Thursday, December 22, 2016

Joseph, a godly man. . .

Sermon for Advent 4A, preached on Sunday, December 18, 2016.

Every other fourth Sunday in Advent is Mary’s Day – the day when we hear the whole story of the Angel Gabriel who comes to Mary the Virgin and tells her the news that God has chosen her to bear His own Son in order to save the world.  The story always ends in Mary’s Song – the Magnificat.  But not this year.  This year we do not hear of the visit of the angel to Mary. We do hear the story of the angel’s visit to Joseph.

Joseph is no dufus but neither is he some idealized man.  He is a real man with honest doubts and honest fears.  He is a man who takes things seriously and who expects others to live up to their part of the deal.

So today we meet Joseph in the midst of some wedding bell blues and we hear with him the word that Scripture speaks more than any other.  Do not be afraid. 

But how could Joseph not be afraid or angry or disappointed or frustrated or bitter?  How could Jesus NOT have wedding bell blues?  After all he has just found out that his virgin bride is pregnant.  She is pregnant and he knows that this child is not HIS child.  How much disappointment can mar what is supposed to be one of life’s happiest days?

However, Joseph is an honorable man.  No matter how tempted he is by his bitterness or anger or disappointment or frustration or fears, Joseph will not rant on Face book or Tweet an expletive deleted or Instagram Mary’s plight to a world that just loves to judge and condemn.  Joseph is intent upon exiting this relationship gracefully, doing harm neither to Mary nor to himself and trying to escape this terrible situation with his dignity in tact.

You have to hand it to him.  That is not how we would act today.  We have grown used to the send button, to the post button, and to airing our dirty laundry before the world.  We are experts at getting back at people, at remembering grudges, and at getting back at the people who dare to cross us.  But there were people like that in Joseph’s day as well.
Joseph was not one of them.  Now do you get a hint why God chose Joseph? We know why God chose Mary.  She believed the Word the angel spoke, she consented to the will of God no matter how that impacted on her own life plans, and she pondered and trusted all these things right through the Manger to the cross and the stable to the empty tomb.  Now we find that just as Mary was a woman of faith, Joseph was a man of faith.

Everyone of you meets life in hills and valleys, in triumphs and failures, in good and in bad.  Everyone of you has had to hear things you did not want to hear, to face things you thought you would never face, and to go on paths you never expected to tread.  Joseph has nothing on you.  The circumstances may be different but the disappointment, the bitterness, the pain, the anger, and the temptation is all the same.  Faith is the only answer.

The only way for Joseph to meet his disappointment was to trust in the voice of the Lord.  For the same angel who came calling on Mary, visited Joseph in his doubts, fears, anger, and discontent.  “Do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child in her is by the Holy Spirit, and she will bear a son whom you shall call Jesus, for He will saved His people from their sins.” 

You see the Lord never asks us to understand Him nor does He ask for us to approve of what He is doing.  He calls us merely to trust Him, to believe in His Word, and to have confidence that the outcome will be for our benefit.  He did not ask for Joseph’s permission nor for His approval and He does not ask for yours.  Like Job of old we cry to the Lord for answers but the answer of the Lord is always the same.  Do not fear.  Only believe.

Fear has an answer and Christ is that answer.  The same God who delivered up His own Son, will He not also give us all things in Him?  Meet the Lord in the manger of His Word and that is where fears end.  Meet the Lord in the water that gives life and fears find an end.  Meet the Lord where bread is His body and wine His blood, and fears some to an end.  Fear does not end because the circumstances of our lives change, fear ends because it has been answered in Christ our Lord, the Immanuel of God, with us in everything.

Joseph’s circumstances remained – his bride was pregnant with the Son of God who would save the world.  What changed was the heart of Joseph, the man of faith, who found in that faith the end to his fears.  He believed because the Spirit was in that Word of the Lord and because the Son born of Mary would become His own Savior as well as the Savior of the world. 

Your circumstances will not change.  The diagnosis of the doctor will not magically be taken back, the broken heart in you will not magically heal, the hurt you have been nursing for so long will not magically disappear, and the struggles of this mortal life will not magically come to an end.  But Christ the Immanuel of God is with you.  Do not be afraid.  You are not alone.  The Spirit is in you by baptism whether you feel it or not.  The Savior who is born of Mary is born for you, for your sin, and for your death.

Feelings do not validate faith.  Faith transcends the feeling.  What did Joseph do?  Did he give into to his fear and disappointment?  Did he lash out in anger or bitterness? Did he reject the voice of God because it did not make sense or conflicted with Joseph’s plan for his life?  No, Joseph took the hardest path of all – the path of faith.  He believed the Lord and obeyed the Word of God.  He did as the angel had said.  He kept the Word of God with faith.  He gave without taking so that Christ could take all our sins and give what none of us deserve – forgiveness, life, and salvation.

Christmas is coming and some of you think you have it all under control.  And some of you fear the lid to the chaos will come off and spoil everything.  Some of you fear you will never be ready.  Some of you fear you just don’t care anymore.  Some of you dread the day because of painful memories of painful wounds the holiday exposes.  Some of you have forgotten what the day is all about and are trying to cover up your emptiness with gifts and plans.  To all of you the message is the same.  Do not fear.  Christ is with you.  Believe the word of God, trust in what God has promised, and obey the voice of God with faith.  Joseph turned out to be every bit as much a person of faith as Mary.  How about you?  Fear not.  God is with you.  He has saved you from your sins.  He has redeemed you from the curse death.  And this is the only thing that really matters.  Amen

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