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.
Family Life. That is the title of the sermon series we started back on the first Wednesday of Advent. Over the last few weeks we have looked at King Herod, Zechariah, Elizabeth, the naming of John the Baptist, and the family tree of Jesus. This morning we are turning our attention to Mary and Joseph, the earthly parents of Jesus and the perplexing predicament they find themselves in.
Family life. When you think about those two words, what comes to mind? How about this? Norman Rockwell. Father is at the head of the dinner table, carving the roast. Mother is wearing her unsoiled apron, beaming over the meal in matronly elegance. The children are gathered dutifully around the table, obediently and rosy-cheeked. And when Christmas rolls around? Family life is absolutely perfect!
Now when you live, not think … when you live your family life, what comes to mind? How about this? Dad is snoring in the recliner. Mom is a limp dishrag, completely maxed out. The younger children are fighting again. The adolescent son is locked in his room with the walls shaking to some alien music. And the older daughter? She’s been staring at her phone so long that her head will be stuck looking down for the rest of her life.
Family life according to Norman Rockwell has no hassles, no headaches, and is never in hot water. But real family life faces painful and perplexing predicaments. Loved ones die. Children make bad decisions. Parents get divorced. There is never enough money and who’s going to the nursing home this week to visit mom?
I bet Joseph and Mary … because of the Christmas story we know and the perfect baby they had … Joseph and Mary had a Norman Rockwell type of family life right? Ha! Not even close. Look at the first verse of our Gospel reading. “This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit” (Mt 1:18). If Mary’s pregnancy isn’t shocking enough, the explanation is even more shocking and unrealistic! Pregnant by the Holy Spirit? Really? Come on!
Can you imagine fifteen-year-old Mary going to her twenty-something year old fiancée Joseph? Joseph starts talking about the floor plans of their future home, the wall colors and then Mary interrupts. “Joseph, sweetie, please sit down. We need to talk. Joseph, honey … I don’t know how to say this but … I’m pregnant.” With those two words there goes the Norman Rockwell picture of a happy family.
The first option when there is trouble is to close the door. Joseph’s first response was to close the door. We can read in Matthew 1:18 and see that the child was conceived by the Holy Spirit. We know that, and Mary knew that … but Joseph … Joseph didn’t know that. All he could think about was that Mary had been unfaithful. It must have torn him up. When Mary broke the news Joseph’s heart must have broken into a million pieces.
But, “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” (Mt 1:19). There is a huge difference between our modern idea of engagement and that of the first-century Jews. This verse describes Joseph as already being Mary’s “husband,” and it also uses the word “divorce” to describe ending the engagement. Though they were not yet living together, Joseph and Mary had a binding contract that could be terminated only by death or by divorce.
So Joseph plans to divorce Mary quietly. I mean affter all, he wasn’t that gullible. Mary said that the Holy Spirit made her pregnant. Would you believe that? I know it wouldn’t. It’s clear to Joseph that Mary wasn’t the person he thought she was. Mary was, in fact, carrying another man’s child. Joseph didn’t want to talk about it or work through it, so he chooses to close the door.
When family conflict comes our way … we sometimes react just like Joseph. Let’s say a neat-freak wife needs a certain amount of law and order in her home, but her carefree husband doesn’t give a rip. So the wife says, “I’m so mad! Look at this mess! Nobody picks up anything around here!” But the clueless husband says, “Sweetheart, you need more energy! Are you still taking those vitamins we spent so much money on?” This couple exchanges clichés and facts, but they don’t directly address any problem. They close the door.
When all hell breaks loose, another option is to slam the door. In the Old Testament the penalty for adultery was stoning (Dt 22:13-21). Thankfully, Joseph forgoes this option. He doesn’t want to embarrass Mary or disgrace Mary or hurt Mary. He just wants to move on without her. This is commendable. And this is why Matthew 1:19 calls Joseph “a righteous man.”
When we are faced with similar family pain, sometimes we aren’t as righteous. No, we slam the door. We drop verbal bombs. We rant and rave. We have tempers and we throw tantrums. We fight like cats and dogs. Discussion is over. Defensive lines are drawn. It’s “in your face”, “no way Jose” and “it ain’t gonna happen” type of argument. In other word, we slam the door.
Another way of handling family hurt and hassles is to lock the door. This is what Joseph is planning to do … total withdrawal. Lock the door. It’s so broken and I’m so done. This is so sensitive, so intense and so explosive, that I lock the door and throw away the key. But the question I want to ask you is this … is there a better way?
Yes there is … open the door. That’s it. Open the door! But we need help … we need God’s help to do this. And so did Joseph. “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’” (Mt 1:20). Can you imagine having a dream where you’re told in effect to wake up? Joseph gets the inside information … literally. Mary wasn’t lying to him after all!
Joseph needed help with family life. That’s why God speaks to him in a dream. In fact, four times in Matthew 1-2, we are told that God speaks to Joseph in a dream (Mt 1:20; 2:13, 19, 20).
You and I, we need help with family life too. Martin Luther teaches us to say, “I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ my lord or come to him.” Using my “own reason and strength” I close doors. I slam doors. I lock doors. But Luther continues, “But the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel.” God gave dreams to Joseph. God’s Holy Spirit calls us by the Gospel.
God tells Joseph, “What is conceived in Mary is from the Holy Spirit.” But Jesus is not only conceived by the Holy Spirit. At his baptism Jesus is filled with the Holy Spirit. When tempted, Jesus is empowered by the Holy Spirit. When Jesus died he gave up the Spirit. Three days later Jesus was raised by the Spirit. And the first gift Jesus gives after his resurrection is the Holy Spirit.
This same Spirit calls us by the Gospel; delivering all of the gifts purchased and won for us by our Savior. Mercy, forgiveness, new life. And the power … in the midst of deep family pain … the power to look at our spouses and children and what? Open the door. That’s what Joseph did. Joseph finally opened the door. He accepted and loved and cared for Mary.
In the last book in the Chronicles of Narnia, in the book titled The Last Battle, C.S. Lewis describes his characters facing the mother of all battles. At a strategic point they come to a door. Some claimed that behind the door was a life-threatening monster. But once through the door, “They stood on green grass, the deep blue sky overhead, and the air blew gently on their faces like that of a day in early summer.” Walking through that door took them into a heavenly kingdom. And once there, they could continue to go “further and further in” making wonderful discoveries. What is the point?
Open your foreboding door. Open your heart, open your ears and open your life to people in your family. The door isn’t as threatening as it looks. In fact, when you open the door, maybe not at first, but soon enough, you’ll find yourself standing on green grass, the deep blue sky overhead, and the air blowing gently on your face like that of a day in early summer. Amen.
The peace of God which surpasses all human understanding, guide your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus our Lord now and forever. Amen.