A Christmas Face Lift, Part 2

Matthew 1:18-25

Joseph Accepts Jesus as His Son

18 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. 19 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.

20 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. 21 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.”

22 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: 23 “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel”(which means “God with us”).

24 When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. 25 But he did not consummate their marriage until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus.

Dear Friends in Christ,

Every class has one.  And I’m not sure why, but it’s usually a boy. He’s the one who makes everyone else laugh, the one who never seems to take anything seriously, the one who acts up in class and can be either a teacher’s biggest ally or a teacher’s biggest thorn in the side.  I don’t know what they’re called in today’s terminology, but back when I was in school we called such a person the class clown.  Ours was named Scott.  Scott was an exceptionally talented drummer who was playing with well known bands in our area when he was just in grade school.  And oh was he ever funny!  He had an uncanny ability to imitate just about every teacher in our school.  He had their voices, their mannerisms, and their little idiosyncrasies down pat.  And it just so happened that Scott was one of my best friends in high school, one of the 4 or 5 guys that I ran around with.  He came from a strong Catholic family, even went to Catholic school for 8 years.  Though I’m sure he would have classified himself as a Christian back then, that didn’t stop him from sometimes making some very hurtful comments toward certain kids in our class, comments that were intended to be funny but that I’m sure cut deep into the hearts of those who received them.  And sadly, sometimes those comments were reserved for the most religious and spiritual students in our school.

Well, after high school I pretty well lost track of Scott.  We went our separate ways and pursued different careers, he an electrician and I a pastor.  But some years ago he somehow got a hold of my e-mail address and contacted me.  And it was like he couldn’t wait to tell me what had happened to him.  At some point long after high school, Scott had a life-changing, or maybe I should say a heart-changing experience.  He went from being a Christian in name only to being a Christian in every area and aspect of his life.  In fact, he and I attended a Christian retreat together after this remarkable transformation that had occurred in him.  But what really let me know that this change was legitimate  was when he told me about our 25th high school class reunion that I did not attend but that he did.  He said that there he had the opportunity to not only apologize to some of the ones whom he remembered he had really hurt in high school, but he also witnessed to them and tried to lead them to the Lord.

Scott had learned an important lesson that it would do us all well to learn.  And that is that when it comes to God there is room for only 1 reputation.  It’s either yours or his.  Either you’re concerned about what people think about you or you’re concerned about what people think about God.  God shares center stage with no one.

That’s a lesson that Joseph, the earthly father of Jesus, learned.  He had a reputation to protect and as a result he had a dilemma to solve.  Let me explain what I mean by that as we wrap up a 2-part Advent sermon series today that I’ve entitled “A Christmas Faith Lift.”

Joseph, as we all know, was a carpenter.  He lived in the small, obscure, out of the way town of Nazareth.  Joseph appears to have been a quiet man.  In fact, did you know that we have no actual words of his recorded anywhere in Scripture?  But even though he was quiet, he did a lot in that he was obedient and faithful to God in every situation and challenge that came his way.

So in Joseph we have a quiet, soft spoken, small town carpenter.  And we’re tempted to say, “Come on, God!  Couldn’t you do any better than that for the earthly father of Jesus?  Someone with a little eloquence.  Someone with a little more flash or pizzazz.”  What was it that caused God to look across the landscape of time at all the available men in history and point to Joseph and say “There’s the one I want.  That’s the one who’s going to serve as the earthly father for my heavenly Son.”  The major part of the answer to that question can be found in a word that we used earlier, the word reputation.  Joseph was willing to surrender his reputation so that Jesus could come into this world.  Now you might be wondering, “But what reputation could a lowly carpenter from a hick town possibly have?”

Well, the answer to that question can be found in a word that is used to describe Joseph in our text.  In v. 19 we read: “Because Joseph her husband was a righteous man and did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.”  Note the phrase “righteous man.”  As I was working on this sermon, I discovered that in the Hebrew culture and language the word that would have been used there to describe Joseph would have been the word tsadiq.  It was more of a title than a description.  It meant a very religious man, a man who was known in his culture as one who carefully observed the Law and followed the Jewish traditions and rituals prescribed in that Law.  A tsadiq would be comparable in our culture to an elder or a deacon in the church, one who by profession is not a clergyman, but one who by his dedication and demeanor is a recognized and respected leader of the church.

That was Joseph’s reputation, a reputation that was jeopardized greatly when the young lady he was engaged to, Mary, informed him that she was pregnant.  So what’s a tsadiq to do?  His fiancée is tainted, an embarrassment to him.  He’s righteous, she’s supposedly unrighteous.  He’s godly, she’s supposedly ungodly.  He knows he’s not the father.  And according to the Law of Moses he could have had her stoned to death.  But Joseph was a kind man.  And not wanting to disgrace Mary, Matthew tells us in our text “he had in mind to divorce her quietly.”  That statement gives us a great glimpse into the heart of Joseph.  On one hand he had the Law; on the other hand he had his love.  The Law said to punish her.  His love said to forgive her and protect her.  And Joseph is caught in the middle.

Interestingly our God experienced a similar tension.  The Law said he had every right to punish us for our sins.  But his love said to forgive and save the sinner.  So guess what he did?  He did both by placing your sin on his Son and punishing him in your place.  Thus your sin problem was rectified, his justice was satisfied, and his love for you was magnified.

Joseph, I’m sure, was looking for a similar solution to his dilemma, but he couldn’t find it.  So he decides, “I’ll divorce her quietly,” which is pretty tough to imagine because how does a person of high standing divorce someone quietly in a small town like Nazareth?  But that appears to be the only option Joseph has. That is, until he falls asleep and an angel appears to him in a dream and explains to him the circumstances surrounding Mary’s pregnancy. Her growing belly is not a cause for concern but a reason to rejoice.  For Mary is pregnant by an act of God with none other than the very Son of God.

Now I want you to put yourself in Joseph’s place for a moment.  I suspect his initial reaction to the angel’s message was one of relief as he realized Mary had not been unfaithful to him and the wedding could still go on.  But I’m sure that relief was quickly trumped by one big question: Who’s going to believe this story?  Can you imagine Joseph being called in to a meeting of the synagogue leaders, his fellow tsadiqs, if you will, and they’re all sitting around him with stern looks on their faces?  Finally one of them says, “So Joseph, we have received word that your fiancée Mary is pregnant.  Is this true?”  Joseph nods his head yes.  “Well, Joseph,” the questioner continues, “is this child she is carrying yours?”  Joseph shakes his head no.  “Then do you know how she became pregnant?” Right there Joseph finds himself at a crossroads, doesn’t he?  If he tells a lie and says he doesn’t know, he can protect his reputation as a tsadiq but in all likelihood lose Mary.  If he tells the truth, he can probably kiss his littletsadiq reputation good-by because who’s going to believe it.

So what does he do?  Verse 24 of our text says: “He did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife.”  He swapped his tsadiq position and reputation for a pregnant girlfriend and what most would perceive to be an illegitimate son.  He made the big decision of discipleship: “I’m going to please God instead of pleasing people.”  He placed God’s plan ahead of his reputation.

The question is: Are you willing to do the same?  Whose reputation are you trying to protect these days, yours or God’s?  Imagine you’re on a business trip with your boss and several associates and after a day of successful meetings you all go out to eat at a nice restaurant and enjoy a good meal together.  Then the boss looks at his watch and says, “It’s too early to turn in, boys.  What do you say we go celebrate some more at this nice gentleman’s club down the street where the drinks are cold and the ladies are hot.”  There you are at a crossroads where you get to choose between your reputation or God’s.  If you go, you can polish your reputation in the eyes of your boss, but you can tarnish your reputation in the eyes of God.  And you can tarnish God’s reputation too because those who call themselves his children don’t frequent places like that.

Here’s another scenario.  You’re content with the role of being a December Christian.  December has always been your big month spiritually.  It’s the month that you attend church and sing songs and think spiritual thoughts.  Come January you’ll forget all that and get back to normal.  But then something happens this December.  Somehow it all connects.  The intensity and the immensity of the Christmas event hit you.  That’s God in that manger!  That’s God on that cross!  That’s your name on his lips!  And all of a sudden being a December Christian just won’t cut it anymore and you’re having these wild and wacky thoughts like going to a Bible study on Sunday morning or reading your Bible every day, and you’re asking questions like “Does the church meet in the summer?” because you’ve never been there in the summer. Something has happened inside of you and it feels so good and so right.  But when you tell your family and friends, they don’t exactly share you’re enthusiasm.  They think there’s something wrong with you.  They liked you better as a December Christian.  So you have to choose.  Whose reputation is it going to be?  Yours or God’s?  It can be a tough choice, can’t it?  And if, by chance, you need some help in bringing your reputation into subjection to God’s, he will sometimes give you the help you need, not necessarily the help you want.  This happened to author Max Lucado one time, but instead of me telling you about it, I’m going to let him do it on a CD of his that I have…(09:3:15 – CD 1804 can be found in cabinet with others by Max)

“When you’re full of yourself God can’t fill you.”  May I ask you a tough question: Have you been full of yourself lately?  Have you been more concerned about your reputation than God’s?  If so, learn a lesson from Joseph.  Rather than make a name for himself he chose to make a home for Jesus.  May you do the same right here in your heart, not just this special season of the year, but every day and every moment that God allows you to live.  Indeed, may your prayer be the same as that of Martin Luther in the 13th stanza of his well known Christmas hymn, “From Heaven Above to Earth I Come.”  For there he writes: “Ah, dearest Jesus, holy Child, Make Thee a bed, soft, undefiled, Within my heart that it may be, A quiet chamber kept for Thee.”  And as you make a home for Jesus in your heart may you experience that genuine Christmas faith lift that we’ve been talking about this Advent season.

Amen