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Nov 27 2022 Advent - the Story of Joseph

The story of Joseph is in Matthew 1: 18 Now the birth of Jesus Christ happened this way. While his mother Mary was engaged to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit. 19 Because Joseph, her husband to be, was a righteous man, and because he did not want to disgrace her, he intended to divorce her privately.

So, we learn 2 things about Joseph’s character in this passage. It says plainly – he was a righteous man. This is before he has heard anything about how Mary got pregnant. Hebrew and Roman law both indicated that in this situation, he should break the engagement. It was more binding than engagement today – it was binding. It was required of him to do this – as a righteous man, there was no other option! They lived in a culture of honor and shame, and to marry her would bring shame upon his family. He did not want to disgrace her.

There were also financial reasons – the dowry would be taken from Mary’s family – and would have caused significant hardship on Mary the rest of her life. Joseph is trying to limit her shame. He is doing everything he possibly can to be compassionate in this situation.

We think – He could have just…

No, he could not have just (whatever) in their world.

We tend to separate righteousness and mercy – but Joseph embodied both of them. You cannot be righteous if you are not merciful. And you cannot be merciful if you are not righteous.

Side-note that just struck me this morning. There is a way to live in a culture – Joseph is living in an honor and shame culture – and there is a way to do that with understanding and respect while quietly subverting it! We can do the same thing. As Christians, we are called to that task all of our lives – every day!

You can respect someone and disagree with them – just to let you know, in case you had never thought of that.

Zechariah 7:9 "This is what the LORD Almighty said: 'Administer true justice; show mercy and compassion to one another. Do not oppress the widow or the fatherless, the foreigner or the poor. Do not plot evil against each other.'

Our fallen human nature – we want to separate mercy and justice and say they are opposed to each other. You have those in the JUSTICE camp – more exacting – following the rules and regulations and laws, and the other side would say they are harsh. Then there is the merciful – and the other side would say they are soft – but true justice is merciful and compassionate. Justice and righteousness are often used together.

This theme of justice and mercy runs together through the book of Matthew.

Matthew 12:1 At that time Jesus went on the Sabbath through the grainfields, and His disciples became hungry and began to pick the heads of grain and eat. 2 But when the Pharisees saw it, they said to Him, "Behold, Your disciples do what is not lawful to do on a Sabbath."

Matthew is going to describe 2 ways to describe righteousness. The first is the way of the Pharisees – that is one way – and for them, they were hyper-focused on implementing the rules and regulations of their scripture and sometimes they did it in excess. This was a story about the Sabbath – and this is one of the things Israel failed to do and they believed it was a reason for the exile and being under Roman oppression. This was critical for them! And we need to understand that about them! They had some right thinking – but twisted it.

Jesus :

3 But He said to them, "Have you not read what David did, when he became hungry, he and his companions; 4 how he entered the house of God, and they ate the consecrated bread, which was not lawful for him to eat, nor for those with him, but for the priests alone?

So, the second way of viewing righteousness is the way of Jesus. He was hyperfocused on human need and well-being – and Jesus believed that the purpose of the law was to meet human need and to create human flourishing and well-being.

There is an interesting phrase here: Have you not read? They had read! They were the Pharisees! They had it all memorized. He is saying – I know you have read it – but don’t you get it?

There is a problem of misunderstanding scripture! That is huge! It is an enormous issue. It comes up over and over again in Matthew! Have you not read – comes up four times. And numerous times of You have heard it said…

5 "Or have you not read in the Law, that on the Sabbath the priests in the temple break the Sabbath, and are innocent? 6 "But I say to you, that something greater than the temple is here.

The Pharisee way of looking at the Bible was flawed – and He explains it:

7 "But if you had known what this means, 'I desire compassion, and not a sacrifice,' you would not have condemned the innocent.

8 "For the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath."

He is quoting scripture – and basically says – this is what it means…

This may be nuanced – but it is okay and important to have thoughtful, deep convictions that we hold to! Good, okay, and important! Thoughtful! We have really thought it out! But it is NOT okay to be sure of yourself! And for those who see those who are ‘sure of themselves’ – you would say – you are not sure they have thought through their deeply held conviction.

This is Joseph’s view of justice – the following of rules and regulations are subservient to the Law in the Bible. Biblical justice and righteousness is all about human need, wellbeing… mercy and compassion.

In the middle of the “woe to you’s” - "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier provisions of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness; but these are the things you should have done without neglecting the others.

Where are the laws about tithing mint and dill and cumin?

What happened in the previous chapter? The pharisees had a plan to trick him – Teacher – which is the great commandment. And the second is like it…

Justice and mercy? Love your neighbor! That’s what they are all about. Faithfulness and loyalty are all about loving God.

Micah 6:8 He has shown you what is good – do justice, love mercy, walk humbly with your God.

Most would say that James is a son of Joseph – the brother of Jesus.

James 2: For judgment will be merciless to one who has shown no mercy; mercy triumphs over judgment.

Some of us have more exacting, rule-oriented personalities -and others have mercy – but that is not the issue – be exacting and demanding about showing mercy and kindness!

For us – our experience – God has been merciful to us in Jesus – but our experience of that is affected by how we show mercy to others.

So, with that – I’d like to give four action steps for us to discuss at the end.

First – visit someone lonely.

Second – welcome a stranger. Whatever that stranger is – could be an immigrant – or someone who fits in the stranger categories in our world.

Give to someone in need

Fourth – serve someone who is unable to meet their own need.

You get the sense that this is a real dilemma for Joseph:

Matthew 1: 20 When he had contemplated 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,

What would Joseph be afraid of? One thing, obvious (or not) in doing so – no one will believe it – this story – and no one did – until after Jesus died! But it means – reputation – Gone! They didn’t wait until the wedding night!

Sometimes we want to do right – as Christians, people who love God – sometimes we have heard stuff – like, this is the right thing – and something inside is saying – I’m not convinced that is the right thing – and we are afraid – there is this conflict – I wonder if Joseph – “Something is not right here – I want to do as I’m told”…

because the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will give birth to a son and you will name him Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins."

Joseph chooses the way of the cross – who made himself to accept the way of shame – giving up himself of his standing and position – sound like someone else?

Being a ‘righteous man’ – was more than just being a good guy – it was a position of title and standing.

Matthew 1: 22 This all happened so that what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet would be fulfilled: 23 "Look! The virgin will conceive and bear a son, and they will call him Emmanuel," which means "God with us."

This is from Isaiah 7 – all of these prophecies – there was a contemporary purpose for all of them (except for a few).This speaks of a virgin – some would say it just means ‘young girl’ but it all points to Jesus. God’s purpose and plan is revealed in Emmanuel.

Everything God did was to be with us!

Ephesians 1: 3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, 4 just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world (before Genesis 1:1!), that we would be holy and blameless before Him. In love 5 [e]He predestined us to adoption as sons and daughters through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will, 6 to the praise of the glory of His grace, with which He favored us in the Beloved.

Christmas is the fulfillment – the Advent of what God wanted from eternity past – and it will happen again – step 1 of the final fulfillment.


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