The Fourth Sunday in Advent December 24, 2017
Text: Matthew 1:18-25 ILCW Series C 17:2042
Theme: Testimony of One Who Was There: Joseph, a Righteous Man
Are you ready for Christmas? Tree up, shopping done, cookies baked, gifts wrapped? It doesn’t just happen. You must plan for it and do it.
That’s right, Christmas doesn’t just happen. It didn’t just happen for God either. He had a long-range plan, starting back in the Garden of Eden. After Adam and Eve fell into sin, God promised to send a Savior to crush Satan’s power. The plan took some 4000 years and was carried out through ordinary people of humble backgrounds, like me.
I am Joseph, a descendent of David. How I became a part of God’s plan is beyond me. Why me? I was without any earthly distinctions, just a poor carpenter from the backwoods town of Nazareth.
You might say that it took place because I happened to fall in love with a young woman from my town. But then, in God’s way of dealing with us, things don’t just happen. He knows the plans that He has for us. I will tell you how it happened for me because I was there when the Savior was born. This is the Testimony of a Righteous Man.
I. A righteous man with a spirit of forgiveness.
My story begins about 6 months before the account of Jesus’ birth. I was pledged to be married to a young woman, Mary. We were like any two young people in love. At our engagement, we promised in the presence of our parents to be faithful to each other. Our engagement was fully binding, tantamount to marriage. It only lacked the Jewish ceremonies that made it final. Those would happen in another 6 months to a year. But even though we did not live together and have intimate relations with each other, to our people and before God any breaking of the promises we had made would be an act of unfaithfulness. It would be considered adultery. And God’s O.T. laws governing adultery were clear – death by stoning to the guilty parties at the city gate. He declared, “You must purge the evil from among you” (Dt.22:24ff).
At the time my story begins my heart was heavy because when Mary returned from a three month visit with her cousin Elizabeth, it was plainly evident that she was pregnant. I don’t know if it happened while she was gone, or before she went away, it was just evident that a child was growing within her. But I was sure of one thing: I was not the father! By itself that would have been sin enough because we were not yet fully married. But we had promised ourselves to each other; and promises before God and man are binding. What other conclusion could I draw except that she was unfaithful? Now what should I do?
I’m a man of principle – God’s principles. I’m a man of faith, faith in the God of Israel. I want to do what is right in His eyes. Adultery is sin. In the Bible He links it with idolatry. Both are the products of unfaithfulness. Under those circumstances I felt that I could not carry out our marriage. To just go on would be seen as nothing less than condoning her sin. I’m a righteous man and cannot condone sin.
At the same time I remember how the Lord is full of compassion, slow to anger and abounding in love, forgiving wickedness, rebellion, and sin. (Ja.5:11;Ex.34:6f) He desires mercy (Ho.6:6). Oh, how merciful He’s been to me, a poor sinful being.
Mary proclaimed her innocence. She said something about an angel announcing a conception within her by the Holy Ghost. What was I to think? She kept to her story, pleading with me to take it to God.
I didn’t know what to do. How could I go on with the marriage? At the same time I did not want harm or disgrace to fall upon her. I loved her. So I chose to do what I felt the Lord would want: to go on in a spirit of forgiveness, divorce her privately, and thus keep the whole matter to us. You see I loved her, even as God loves me and forgives me. It’s what a righteous man does; he lives with a spirit of forgiveness – no matter how grievous the sin against him is.
You know, that would be the best gift that you could also give. Not clothes, gift cards, perfumes, or electronic toys; but forgiveness. Are there problems, difficulties, or conflicts that tear at your family, too? Give the gift of forgiveness this Christmas – first in words, then in deeds. Treat others the way God in His compassion has treated you.
II. A righteous man who accepted an amazing miracle.
Oh, it’s not easy for us because we are tortured by many thoughts. I was too. All kinds of thoughts and doubts filled my heart. They wore me out. And when I fell asleep, I began to dream. But this was not like any of my other dreams. This was different; it was divine. An angel visited me 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….And, as was prophesied of old, you will call Him Immanuel – God with us.”
He spoke with such heavenly authority that I knew it to be true. So Mary was right. She had not been unfaithful to me. You don’t know how much of a relief that was – not unfaithful but the instrument of God to bring about something for which we had long waited – the arrival of the One who was going to redeem us to God. The Savior would enter our world as the son of a virgin, through the Holy Spirit. That’s a miracle. No woman has ever conceived a child without a man being involved. This was God acting in her apart from all laws of nature.
But that’s not the most astonishing part. The most amazing aspect of this miracle was that the eternal, almighty God came into this world as a man. God who fills the universe in every way humbled Himself to be confined in the tiny cavity deep within a mother’s womb. This is by far the most amazing miracle in all history. As the Bible says, “In Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form” (Col.2:9). That’s like trying to pour the entire ocean into a gallon bottle. It can’t be done by men. But as the angel said, “Nothing is impossible with God” (Lk.1:37). I could accept that – an amazing miracle from God.
But it is only accepted in faith. I still don’t understand how, but I understand the why. This is God’s Son, divine, conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary. He is the Savior; He is your Lord. If you are a believing man, you will accept it, too. God has spoken!
III. A righteous man who responded in faith to God’s command.
When the angel was done speaking I awoke. What joy and relief flooded my soul. My doubts were erased. I took the angel at his word and responded in faith. How could I doubt God to do what the angel said He would? I took Mary as my wife, and she took me as her husband, just as we had promised to each other before God.
I will never cease to marvel at her faith in all of this. She was more righteous than I. After all that she had been through with me and other people’s pointing fingers, she clung in faith to God’s promises. Her faith shines so brightly through the whole Christmas story. Most of all the grace of God in sending a Savior brought joy and peace deep within her heart. God and sinners would soon be reconciled.
I felt the same way – so grateful that my Savior was to be born. I was privileged to see it first-hand. Right then and there I renewed my resolve to be the most responsible husband and step-father that I could. I responded in faith to God’s command and took Mary as my wife. When Jesus was born, I saw to it that all the laws and customs of God were carried out. When His life was threatened by Herod, I took him out of the country because the time for Him to complete our salvation was not yet ready. I took Him to the temple when He became of age
and brought Him to the Scriptures, even though, as God’s Son, He knew them far better than I did. Like a good Jewish father, I taught our son a trade – He became a carpenter until God’s ways for Him would be made known. I treated Him like my own son.
What can a father give his children? Love, protection, an education – all are important. But parents can give their children nothing more precious than the example of faith in God’s promise and obedience to His ways. Even though our son was perfect, I still tried my best to do that, for that is what a righteous man does.
I pray that you do the same. Live God’s spirit of forgiveness; accept in faith this miracle of the Savior’s birth; and respond in faith by striving to keep His commands. There is no better life you can give to God and no better example to your children than this. It doesn’t just happen. In grace God plans and brings it about through you. God grant us all such a life this Christmas and always; for Jesus’ sake.