Joseph's Good News of Great Joy?
23rd December 2007
Carol Reynolds: Ruthie has an international friend that she and Jamie minister to named Shermie. She is a Chinese student – and she needed some money and what they do – they work in Chinese restaurants. Ruthie had told her that she could call us if she had any problems. One night late, Rick and I were watching CSI – and they were getting to the Whodunit and the telephone rings - Ruthie called and said that Shermie needed some help. She had been fired from her job and needed to come stay with us for the night. When she came, I got her settled in. We could tell she was sad because she needed the job. In their culture, they are so respectful to their elders and kept thanking us. The next morning, all my to-do’s went out the window. Shermie needed a mom around. We were having tea – and she told me that she had called her mom – and her mom told her not to worry – she’ll get another job. And right then, I really liked her mom! Shermie looked at me with childlike glee and said – “Oh Carol, I am so excited - this is the first time I get to celebrate Jesus’ birthday!” - She had received Christ about two months ago - And I thought – This is what it is all about! Not about lists. Not about hurrying and worrying about this gift and that gift and food and relatives and friends. It is all about Jesus – His love to us. She was so excited – just like when we were kids - All you women know the smell of that brand new doll – or you men, got the rock-em sockem things – and you were so excited to open that – well, that was the look in her eye as she said, I get to celebrate Jesus’ birthday.
Why do I worry about all the gifts and food – when this is what it is all about?
I asked her if she had told her mom yet, and she said, no, she was afraid she (the mom) might be persecuted. She is hoping to share with her mom someday. She still has trials – she still needs a job – it won’t be a perfect Christmas for Shermie. There are no perfect Christmases. But we who have Christ have to be a light for Jesus – we have to share it. Remember the gift He gave – He was born for YOU! He loves you so much. Downstairs, we will be having a birthday party for Jesus – and that is what I will focus on with them. Jesus was born for us! Hallelujah and Merry Christmas!
What the Lord showed me – if I had been so “Gotta get the list done” – I’d have missed out. It was like the V8 commercial – God slapping me in the head and saying, Carol – this is what it is all about. Whether you have a lot of gifts or none, or a crappy family that fights a lot – remember that that is what it is all about.
Mike Marette: Lord, thank You for this Christmas season. Thank You for Carol’s testimony – that is life – things go wrong – but help us to respond in a way that understands that what really matters is You. Thank You that You live inside of us. Thank You for that baby – that transforms our lives. Help us to listen and learn from You. In humility, we want You to speak to us.
In the Christmas story – when the angel came – I bring you good news of a great joy – if you have seen Charlie Brown’s Christmas – Linus reads that. Good news of great joy. In reality, if you read the Christmas story – this good news – at first, the news was not of great joy – but in some ways, disturbing and disruptive, at least at first – if you look at their stories. It came as a surprise – an unexpected turn of events for them. Many of us have had the infamous phone call that changes our lives forever. For some of these folks who first experienced the coming of Christ, it was kind of like that phone call for them.
I’d like to look at Joseph. At first, the news took him aback. It was life-altering.
Matt. 1: 18 Now the birth of Jesus Christ was as follows. When His mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child by the Holy Spirit.
Betrothed = engaged. It was a little different in their day. When a couple in this time – the couple would come together – have a ceremony – commitment – signing a covenant. And after a long period – maybe up to a year – during which the groom would go off and get the home ready – and then he would come for his bride. She did not always know when he was coming – but the engagement period was not much different than marriage – EXCEPT they did not have physical relations. In order to break it – it was a terrible thing – it was like a divorce. Not like when two are engaged today and if she wants to break it off she just throws the ring at the guy.
For one to be pregnant – it was no different than adultery.
What is he feeling? She says, I am pregnant by the Holy Spirit. Come on! She has betrayed me and cheated and broken her covenant with me. Not good news of a great joy. Think of the excitement of engagement – all of a sudden it is destroyed. What is interesting is Joseph’s response in v 19 – where we get an understanding of the quality of person Joseph is. When we sing the Christmas carols – Mary, the shepherds, etc – are all in there a lot – but Joseph is not in there a lot. We think – God chose Mary, and Joseph just happened to be engaged to her – but that is not the case.
19 And Joseph her husband, being a righteous man, and not wanting to disgrace her, desired to put her away secretly.
Joseph is a righteous man – a man of Character – obedient to the Law – but also a man of compassion and mercy. The reality was, in his day, these men were far and few between. The people of the Law were rarely people of compassion – they were more likely people of justice. Joseph was more like Jesus. I desire compassion – not sacrifice. Justice/Mercy come together. Real justice is understandable only in the light of mercy and compassion. Joseph was like Jesus.
For a situation like this – there are three options – Biblically. The first option – Stoning – found in Exodus and Deuteronomy. By the time of Jesus’ day – this was almost never practiced. It was not the practice of Israel. When they brought the adulteress before Jesus – they just wanted to test Him.
Second – Public Divorce – to humiliate her and say publicly – I am righteous in this situation. People would say bad things about Joseph.
Third – Private letter of Divorce. What we have with Joseph – he chooses the way of compassion. He obeys the Law, compassionately. From that we will learn why God chose Him.
Let me read from this book:
The birth of Jesus is the central majesty of History. The resurrection validated His claims. His birth was a strategic miracle. It plunged the world into significance. But even great events can disturb those who are God’s partners. Joseph – was disturbed by Mary’s pregnancy – an evident case of infidelity. He planned to put her away in such a manner as to protect her. Let Joseph teach you how to not have a vindictive spirit. You will meet someone with a great fault – and remember that those who are outcast should still be loved.
When Joseph got the bad news, he had a decision to make. And so with us – when we are hurt, we have a decision to make. We can choose the way of righteousness and compassion – or choose selfishness and looking out for our personal rights.
From a practical standpoint – when we think about compassion and kindness, we have three hindrances or roadblocks. Compassion and mercy are never fair. Somebody is not going to get what they deserve, and that can bother us. IF you choose to offer compassion and mercy, you are allowing someone to not get what they should rightfully get. When someone offends us, our human tendency is to want them to get their just desserts. But God’s mercy to us is that we don’t get what we deserve. If you have come to Christ, you won’t get what you deserve. You deserve his punishment that he received. Second - Mercy and compassion are often abused and taken advantage of – and that offends us. Why did I do that in the first place? But that is what mercy and compassion are. People took advantage of Christ’s compassion over and over again. But He offers it. God wants us to do the same. Like letting someone in on the highway and then they cut you off. Maybe you can think of a better example. Third, mercy and compassion are rarely appreciated. How many appreciated Christ’s sacrifice at the time? Few. Look at the ten lepers – how many came back? One. Christ gave knowing that most would not come back and say thank you. In many ways – Joseph is demonstrating Christ’s character.
Matt. 1:20 But when he had considered this (putting her away privately), behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, "Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife; for that which has been conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit.
I think God – in choosing Joseph – begins to include Joseph in His plan. At that point – there was only one who knew the plan – Mary – but when the difficulty entered Joseph’s life- he made the right decision and God began to open up his mind and gave an understanding of what He is doing in this circumstance.
God often wants us to understand His purpose – and why we should respond in the way He wants. We rarely understand why things happen the way they do. Something happens – and we don’t understand it – but we can understand what God wants of us in the circumstance we are in.
God makes it clear how Joseph is to respond and what He is to do.
Joseph, Son of David – That is a tip-off. This phrase points toward the Messiah. Who knows how old Joseph is – but he probably heard the stories about how through his line the Messiah would come – but he probably thought it was not him – but when God says – Joseph, son of David – it clues him in to the most important part he will play.
Do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife.
If he does this – his reputation is gone. OH – HE IS MARRYING HER! We know what that means!
You get the bad news – and all of a sudden there is a complete change. It is like Joseph is reborn – she wasn’t unfaithful! There is no betrayal!
Matt.1:21 "And she will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus, for it is He who will save His people from their sins."
Jesus = Yahweh saves
The Messiah – you shall name him. In their culture – the only person who could name the child was the actual parents – it was an honor and a privilege. We either name our kids something to honor someone or something we heard on TV! (Or a Bible character). But for them, the naming was critical – and God was going to let Joseph participate in the naming – to walk alongside God in the work that was to be done.
God is calling us to the same thing – to participate – with Him – in His work in people’s lives today. There are opportunities – over your entire life – over the next week – if we learn, like Joseph, to focus on compassion and kindness – the opportunity will become clear to us. Like Carol said – that is what it is all about. The joy in participating with God in helping others. Everything else is secondary to that.
For it is He who will save people from their sins. It is something of great joy.
Matt. 1:22 Now all this took place that what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet might be fulfilled, saying, 23 "Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and shall bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel," which translated means, "God with us."’
Think about this – we all want God with us. We want to experience His presence. Joseph and Mary – What God is saying to them – from a practical realm – this married couple had God with them, PHYSICALLY, all the time! How weird is that! We have this sense of God with us – but they HELD HIM. Mary treasured these things in her heart. When they had the wedding at Cana – Mary asked Jesus – She knew what she was asking – God with us. How often did they go back to that?!
Matt. 1:24 And Joseph arose from his sleep, and did as the angel of the Lord commanded him, and took [her] as his wife, 25 and kept her a virgin until she gave birth to a Son; and he called His name Jesus.
Such simple phrases – but Joseph was righteous, compassionate – and did exactly what God asked. Knowing God’s will is not usually the issue. It is often clear what God wants from us – what is hard is doing it! But like with Joseph – when we do it, we get to participate with God in the work He is doing.
Lord, help us with this Christmas story – to become better people – to become more like Christ. As we see Christ in the story of Christmas - yeah, it is nice to have the manger and that warms our hearts – but may it change us to be like Christ, the one who came.
In Your Name we pray.