to wait and doesnft demand to have what it wants.
Now maybe itfs just me, but I think Joseph went above the call of duty. The angelfs message was to take Mary home as his wife. If I understand that correctly, that means Joseph is to bring Mary into her home and itfs okay to consummate their marriage. When Mary came to live with Joseph she would have been about 3 months pregnant (she had spent that time with her cousin Elizabeth, the mother of John the Baptist).
Jesus had been conceived in Maryfs womb and was growing within her. Joseph couldnft have done anything to have changed who Jesus is; Jesusf gbiological fatherh is God. Yet Joseph loved God, and Mary enough to wait.
3. Joseph protected Mary.
Josephfs love for Mary motivated him to want to protect her from being put to death. He wasnft so sure he believed Maryfs story about the angelfs message, but he wanted to protect Mary from being executed.
After Jesus was born, Joseph was warned in a dream about King Herodfs attempt to kill the child. Joseph loved Mary and the infant Jesus enough to protect them from the rage of a jealous king. Joseph took his family to Egypt to keep them safe
Love protects those loved. Love will not bring harm or pain, but it goes a step further. Genuine love will protect those loved from being harmed by others.
4. Joseph trusted Mary.
Joseph had a hard time believing Maryfs story about how she became pregnant, but deep in his heart Joseph wanted to believe her. Mary had never lied to him before; she had never done anything to hurt him.
Josephfs trust for Mary is what caused him to wrestle with what to do. If Joseph didnft trust Mary then the decision to divorce Mary would have been easy. Without trust it would have been easy to just let Mary be executed for her crime of passion. (After all if God is the father like she says, then let God protect Mary from the consequences of breaking the law.)
Love always trust, it always hopes. The angel confirmed what Mary had told him. Joseph could believe his dream because he trusted Mary.
5. Joseph humbled himself before Mary.
God says love is not boastful or proud; love doesnft seek itfs own way. Joseph was willing to humble himself and ask Mary to forgive him for doubting her faithfulness to him. Love is always willing to say, gIfm sorry.h
Likewise, humility is willing to forgive. If we love our family, then we wonft keep score and say, gyoufve hurt me more than Ifve hurt you.h
6. Joseph was passionate in His love for Mary.
Sometime after Jesusf birth Joseph looked at his wife and she winked at him, and well they loved each other and expressed their love just like any other married couple. How do I know that? The Bible tells us about Jesusf siblings; younger brothers and sisters who had a hard time believing their gbig brotherh was really the Messiah, the Son of God. (See Mark 3:31; Luke 8:19; John 7:3)
Husbands and wives celebrate your love for each other. Donft give your spouse any reason to question your love for them; give him or her a passionate touch that says, gI love you, and I always will.h
Joseph gives us a good example for how we can love our family members. His life is not just glove theory;h it is love in action that you and I can copy in our family relationships.
Think with me about your most difficult family relationship. It may be in your immediate family: your husband, wife or children (kids it may be with your parents, or a brother or sister); perhaps you struggle with an extended family member: the in-laws, grandparents, aunts and uncles; or is your biggest family difficulty right here within our church family? Who is your difficult family member; do you have them in mind? Okay, now answer these four questions about that relationship (warning each question gets more difficult to answer).
1. On a scale of 1 to 10 how would you rate this relationship; a ten is great and a one is lousy (most of you should be thinking in the one to fire range because we said to think of a difficult relationship).
2. What has this individual done (or not done) to deserve this ggrade?h
3. What have you done (or not done) that has caused this relationship to be as it is?
4. WHAT COULD YOU DO TO IMPROVE THIS RELATIONSHIP? Itfs always easier to think of what the other individual should do; where does God want you to start? What does He want you to do?
+ Micah 6:8 . . . the Lord has already told you what is good, and this is what he requires: to do what is right, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God. (NLT)
God wants you to gdo what is right.h God will show you things you can do to improve your family relationship; what God shows you is gthe right thing,h so do it.
God wants you to glove mercy.h God may require you to give this individual forgiveness. Before this relationship will improve you will need to let go of the bitterness of the past and set yourself free to move into a better tomorrow.
God wants you to gwalk humbly with your God.h Guess what, God may want you to humble yourself and ask this individual to forgive you. You may be thinking, gbut they should ask me to forgive them.h What they do or donft do is not in your control. If God tells you to go and ask them for forgiveness (even to forgive you for being bitter and resentful toward them) humble yourself and God to them the assurance God walks with you.