Sweetwater Presbyterian

Small in size, Big in Faith and Love

December 2016

Joseph

JOSEPH

Mary is always an important part of the Christmas story; but it seems we don’t spend much time looking at Joseph; Joseph just seems to be neglected when it comes to the story of the Nativity. So today, we will spend some time looking at Joseph and his importance in the birth of the Christ child. When we talk about Mary, we learn that our response to God is to be one of willingness to do what God has asked us to do. But we also see how God is able to use ordinary people to do his work - Mary was just an ordinary girl trying to get on with her life. And Joseph is another example of how God uses ordinary people to do his work. But Joseph has even a more important message for us and our role as those whom God has called to perform his purpose.
Joseph is a carpenter. Carpenter’s didn’t make a lot of money - enough to support a family but not enough for many extras. He is betrothed to a young girl named Mary. Probably not his choice for a wife but that really didn’t matter in their culture. At this point in the betrothal process Joseph is busy getting a home ready for his new wife. We don’t know how, but somehow Joseph finds out that Mary is pregnant. You have to think that his heart sank. He is not allowed to see or have any contact with Mary during this betrothal time so he knows that the baby is not his. So now all the work he has been doing to get the home ready was for nothing. He couldn’t marry her now. This nice life that he had planned was ruined. What was he going to do? He was going to have to find another wife and that could be a difficult process seeing as how all the young girls in his small town would have already been pledged to someone. So now Joseph is laying in bed figuring his life has been ruined - what was he going to do now?
Laying there that night, he did decide that he wasn’t going to make a big deal of this. He could have demanded Mary be stoned - that was within his right. He could have demanded that Mary and her family leave town. That was within his right as well. But, being what the scripture calls a ‘good’ man, he decides that he is not going to create a scandal. He is just going to bow out gracefully and let Mary’s family deal with her. Joseph was not going to be the one to create a problem even though he is the one who has had the rug pulled out from under him; who is back at square one and now has to refigure his life.
But still, he is upset. Many of us can relate to Joseph. We’ve made plans; we think we have our life figured out; we think things are going the way we want them to go. And then something happens that completely changes everything. Something happens that stops us in our tracks; slams on the brakes and causes our life to go in a whole different direction. And then here we are, just like Joseph, laying awake at night, wondering what we are going to do now.
God decides to help Joseph out by sending him an angel. And I don’t think that this is really something that unusual. This is not something that can’t happen to us in our life now. But we have to remember that whenever God talks to us, it is always in the still small moments of our life. Whenever we see God talking to people in the bible, it is in still quiet moments. If we truly trust in God, if we really believe that God is real and active in our life all the time, and we pay attention, God will give us direction just like he did Joseph. But there are two very important words here - paying attention and trusting. Because just like Joseph, what God tells us is often things that don’t make any sense; things that go against how we think things ‘should be’, how we thing thinks ‘ought to be’; often things that are going to make our life more difficult. And this is certainly Joseph’s experience.
Here he is laying in bed, thinking about his turn of events in his life, when an angel visits him and tells him to go ahead and get married to Mary. The angel explains to Joseph that Mary hasn’t cheated on him, that Mary hasn’t been with another man. She is still a virgin - this baby is the child of God. Just like the angel told Mary, the angel tells Joseph that the baby is to be named Jesus - he will be the Messiah who will save the people from their sin. And the angel uses the words of Isaiah to remind Joseph of what the prophecies say. (read Isaiah 7:14)
Now lets put ourselves in Joseph’s place. Joseph after all is just a normal guy. He is not ‘special’; he doesn’t have some magic pipeline to God, he is just a guy who is put in an extraordinary situation. He is no different than any one of us. That is a constant theme through these Bible stories - this is the point God wants us to hear. God uses normal, everyday, average people to do his work. He uses people, just people. Joseph could be any of us and he is hearing these crazy things. He is being told to go against the culture and do something that will raise every eyebrow in town. Nazareth is a really small town. You know small towns - everybody knows everybody’s business….. You do something outside of the norm and people are going to talk.
And in the culture of Joseph’s time, people were much more frightened by things that were outside of their understanding and they usually reacted harshly. Instead of just talking about Joseph, they would ostracize him and his family and probably the family of Mary. It would affect how they conducted business in this small town where everyone’s livelihood depended on each other. So God is asking Joseph to do something that will have dire implications in his life. “Joseph, go against everything you’ve been taught all your life and while you are doing this risk never being able to work in this town again. Risk your families’ business as well…..” How many of us would A. believe that God really wanted us to do such a thing or B. be willing to do something that didn’t make any sense and went against what we had been taught our whole life and C. could affect our financial future; our security.
But the angel doesn’t stop with the weird information. Joseph is shaking his head because who could understand the concept that God was the father of this baby Mary is carrying? We don’t understand that now - so imagine what Joseph is thinking. What? Mary is pregnant but she’s a virgin and God is the father? And then, against culture again, if Joseph agreed to keep Mary as his wife and claim the son as his, he was going to go against culture again which dictated that the first born son be named after the father, and name the boy Jesus? One more head scratching, difficult decision……
The angel does try to help Joseph. “Remember the prophecy, Joseph.” the angel says. “The prophecy says that a Virgin is going to give birth to the Messiah. You know the words. And here it is, it is happening now and you are going to be part of it.” This brings us to an important point. God will never ask us to do anything against to what scripture teaches. Maybe against society, maybe against what we think, may against what we have been taught our whole lives, but never against what is found in the word of God. And this is another reminder of why it is so important for us to know what scripture says - because if we know the word of God then that will help us in our discerning process - will help us know if we are aligning ourselves with God’s plan. Joseph is. He knows the prophecies. He just never in a million years thought that he would be involved in God’s plan.
And we read in the book of Matthew that after Joseph heard all this, he knew what he had to do - he went ahead and took Mary as his wife. Wiling to risk whatever it would cost. Willing to pay whatever price he would have to pay in order to do what God has asked him to do.
And this child that will come into the world will do the same thing. The child will grow up to do what God has called him to do….. Willing to risk whoever it would cost to fulfill God’s plan. And in the case of this baby, his obedience would lead to a cross.
It is important for us to remember that this small baby will come into the world to live the life God has laid out for him. To be willing to do what God wants - to shed his blood for the forgiveness of our sins. Christmas doesn’t mean anything unless we remember why this baby was born - to die for our salvation.
Christmas is all about ordinary people who are willing to do what God has called them to do - regardless of the cost - regardless of how it will change their lives - regardless of hard decisions - regardless of how they will be inconvenienced…….. but they all did it. Mary, Joseph and the baby Jesus. And God calls us to do this same. Amen!