Aston Presbyterian Church

November 27, 2022 1st Sunday of Advent

Rev. Christine Callaway

 

Isaiah 11:1-10 A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit.  2 The Spirit of the LORD will rest on him– the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of power, the Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the LORD– 3 and he will delight in the fear of the LORD. He will not judge by what he sees with his eyes, or decide by what he hears with his ears; 4 but with righteousness he will judge the needy, with justice he will give decisions for the poor of the earth. He will strike the earth with the rod of his mouth; with the breath of his lips he will slay the wicked. 5 Righteousness will be his belt and faithfulness the sash around his waist. 6 The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling together; and a little child will lead them.  7 The cow will feed with the bear, their young will lie down together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox.  8 The infant will play near the hole of the cobra, and the young child put his hand into the viper’s nest.  9 They will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain, for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea.  10 In that day the Root of Jesse will stand as a banner for the peoples; the nations will rally to him, and his place of rest will be glorious.

Matthew 1:18-25  18 Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. 19 Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly. 20 But just when he had resolved to do 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 as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” 22 All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet: 23 “Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel,” which means, “God is with us.” 24 When Joseph awoke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took her as his wife, 25 but had no marital relations with her until she had borne a son; and he named him Jesus.

Advent Through the Eyes of Joseph

I heard a story about a woman who was doing her last-minute Christmas shopping at a crowded mall.  She was tired of fighting the crowds.  She was tired of standing in lines.  She was tired of fighting her way down long aisles looking for a gift that had sold out days before.  Her arms were full of bulky packages when the elevator door opened.  It was full.  The occupants of the elevator grudgingly tightened ranks to allow a small space for her and her load.  As the doors closed she blurted out, “Whoever is responsible for this whole Christmas thing ought to be arrested, strung up, and shot!”  A few others nodded their heads or grunted in agreement.  Then, from somewhere in the back of the elevator came a single voice that said, “Don’t worry.  They already crucified him.”

Today we are here to remember who is responsible for the whole Christmas thing.  It is all about how God so loved the world that He gave his one and only Son so that whoever believes in Him might have eternal life.

Joseph isn’t mentioned very much in the gospels.  Only in the birth narratives in the gospels of Matthew and Luke; not at all in Mark or John’s gospel.  From Luke’s gospel we know Joseph is still alive when Jesus is twelve but only Mary is mentioned after that and historians believe Joseph was dead by the time Jesus started his ministry.  The very first thing that we are told about Joseph is that he is a righteous man.  There aren’t many who are called righteous, this is high praise in the Bible.  In the New Testament, only three men besides Joseph are called righteous.  Simeon who announced Jesus was the Messiah when Jesus was presented at the temple.  John the Baptist who called people to repentance and prepared the way for Jesus.  And Joseph of Arimathea who buried him in his own tomb.  Pretty rare company but I think that by the time we finish talking about Joseph today we will all agree it is company in which Joseph belongs.

We are told that Joseph is engaged to Mary and has learned that she is pregnant.  This is the stuff of soap operas and reality TV shows!  Public shame.  Disgrace for the entire family.  The penalty for adultery in the Old Testament was death by stoning and if the story of the woman caught in adultery is any indication it was still practiced in Jesus’ day.  This penalty applied to infidelity during the engagement as well as marriage.  In those days, an engagement was as binding as a marriage; the only way to end it was marriage or divorce.  By Jewish law, when Joseph discovered that Mary was pregnant, Joseph would have been obliged to divorce her, and this would expose Mary to public shame and humiliation.

Joseph, as a man betrayed had every right to divorce Mary, to keep her dowry and to expose her to public shame.  He had every right to cry foul.  Yet the Bible tells us Joseph is a righteous man.  Joseph is a man who cares deeply for Mary and does not want her shamed, he doesn’t want to see her disgraced.  Despite what Joseph thinks she has done, despite his feeling of betrayal he decides to divorce her secretly.  No cry for vengeance, no attempt get even.  Imagine with me what Joseph must have been thinking.  Mary is engaged to me!  I know I am not the father, she must have betrayed me.  But I love her, I cannot shame her.  I will divorce her quietly, secretly.  No one need know.  They might stone her, kill her.  I don’t want that for her despite what she has done.  You see, Joseph is a man of deep compassion.  A man with a heart that seeks good not evil, that loves wholly.  It was because of Joseph’s righteousness that he did not want to expose Mary to public shame.  Joseph exhibits a magnificent, compassionate love for Mary and Jesus.

Love that accepts betrayal.  Love that will not take revenge, love that forgives.  Whose love does that sound like?  Jesus was betrayed by one of his own disciples.  Jesus forgave those who crucified him while they did it.  When we consider Joseph’s character are we surprised God chose him to be Jesus’ earthly father?

We need to ask ourselves if we display such a compassionate love for those around us, towards our family and friends.  How do we react when people wrong us?  Do we seek their good despite what they have done?  Good questions for us to ponder during this Advent season.  We can learn a lot about love from Joseph.

Back to Joseph.  He is planning to divorce Mary in secret so she is not harmed.  Then Joseph has a dream.  In the dream, an angel tells him the baby is from the Holy Spirit and he should go ahead and marry Mary.  Now in the birth narratives, we have three people who are visited by an angel.  First Zachariah, the father of John the Baptist.  He doubts the angel and is struck dumb for a time.  Mary innocently questions the angel and is given an answer.  Only Joseph asks no questions, he simply obeys.  Joseph was a man who obeyed God.  Instantly.  Even Mary questioned the angel but Joseph asked no questions, he simply trusted and obeyed.

Joseph displays a wonderful trust in God.  He doesn’t protest, he doesn’t question what he is told, he obeys.  He takes Mary as his wife and adopts her child as his own.  Joseph allowed his world and his life to be turned upside down and inside out.  He was a simple carpenter planning to marry his betrothed, Mary and live a simple life in Nazareth.  Now he is married to a woman who is pregnant with a child that is not his.  He is to be father to the Son of God.  When the child came along – the child he had not conceived – there was no attitude in Joseph of “This boy isn’t my flesh and blood.”  There was no resentment or indifference toward Him; no lack of love at all.  He journeyed to Egypt to keep Jesus safe, to protect Him from the hatred of Herod.  How many of us would be willing to have our lives changed to this extent by God?  How many of us have this level of trust and obedience?  More good questions to ponder during Advent.  We can learn a lot about trust and obedience from Joseph.

Not only did Joseph trust God but obviously, God trusted him enough to cause him to be the earthly father of Jesus.  God couldn’t be father to his Son so he entrusted Him to Joseph.  When we stop to think about it, Joseph must have been very important in Jesus’ early life.  Joseph provided for Mary and Jesus and the other children that followed Jesus.  He nurtured Him and cared for Him.  He would have taught Jesus how to be a carpenter.  Joseph would have taught him what an earthly father’s love was like.  Joseph was willing to adopt Jesus as his son.  He was father to the Son of God.  He loved God’s Son with a father’s love.  What does it mean to be trusted by God?  What has God entrusted you with?  Your children, elderly parents?  Jesus doesn’t walk the earth anymore.  He has left his mission in our hands.  Who does God want us to tell of His love?  God has entrusted us corporately with this church, with being His representatives here in Aston.  Are we doing our best to love the people here?  Again, good questions to ponder during Advent.

I want us to consider Joseph’s actions as answering the call of God in his life.  Joseph simply acts directly and immediately in obedient response to the call.  The angel told Joseph to take Mary as his wife and Joseph took her as his wife.  The angel told Joseph that Mary would bear a son and to name him Jesus.  When the baby was born, Joseph named his Jesus.  Joseph becomes visibly and audibly an example of the power of God’s call to transform our decisions and our lives.  So here at the beginning of Jesus’ life, Joseph is a model of faithful discipleship long before we hear Jesus’ commission at the end to “Go and make disciples” of all nations.  We need to be this type of disciple.  We need to be open to God’s call whenever it comes.  And when it comes we need to be willing to obey and not count the cost.  Joseph didn’t count the cost.  We can learn a lot about discipleship from Joseph.

It’s been good this morning to consider Joseph and his love for Mary and Jesus.  Let us turn now to the source of love, our God.  At Christmas God became a naked baby.  The God of the universe shrank down to the size of an embryo, grew in Mary’s womb and came forth naked and vulnerable.  God became Emmanuel, God with us.  As Paul puts it in the second chapter of Philippians, “Jesus…did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself.”  Jesus Christ laid aside his divinity, emptied himself and became Emmanuel.  God became human so humanity could be reconciled back to God.  God’s love is a wild, lavish and dangerous love, an over-the-top love.  As the poem says, “love came down at Christmas Love all lovely, love divine; Love was born at Christmas.”  Jesus was born at Christmas, God with flesh on.  Jesus came down from his throne and entered our messy, broken world.  So what does this mean for us?  In the words of John, in his first letter, “Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.  Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love.  God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him.  In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins.  Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another.

Joseph trusted and obeyed God without hesitation or question.  Joseph loved Mary and Jesus with a love that did not count the cost, with a love that was reckless and abandoned, a love beyond reason and completely unselfish.  Not bad characteristics for anyone and ones we should try to emulate.  Why?  We end where we began.  Because God so loved the world that He gave his one and only Son so that whoever believes in Him might have eternal life.

Please pray with me.  God, our Father in Heaven, help us to trust and obey you as Joseph did.  Help us to love others as Joseph loved Mary and Jesus.  May this Advent season be a time when we do not count the cost but learn to love recklessly and beyond reason; with the love that you have shown the world in Your Son, Jesus.  Create in our hearts the love the lived in Joseph’s and may we take this love out into your hurting world and may our actions give glory to you. Amen.