Advent Midweek 3 – December 18th, 2013 – Matthew 1:18-25
In the Name of Christ Jesus, our Advent King +
Joseph was afraid. Oh, he wasn’t afraid because an angel suddenly appeared to him out of the blue. No, he was afraid. “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.” So there is Joseph. And his fiancée, his wife is pregnant. Let me note something. Marriage didn’t work the same way back then as it does today – if you were betrothed, you were as good as married… you are committed, you aren’t going to be able to just back out. Joseph, even though he is only betrothed, is called Mary’s husband. And suddenly… Mary is pregnant. And Joseph didn’t have anything at all to do with it. How do you like them apples?
So, Joseph is afraid. This isn’t just about some hopes and dreams falling flat… no, this is his betrothed, his wife… and she’s pregnant. And he didn’t do it. What does this mean? Well, let me ask you the question. What was the punishment in the Law for those caught in adultery? They are to be stoned. By rights, Joseph could decry Mary, announce that she is pregnant not by him, and she would be executed. And Joseph’s honor would be maintained. But if he does that – he condemns his wife to death. Or even he could be merciful – he could publicly denounce her, but not call for her death. Just terribly shame her, ruin her. Even this “other guy” she’s been with wouldn’t be able to marry her… she’d be damaged goods. But this is his wife. Whom he loves. Or there is the option that Joseph is planning on. Divorcing her quietly. Just… letting her go. And not explaining why to anyone. When she’s pregnant. So you know what that means – not only would Joseph’s dreams of a family fall apart and be destroyed… he’ll put her away quietly. He won’t blame her. So what will the story be? Did you hear what happened to that poor Mary, why Joseph probably knocked her up before the wedding and then got rid of her – do you see what a vile and evil man he is? This is what Joseph is submitting and resigning himself to. He will embarrassed and reviled for the rest of his life, he will be poorly thought of, and he will lose wife. He thinks he’s lost her already – she’s found someone else that she is… well… with. But at least this way she will live, she can have a new life with whomever, her new guy can pick her up on the public rebound, and he will look like a hero, a paragon of virtue, while Joseph will be the mean, evil, scoundrel of the piece. It is the move that shelters and protects her… and he is going to get it, he is going to be kicked in the teeth. And so, Joseph is afraid. He has chosen the righteous path – the hard path, the difficult and painful path. And it weighs heavily on him.
“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.’” God knew the struggles and fears that His servant was dealing with. Joseph’s desire to act out of love, to shelter and care for his seemingly faithless wife was going to cause him pain and suffering. And so, the angel appears to Joseph in a dream – these are the things Joseph is falling asleep thinking about. And the angel says “Do not fear to take Mary as your wife.” What were you afraid of – that you wouldn’t have your wife, that your dreams of a family were going to come crashing down. She hasn’t been unfaithful, Joseph. No, she is your wife and should be your wife – the Child conceived in her is not from some other fellow, He is conceived by the Holy Spirit. You will have your wife, Joseph, and you will have your family – fear not.
But this is not just good news for you. “She will bear a Son, and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.” Mary’s Son is the Messiah, the promised Savior – He is “Jesus” – He is “The LORD Saves”. He is the world’s redeemer. And you, Joseph, are given the task to raise Him, to shelter Him. You, Joseph, are a son of David… you will raise The SON of David. And teach Him, and care for Him. And raise Him as though He were your own flesh and blood – and He will save His people, including you, from your sins.
Now, this doesn’t mean that suddenly everything is easy for Joseph. There’s still the whole issue of Mary being pregnant. There will still be awkwardness, the head shaking with people assuming the worst about Joseph. But that is no longer the big thing, the great focus. That – eh, small potatoes. Joseph gets his Mary; she who was lost to him is found. He will get his family, he will have it. And that is a wondrous thing.
So then, what are we to learn and see in this lesson this night? Joseph was afraid, and why? Because he was going to do the right thing, he was going to love his neighbor even though to all appearance she no longer loved him. That’s some tough sledding. Yet, let’s face it. It is the same task we here are all called to. Our Lord does not say, “Love your neighbor, unless it causes you some difficulties, in which case, eh, forget them.” Love your neighbor. Indeed, we hear over and over in the Scriptures about suffering and being a living sacrifice, being the shelter and shield for our neighbor. And this is hard, this is painful. Sometimes we do it, and we live with that pain and hardship. Sometimes we bail, sometimes we don’t love the neighbor like we ought. Whether we do or we don’t – in this world, it’s rough.
God knows this. He is no stranger to the impact of sin. He knows what a mess it has made of His creation. And thus, a woman named Mary conceived, and in her womb was God Himself. A man named Joseph named a son not his Jesus, because the Lord does save. And this Jesus would grow, and He would be righteous. Period. Not some of the time, like us. Always. Perfectly righteous. And thus, He suffered. He suffered lack, He bore he attacks of the self-righteous who wanted to pull Him down a peg to elevate themselves. He bore the whispers of condescension – this Man eats with sinners! This Man talks to gentile women. He even had all sorts of lies and vileness spoken about Him… indeed, He was even whipped, beaten, and scourged. And why?
It is no accident or coincidence that in Ephesians we hear the imagery of Husband and Bride for Christ and His People, His Church. Christ Jesus is righteous, and when you, His people, were trapped in your own sins and your own unrighteousness – things that would merit and earn you death – Christ would not stand for it. No, He would not denounce you. No, He would not even divorce you quietly so as to maintain some semblance of dignity. Instead, He would bear your shame, your sin, your iniquity – bear it to the cross and kill it, all so that He could have His Bride, His Church, His people, and present them to all as washed clean and pure and innocent – forgiven of all things, no blots, no blemish – for he takes it all upon Himself.
This is what Christ comes to do. Jesus will out do Joseph, He will exceed Him in righteousness and in scope. It is good that Joseph was willing to bear the shame to treat Mary kindly, yet Jesus is far, far better. And Jesus does so perfectly. Do we see this now? Only in part, for now we are still in this world, this life – where we deal with pain and shame for righteousness, where we do flee in terror from showing the love that we ought. But Christ Jesus has come, and He has borne all things, and He has won forgiveness and He has risen – and just as He once came to win us salvation, He will come again so that we may see it in full. Thus we are right to pray this and every Advent, come quickly, Lord Jesus. In the Name of Christ Jesus, our Advent King + Amen.