Sermon / Pr. Ted Giese / Sunday December 18th 2016 - / Matthew 1:18-25 / The Birth of Jesus: The Faith of Joseph
Mount Olive Lutheran Church / Pr. Ted A. Giese / Sunday December 18th 2016: The Season of Advent, Matthew 1:18-25 “The Birth of Jesus: The Faith of Joseph”
Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When His mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.” All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet:
“Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
and they shall call His name Emmanuel”
(which means, God with us). When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife, but knew her not until she had given birth to a son. And he called His name Jesus.
Let us pray: May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in Your sight O Lord. Amen.
Grace peace and mercy to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Good Christian Friends. We aren’t told too much about Joseph, in fact there are lots of things we would like to know, like: was he a widower when he met Mary? Were Jesus’ sisters and brothers older than him from a previous marriage? After Jesus was born did Mary and Joseph have children in the natural way? When did Joseph die? The last we definitively hear of Joseph being alive in the Scriptures is when Jesus was still a boy. When the holy family having visited Jerusalem for Passover discovered Jesus missing from the caravan while they were going home to Nazareth, and Joseph and Mary return to Jerusalem in a desperate search to find the young Jesus only to find Him in the Temple listening to and talking with the teachers. After that Joseph fades from the Gospels and only Mary remains.
We would love to know more about the man who helped raise Jesus as an adopted earthly father, as a foster father. By the standards of today it seems like there's nothing there, and yet, God does actually give us some insight into what Joseph would have been like as a dad to Jesus. It's all right there in the words we do have. For instance Joseph is described as being a ‘just man.’ He was concerned about the law of God; Joseph didn’t take the law of God lightly and because of this Joseph considered carefully what would happen when Mary was discovered to be with child. In his deliberation you can see the struggle between what appears to be truth and what is truth.
No doubt Joseph knew the law, knew the Law of Moses, which in Leviticus 20 says, "If a man commits adultery with the wife of his neighbour, both the adulterer and the adulteress shall surely be put to death.” And knowing the natural way in which children come to be, he was afraid of what would happen, since he and Mary were engaged and not yet married. And the expectation of the law and the community was that a couple would remain chaste, that they wouldn't consummate their relationship until after the wedding. Unlike modern engagements which can, in some cases, be broke off at a moment's notice, even sometime callously by text messaging. In those days an engagement was more legally binding than it is today – and you had to have a divorce to break and engagement. Knowing that he was not the father of the child she was carrying left him concerned about what would happen to him and to her and to the baby.
Scripture gives an example of what might happen to a woman who was known by the community to be caught in adultery, listen to this account from the Gospel of John:
Jesus went to the Mount of Olives. Early in the morning He came again to the Temple. All the people came to Him, and He sat down and taught them. The Scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery; they made her stand before the group then they said to [Jesus], “Teacher, this woman has been caught in the act of adultery. Now in the Law, Moses commanded us to stone such women. So what do you say?” This they said to test [Jesus] that they might have some charge to bring against Him. Jesus bent down and wrote with His finger on the ground. ...
We'll stop right there, there is more to this story and we will come back to it, but first let's go back to Joseph and Mary: Joseph may well have been worried that Mary could be stoned to death, especially knowing proof positive that he himself was not the father. An unnerving thought presents itself, Joseph being a just man, under different circumstances may himself have been of the opinion that Mary should been stoned for what appeared to be unfaithfulness, yet being kind and finding himself in the middle of this dilemma Joseph is seeking a way to quietly defuse the situation. Another possibility might be that Joseph himself would be suspected of impregnating Mary, which because the pregnancy would be rather obvious before the wedding would make them both suspected adulterers and by the Levitical law of the Old Testament Joseph along with Mary could also be stoned to death. What you can certainly take away from all of this is the following: without intervention things were poised to have gone awry; something had to be done, someone had to step in and stop the inevitable. This isn't a quaint fluffy story, there is real danger afoot. When Joseph went to bed that fateful night, Scripture says he was fearful to take Mary to be his wife. By knowing a little bit about what life was like then you can start to see why he was fearful. The question of what to do was weighing heavy upon him as the darkness of the night deepened, as he drifted into sleep. What would he do in the morning? What would he do?
Before Joseph was able to come to a final conclusion, before he came to a definitive decision he decided to sleep on it, this is always a good idea, and that is when God the Father sent a messenger with a message: "an angel of the Lord appeared to [Joseph] in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.”
Suddenly by this intervention the stage is set, Joseph (who is a just man) becomes: A man who listens to God and God alone; Joseph sees Mary not as the rest of the world might see her, an adulteress, but as a woman who entrusts herself to the mercy and will of God; and Joseph no longer sees the child she carries as the rest of the world might be lead to see Him, as a bastard son of some unknown man adulterously conceived out of wedlock, but as a child whose name explains the fullness of God's unimaginably great love for His fallen creation. By the working of the Holy Spirit Joseph sees that this child is Emmanuel (God with us), who will be named Jesus, and this Jesus is in fact the long expected messiah who Israel had longed for, for so long, and this Jesus would save His people from their sins.
It comes years and years later after this Jesus was born, after He lived, died, was risen from the dead and ascended into heaven, but consider what Saint Paul writes the Ephesian Christians in context to the life of Joseph and this decision that he pounders concerning the Virgin Mary and her child, Paul writes, "Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her, that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that He might present the church to Himself in splendour, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself." By following through with the engagement and carrying on with the plans to get married Joseph was putting his life on the line with Mary's life and the life of the baby. His work as a carpenter, as a craftsman, his business was not as important as Mary's life and the life of this child she carried. He was willing to sacrifice it all, including his good name that she might be looked upon as holy and without blemish. While the example of Christ Jesus' death on the cross had not come yet, and neither had the writings of Saint Paul which followed Christ's crucifixion, all the same, here we see Joseph doing as Saint Paul advises. He shows his willingness to die his bride, to give up everything for her and the child.
Taking a step further back, looking at how this situation could play out you can start to see, how for the Virgin Mary, Jesus was both a source of danger and salvation. Jesus' presence there in her womb, and the knowledge of who He was, gave Joseph the opportunity to step up and save Mary from the possible outcome of death. If it had been some other child that was found there, a baby not conceived by the Holy Spirit, as we confess in the Creed, the ultimate outcome would not have been the same. Any other child, while saved from death, would not have grown up to be the Christ, the long awaited Messiah: Joseph's choice in the matter was of great importance to you and your rescue from sin and eternal death. This Jesus then in Mary's womb both saved her from what others assumed to be true (which in actuality was false), while at the same time this Jesus saved Mary, and you, and I, from what is true, the very real danger of our sin that would without the blood of Christ damn us all to hell. So in this way Joseph stepping up to the plate to save Mary and her unborn child points forward to Jesus as He stepped up to the plate in His ultimate crucifixion to save us all.
How dangerous was this situation that Joseph and Mary and the baby Jesus found themselves in? In the book of Revelation the picture is painted of "the dragon (that ancient serpent, who is called the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world) [standing] before the woman who was about to give birth, so that when she bore her child he might devour it." Satan wants to sink his teeth into the Christ Child, that ancient serpent the devil wants Jesus dead, as Jesus Himself would later say of the devil, "he was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies."
In Mary's situation it was a very real possibility that both her and the child could die on account of a false accusation of adultery. But thanks be to God that He sent His angel with that message of intervention, thanks be to God that He intervened and give Joseph the strength Joseph needed to see through everything and trust God's word and protect Mary and the unborn Jesus. Joseph and Mary could not do this on their own, they like we required God to be gracious and merciful, to be the hand of justice and protection in the face of trouble. As Saint Paul says, "If God is for us, who can be against us?" In Jesus your God is not just for you He is with you. He is Emmanuel God with us in the flesh.
The fact that Jesus comes to us in the flesh to save us, is also visible in the conclusion of the story I started to tell you, about the woman who was brought to Jesus by the Scribes and the Pharisees:
And as they continued to ask [Jesus about the Law of God delivered by Moses concerning the woman caught in adultery], He stood up and said to them, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.” And once more He bent down and wrote on the ground. But when they heard it, they went away one by one, beginning with the older ones, and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before Him. Jesus stood up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.”
This little One, this little Baby that we anticipate in Advent, that we celebrate in the season of Christmas, He comes to save all people, He starts with His mother Mary and upon the cross Jesus He dies for the sins of His people just as the angel says, and more than that Jesus likewise dies for the sins of all people. He has the power to forgive, and there is no breaking of the law, so great, that it cannot be forgiven by the Blood of Jesus. There is no false accusation so great that, in Christ, it won't be proved false, Jesus says, “nothing is covered that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known." If you've struggled under a false accusation your whole life you can trust that in Christ, on the last day you will have justice.
When the angel came to Joseph, Joseph knew then, that whatever the world would think about Mary's child, the truth was very different. After the message from the angel Joseph had no just reason to divorce Mary, to break off their coming wedding, Joseph's fear of what might happen was set aside, and instead of getting rid of her quietly, he took her to himself, kept her pure and protected both her and the Child.
While we would love to know more about Joseph, the day in day out stuff of his life of foster-adoptive-fatherhood in Jesus' life, be satisfied in what we do know from Holy Scripture because it gives us an excellent portrait of what this earthly father of Jesus was like: He was a just man, a man of integrity and honour, a man who listens to God and God alone. In Jesus Name, Amen.
Let us pray:
Lord have mercy on us, Christ have mercy on us, Lord have mercy on us, “take our minds and think through them, take our lips and speak through them, take our hearts and set them on fire; for the sake of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, Amen.”
 Luke 2:41-52
 Leviticus 20:10
 John 8:1-7
 Ephesians 5:25-28
 Revelation 12:4
 John 8:44
 Romans 8:31
 John 8:8-11
 Matthew 10:26