He Will Save His People

Advent 2019  •  Sermon  •  Submitted   •  Presented   •  40:46
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Matthew 1:18–25 NIV
This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit. Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly. But after he had considered 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 home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”). When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. But he did not consummate their marriage until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus.
The text doesn’t tell us how Joseph found out about Mary’s pregnancy. We don’t know if the news was shared by a tear-filled, anxiety-ridden Mary. We don’t know if it was a friend who heard from a friend who heard from Elizabeth. Or it could have been that, after returning from her visit with Elizabeth, she was no longer able to hide the signs of growing life. However he found out, it had to feel like a blow. Be- trothal wasn’t like a modern-day engagement, where all you need to do is return a ring and cancel your wedding plans. Betrothal was just as contractual as our marriages are today. It required a certificate of divorce. Their commitment was deep. But then everything changed.
Mary could explain as many times as she wanted that this child wasn’t another man’s, but who would believe that? Joseph may have been a righteous man, but he wasn’t delusional. He knew how ba- bies were made, and even in the stories he heard growing up of God intervening to grant children to the prophets of old, they still involved a man and a woman. She had obviously had an affair—or maybe she had been raped. The whole spectrum of emotions and explanations probably swirled into his mind.
He could have her brought to trial to decide if she was a victim, a participant in prostitution, or had had an affair. He could have her brought out of her home, where she most likely lived with her parents, to be stoned in front of the entire community. These actions would have been within his rights, and nobody would’ve blamed him. That was what people did in those days for such crimes against the law of God.
This is not Luke’s birth narrative. There are no angels singing in the sky to peaceful shepherds in a field. No halos sitting over Mary’s head. This is not the sanitized nativity scene we see all over this time of year. This is messy, chaotic, awkward, and hard. This is real life, and it involves difficult decisions, destroyed reputations, rumors, and hardship. Jesus did not come into a sanitized nativity scene. Rather, Jesus came into this very messy, chaotic, awkward, hard world—through ordinary people called to extraordinary things.

Joseph was a righteous man

Imagine being Joseph. It doesn’t matter what Mary says—it would still be difficult to believe. You would go through all your options, but most of us wouldn’t land where Joseph did. Consider this:
It would be easy for him to cry out for justice.
We know that people lashed out at others for less.
The feelings of betrayal would be hard to see through.
This marriage was not necessarily a marriage of love. It most likely was contractual between Mary’s family and Joseph.
He would have promised an amount of money for her—which he wouldn’t have to pay if he could prove she had been raped or unfaithful.
His reputation could also be saved and his side of the contract upheld if he took her to trial and found out about some sort of infidelity on her part.
Despite this being a contractual relationship and an unbelievable situation, he chooses the path least damaging—not to himself but to Mary: divorce.
A quiet divorce would not necessarily prevent rumors. There’s a chance people would always believe they had broken a vow to not sleep together until the marriage was complete.
A quiet divorce would, however, possibly give Mary a chance at just returning to her parents’ home. While she would still have a difficult life ahead, she would be alive, versus a stoning or a lengthy, public, shameful that could still end in death for her.
Joseph’s act of mercy shows us that, though he is a man committed to Jewish law, he is also a per- son of mercy.
He clearly has love for Mary. Whether his feelings toward her are romantic isn’t clear, but what is clear is that he cares enough about her to seek mercy.
“Righteous” is often described as doing the right things for the right reasons, and this defines Joseph. Despite the pain, he wanted to do what was right for those involved.

The world is still a messy place.

While some of us live comfortably, not all do. Even in America, children go to bed hungry.
Drugs are still a source of addiction.
The refugee crisis seems to keep worsening.
There is war. There is poverty.
We know that even in our own lives things are messy. i. There are diagnoses no one wanted.
Death still happens, and sometimes at the worst times. We are busy, and life is hard.
There is so much in our world that seems difficult.
How will we respond? Will we consider all our options? Will we go with what comes easy? Or could we like Joseph be consider righteous people. People who try to do what is best for all.

God announces good news to Joseph.

The text says that an angel comes to Joseph in a dream when he had resolved to divorce her—when the decision had been made in his mind.
i. This couldn’t have been an easy decision, and the decision he made illustrated his righteous- ness.
Joseph wakes up and doesn’t hesitate to do what was asked of him.
This was not a small thing to follow through with, even after the dream. Joseph knew what this would mean.
There would be rumors. The righteous Mary and Joseph would be viewed as less than righteous by certain people.
Reputations would change.
Joseph would claim this child—who is not his—as his own.
While Joseph knew some of the immediate consequences of claiming this child as his, he had no idea what would await him.
Having any child is a life-changing experience, but how do you prepare for the son of God?
There is not a book on what to expect when you’re expecting the son of God.
Joseph’s commitment to the call of God to parent this child was an adventure into unknown places.
Yet he also would have grown up with the Hebrew scriptures, what the prophets had said, and he
would have known this road would not be easy.
The call of God on his life was stronger than Joseph’s desire to flee.
Even after the angel appeared, he could have left, yet he didn’t.
Joseph desired to follow God, even if that meant running right into this God-ordained mess.
All of his previous plans for his life with Mary have suddenly changed, yet he still chooses to follow. Good things begin to come to pass....
The name “Jesus” fulfills the promise that God has heard the cries of his people.
Jesus will save the people from their sins.

God proclaims good news into our mess

Advent is about our anticipation of Christ’s birth and his return, but it also is a time for us to look
for where God is at work now in our world. We sometimes can’t see the work of God in our world because we are so focused on the bad, but
God is still God-with-us:
In beautiful moments.
When people share.
When people choose the hard work of peace over conflict.
Jesus has come to save his people from their sins. Really to save all and any people who wish to be saved from their sins.
Just as God invited Joseph into his story, we are gloriously invited to be written into this narrative. Where do you fit? How will the good news flow through you and us this season and beyond?
Call his name Jesus. He will save his people from his sins. Emmanuel, God with us. That changes everything. Has it changed you? Is it changing others through you?
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