December 20, 2020 Sermon
“Jesse Tree Sermon 4 – Joseph: It’s Up to Us”
1st Scripture Reading – 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.
2nd Scripture Reading – Matthew 2:13-15
13 Now after they had left, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” 14 Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother by night, and went to Egypt, 15 and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet, “Out of Egypt I have called my son.”
“Jesse Tree Sermon #4 – Joseph: It’s Up to Us”
Three weeks ago, I started this Jesse Tree sermon series by sharing with you the stories of some people who were not at all perfect, not even close. Luke traces his genealogy of Jesus all the way back to Adam, the first man, who, along with his wife, Eve, committed the first sin.
God gave Adam and Eve a choice: do what God told them to do or don’t do what God told them to do. God did NOT make it impossible for Adam and Eve to choose poorly; God gave them a choice, free will.
What amazes me every time I think about that story is that God took the welfare of the future of God’s creation OUT of the hands of God and placed the future of God’s creation in the hands of people, people who didn’t have the knowledge or wisdom of God. Can you imagine that? God placed the future of something as magnificent as creation in the hands of beings who pretty much didn’t have a clue.
I’m not sure there’s really an analog to this to which we can relate. I suppose it would be like spending years and years of your life making/building something wonderful, like a house. You use all of your talents and resources to make that house. Prior to building the house, you imagine it over and again, being sure to envision every single detail down to each nail. Once you start building the house, you scour the earth for the finest resources. You spend every last penny and every ounce of energy you have making sure to get it just right. And then, after the house is finished, even while you’re still marveling at the fact of its reality and that it turned out exactly as you had imagined, you hire a child to watch over the house for you while you go to run some errands. The child hasn’t even been alive for as long as you’ve been working on that house. And then, while you’re away running those errands, the child caretaker wanders through the house, treating it like a playground, knocking out windows, spray painting over walls, and pretty much making the house unrecognizable as the fruit of your labor…before you’ve really gotten a chance to even experience the full majesty of what you’ve built.
During the sermons this Advent season, we’ve been looking at some of the people mentioned in the genealogies of Jesus found near the beginning of the gospels of Matthew and Luke, trying to figure out what God was trying to tell us through these ancestors of Jesus…because God must have chosen these ancestors of Jesus very carefully (or God wouldn’t have led Matthew and Luke to write their names down in the gospels)…and because Jesus’ ancestors are also OUR spiritual ancestors and therefore have quite a bit to teach us about God’s desires for us and all the world.
Today’s ancestor of Jesus is Joseph, a man who I think often gets short-changed with regard to our focus…because Joseph wasn’t Jesus’ bio-dad but was rather what we would call Jesus’ adoptive father…and because Joseph doesn’t show up in the gospel narratives of Jesus’ ministry. By the time of Jesus’ ministry, Joseph seems to disappear, which has led to quite a bit of speculation regarding “why”.
Today, we’re going to focus on why I believe BOTH Matthew and Luke include Joseph in their genealogies – from the standpoint of Joseph as one of our ancestors in the faith – even though Joseph was NOT one of Jesus’ biological ancestors…and even though Joseph does NOT play a significant role in Jesus’ ministry.
Y’all, even though Joseph isn’t mentioned much in the gospels past the first few chapters, when it comes to understanding what Jesus would be about, what Jesus IS about, and what WE should be about, Joseph was an incredibly important ancestor in the faith.
Remember what I said a little while ago about Adam and Eve. God had entrusted God’s masterpiece, creation, to those two, to people, and those people messed everything up. They chose a different direction than what God had desired.
And God had continued to work with people to try to get things back on track. God called a special people, a “chosen” people, Israel, to be a light for God to the world, to try to get people to do what God had always wanted people to do. Through Israel, God once again entrusted the future of the world to people. But that didn’t work out so well. Like Adam and Eve before them, God’s special chosen people chose against God. So God allowed Israel to be overtaken by a foreign power…but God didn’t give up on Israel. God called the Israelites back to the Promised Land and once again entrusted the future of creation to them…which didn’t go well…again.
Remember that house I told you about. Can you imagine if you had built that amazing house, entrusted it to a kid who absolutely distorted it from your original vision, so then you entrusted it to another kid who distorted the house even more…TWICE…if that had happened, might you consider changing course from entrusting your house to children?
And yet, Joseph is a reminder that God DID NOT change course. Even as God sent a Savior into the world, God entrusted the future of that Savior – and so the very future of humanity and creation – to another couple, what we might call a new Adam and Eve, whose names were Mary and Joseph. Today, we’re focusing on Joseph. Y’all, if Joseph had chosen poorly like so many of his ancestors in the faith, the Jesus event we remember and celebrate would have happened very differently.
Consider the whole virgin conception thing. For Mary, hearing the news that she would conceive a child without ever having had sexual relations with a man must have been overwhelming; she faced a death sentence. But our focus today is Joseph. And I would submit Joseph’s situation was even more difficult than Mary’s . At least Mary knew for SURE. But Joseph? Imagine hearing from your bride-to-be that she was pregnant. You’ve never had sex with her, and she claims the child to be the work of the Holy Spirit. Even if you were a religious person, even if you believed in the possibility of virgin birth, would you really believe that your bride-to-be, whom you didn’t know well at all, was the once in all of human history recipient of virgin conception…or would you imagine Mary might have concocted this story as a way of covering up something else and soliciting your help to prevent a death sentence? My friends, God entrusted the future of creation to a man who would receive perhaps the most unbelievable news in all of human history; God staked the future of SALVATION on the possibility that this man would believe the unbelievable. Even after God sent an angel of the Lord to Joseph in a dream, what are the odds that ANY man would go along with this scheme?
But there’s more. Even after Joseph went along with the first part of God’s plan – a seemingly billion to one shot – it’s not like Jesus was born into a kind, gentle world that would simply celebrate his existence. No, Jesus was born into a world in which the powerful people – like King Herod – would see Jesus as a threat and do everything they could to try to kill him. But God didn’t send Jesus into the world as a fully grown warrior who could protect himself from the likes of Herod; no, God sent Jesus into the world as a helpless baby. Which means, once again, God was entrusting the future of creation to Joseph. God allowed Joseph to CHOOSE once again: choose to be the protector of this child who wasn’t even his own or choose to allow the cruelty of the powerful of the world to win. Remember, a choice to stand against Herod was almost certainly a choice of a death sentence…all to protect a child who was not Joseph’s biological son.
My friends, I’m, not sure what was more amazing: that by the time of Jesus’ birth God chose to entrust Jesus’ life to a human being – to Joseph – after God’s decisions to entrust anything to people hadn’t gone so well in the past OR that Joseph actually went along and acted in accordance with God’s plan. But, Joseph did.
Which brings me to us. Just like God entrusted Jesus’ birth and Jesus’ life to the righteousness of Joseph a couple thousand years ago, God entrusts the Messiah to ordinary people like us. Really, God does.
If you think I’m being overly dramatic when I say that God is entrusting the Messiah to people like us – after all, Jesus lived and died and rose again and ascended a long time ago – I encourage you to take a look around. We need look no further than this holiday for which we are preparing to celebrate to see how the Messiah is being entrusted to us.
This Christmas we’re about to celebrate, what has it become in our society, and what is it becoming? At grocery stores, Christmas is about candy and lights and decorations of wintery characters like snowmen. On the radio – or whatever technological gizmo is the equivalent of the radio today – the top 5 vocal Christmas songs for this year are “Take me Home for Christmas”, “All I want for Christmas is You”, “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree”, “Jingle Bell Rock”, and “It’s Beginning to Look at Lot Like Christmas”. Not a single one of these has ANYTHING to do with Jesus. The Christmas buying season, which grows with each and every year – is at best very loosely related to the gift-giving of the magi…but I doubt very much that most people who buy and give gifts this or any year relate their gift-giving experience to Jesus. The holiday specials on TV – well, they’re “holiday” specials. Sure, some of them have the word “Christmas” in the title, but, for the most part, they’re considered Christmas movies or specials because they’re set in this wintry time of year, not because they have anything to do with Jesus. My point is this: our culture is working to take Jesus out of Christmas, the very holiday that’s supposed to celebrate Jesus’ birth and that was NAMED after Jesus. If society can work to take Jesus out of Christmas, how long will it be before very few, if any people at all, can remember who Jesus was, who Jesus IS, and what Jesus is about? For a while, people might know the NAME Jesus, but how long is it before ANYONE will know Jesus as Messiah?
Which means: God has been entrusting Messiah to people all along. In any generation, in every generation, if the people who know Messiah don’t do something to share the message of Messiah and KEEP ON sharing the message of Messiah, the knowledge of Messiah will simply fade away. Really, it will. God could intervene – maybe someday God will intervene – but, at the moment, God is entrusting Messiah to people like us. (Actually, even if God does intervene in the future, shouldn’t we expect God to intervene in ways similar to how God has intervened in the past…which means in ways that STILL entrust the future of Messiah to the choices of people?)
So…God entrusts the continuing knowledge and understanding of Messiah to ordinary people like us. Which ALSO means God continues to entrust the future of creation to people. Because salvation – which is what Jesus was and is about – is about MORE than just our personal salvation as individual people. The biblical concept of salvation is about bringing ALL of creation back into God’s original desires for it. Another way to say this is that God is entrusting the future of creation to YOU, to ME, to US….every bit as much as God entrusted the future of creation to Adam and Eve…and to Joseph and Mary.
What can we do? Hopefully, we can look back to our ancestor in the faith – to Joseph – to get a sense of how to proceed. Joseph was presented with a situation that seemed impossible…his bride-to-be had conceived a child by God’s Holy Spirit and it was Joseph’s job to protect that child…with some help and guidance from angels of the Lord along the way. Joseph’s situation must have seemed impossible, but Joseph got through it, Joseph SUCCEEDED in preserving the future of creation in his time, by following God’s will, God’s lead, as presented to him.
Our task is exactly the same. It might seem impossible that you – a regular, ordinary person like you – could make any kind of a dent in the future of creation. To you, that probably seems as unlikely as Mary’s virgin birth or Joseph’s capability to protect Jesus against a king and the king’s army. However unlikely it may seem, it is true. If you would simply spend your days listening very specifically for how God is guiding you to help preserve and share the message of Jesus, the message of Messiah, and then doing whatever you hear God directing you to do, YOU, yes YOU, will influence the future of creation in accordance with God’s will. It’s up to YOU. THAT is God’s message of Joseph this Advent and Christmas season.