• Slider Image

Advent 1 – Joseph

Joseph

Sermon Preached at FUMC Brookings on Advent Sunday December 2019

Matthew 1:18-25

Matthew 1:18  Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit.
Mat 1:19  And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly.
Mat 1:20  But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.
Mat 1:21  She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.
Mat 1:22  All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet:
Mat 1:23  “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel” (which means, God with us).
Mat 1:24  When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife,
Mat 1:25  but knew her not until she had given birth to a son. And he called his name Jesus.

Text: Psalm 136:1  Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever. 

Intro:

This is “Thanksgiving” weekend. And many of you, and many across the United States will have gathered to mark a moment of thanksgiving. This includes thanksgiving for family, thanksgiving for God’s blessings and even thanksgiving for the gift of life. My wife Jenny and I want to wish you a Happy Thanksgiving and pray that God’s love hold you and your loved ones at this time:

It is therefore appropriate that our text for the day is Psalm 136:1

Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever.

Today, however, is more than the Sunday of the Thanksgiving weekend. It is also the Sunday that we as the followers of Jesus begin our preparation for Christmas. Around the world Christians will be marking this day as Advent Sunday. It is the first of four Sundays that mark our spiritual journey to Christmas.

These Sundays are given so that we might prepare ourselves for Christmas, and we will mark each Sunday by lighting candles and reading passages from the Bible that speak of people who are preparing for the birth of Jesus.

Today we look at the story of Joseph – the husband of Mary the mother of Jesus.

Matthew 1:18  Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit.
Mat 1:19  And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly.
Mat 1:20  But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.
Mat 1:21  She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” 

2000 years ago Joseph was planning his own Thanksgiving weekend:

The Bible tells us that he was betrothed to Mary. Now this is more than being engaged. The legal letter of intent to marry has been written and delivered by Joseph’s family to the bride. She is as good as married. All that remains is that she move into the home of the groom. And so here is Joseph, and he is planning this great move – his own Thanksgiving weekend.

  • The family have all agreed to come. They are from the house of King David, so there will be many of them!
  • The Rabbi is booked. He will say the blessings at the front door when the bride arrives.
  • The food is planned, the sheep to be slaughtered is already in the back yard.
  • And Joseph’s mother is making clothes for everyone – for herself, for her son, and for her new daughter-in-law.

And then Mary comes to Joseph and says that she has something to tell him:

And we all know what her news was – that she is pregnant! Joseph’s Thanksgiving has just turned into ashes. Somehow Mary got pregnant and he knows that he is not the father. Mary has shamed him and his family. And he decided to break off the relationship. The normal way would be to go to the Synagogue on the Sabbath and announce this to the community. This would clear his name – and this would shame her – and pay her back for all the trouble she had caused.

And at this point the Gospel of Matthew teaches us something about thanksgiving:

Mat 1:20  But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife …”

The message from God to Joseph is crystal clear: “do not fear ”.…..keep going with your plans for your thanksgiving.

And here is a faith lesson for us as Christians: The act of Thanksgiving is not just for when things go well. Thanksgiving is also for those times when we are afraid. Thanksgiving is for those times when things are not good, for the times when we do not feel thankful. Because the fact is that life is not always good!

Like Joseph, perhaps there are some of us who want to cancel this year’s celebrations? Maybe there are some of us who didn’t feel like being part of thanksgiving this year: Or who are not looking forward to the season of Christmas.

  • A family member is no longer with you, and you notice that empty place at the table.
  • You have had to cope with great difficulty: illness in the family, or financial difficulties, or devastating weather….and so it is hard to be thankful.
  • Maybe you have struggled with depression, and you just don’t feel like the celebrations?
  • Perhaps the impeachment of a president, or the political intolerance and polarization of people, or the budget deficit makes you say “There is nothing to celebrate”!

Hear the Good News of the Gospel of St Matthew: “Do not fear” – do not let your fear overwhelm you.

Note the point that is being made: that being saved from our fear is not the same as seeing our problems magically disappear. Let us go back to the story of Joseph: The angel told him not to be afraid – but that didn’t change the fact that Mary was still pregnant. And then Joseph hears the angel speak further:

Mat 1:21  She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” 

Here is a word from God: “Joseph – this illegitimate boy of Mary  will become God’s blessing to the world. “ God didn’t take the problem away : instead God took what seemed to be a disaster and created a new story.

Here is the spiritual truth: God has a way of taking our problems and turning them into solutions. Instead of praying “O God take my problem away”, we should rather be asking how we can be part of God’s work of creating a new story from an old problem.

And so Joseph’s Thanksgiving weekend is not cancelled. Everyone comes to the party: and Joseph tells them that Mary is pregnant, but God has a plan. And the village had their celebration, even though they could not yet see what God had planned. This is how our faith works: we give thanks for the plan of God – before we can see it.

Psalm 136:1 Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever.

This is a declaration of faith!

This holiday season I am inviting us to be people of Thanksgiving – not just when things are going well, but also when we cannot see the good news. Even when disaster seems to be visiting us: don’t pray “Lord save me from the disaster” – rather pray “Lord grant me the strength to get through this”. And then let us take hands with God, and with each other, to work for God’s miracle that lies the other side of our problem.

And this might not be a quick fix: remember that Joseph waited for 9 months with his bad news  ……

  • 9 months of the village speaking behind his back about Mary’s character
  • 9 months of silence from God
  • 9 months of seeing no good news

And then – Jesus was born, and the angels sang, and the shepherds brought good news and the wise men visited, and Joseph discovered that God had changed a disaster into a miracle.

Here is the challenge of the Gospel: let us not get bogged down with the bad news! I am not asking us to close our eyes to the bad news – but instead we pray for God to give us courage to discover the good news waiting on the other side.

Like Joseph, we might have to be willing to wait 9 months for the birth of God’s new dreams…but they will happen.

Instead of complaining about the problems of our town, or of our state or of our country or of our politicians or of our president…. Let me challenge us to cultivate an attitude of gratitude – to grow the grit that chooses to take hands with God in working through our difficulties so that we can discover the birth of God’s new plan.

I want to make this challenge real: Anyone know how many days to Christmas? How about using the next 24 days to practice gratitude. So that Christmas day is no longer a remembrance of 2000 year old history, but rather a celebration of the new things being born in our lives today.

“To comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable” Finley Peter Dunne (1867–1936)