I was talking to a lady the other day about some Kids reaction to Santa.
Not the Santa who’s going to come down the chimney on Christmas Eve to leave gifts, but the shopping mall Santas. It seems a passage of rite that we take our kids to the Mall to have their pictures taken with Jolly Old Saint Nick.
Maybe it’s just our family, but for us it’s been generational.
It’s been going on forever, here is my sister and me.
And it crosses geography and culture. Here is a picture of our two, one of these people is dressed inappropriately for the climate. If you haven’t guessed, that was our second Christmas in Australia.
And our kids never seemed to have a problem with Santa, but here is a picture of Capri, our Oldest granddaughter with her first encounter with the Jolly old Elf.
And really, when you think about it, for some kids that’s their first introduction to someone who is not a relative.
But it does get better, here are the girls this year, but by now they are pretty used to Old Guys with white beards.
Even the concept of someone knowing if you’ve been naughty or nice, then sneaking into your house and eating your food can be a little sketchy. At least he doesn’t rummage under your pillow like his creepy cousin, the tooth fairy.
This is week three of our fear not series, this Christmas we are looking at the various times the words “Fear Not” or “Do not be afraid”, show up in the Christmas story.
In week one, it was when the Angel Gabriel appeared to Zechariah while he was preparing the incense in the temple and told him in Luke 1:13 But the angel said, “Don’t be afraid, Zechariah! God has heard your prayer. Your wife, Elizabeth, will give you a son, and you are to name him John.
And my message that week was “Fear not, just believe”, And I spoke about all the moving parts that are involved in answered prayer. They wanted a son, probably hadn’t considered the dirty diapers and sleepless nights that would go along with their answer to prayer. Didn’t realize that he would become an itinerant preacher who would introduce his cousin Jesus as the Messiah and who would be executed for his preaching.
Last week, after an awesome presentation by our Children we looked into Luke 1:30 “Don’t be afraid, Mary,” the angel told her, “for you have found favour with God! And my theme was “Fear not, just trust.” And we looked at how Mary had to trust God for all that would happen in her life as a result of her saying, Luke 1:38-39 Mary responded, “I am the Lord’s servant. May everything you have said about me come true.” And then the angel left her.
This week we’re going to Joseph’s story.
He’s always the forgotten one at Christmas. Oh we remember the Christ child, how could we forget him, even in the shopping malls they sing about the birth of Christ and his name is even included in the very word Christmas. Without Christ there would be no Christmas and so he’s remembered. And his mother, you remember “Round yon Virgin.” After all the virgin birth was pretty spectacular, wasn’t an everyday occurrence. And we are still talking about it. And to give Mary her due it took a lot of faith to trust God for the miracle that he had promised.
We even remember the bit players in the drama, we talk about the shepherds and the Wiseman, we cast them in the Christmas pageants and talk about how lucky they were to be a part of the first advent. The innkeeper even gets a speaking role and he’s basically the villain of the piece. Who’s forgotten? Joseph, you know Mary’s husband, the man who would raise Jesus the Son of God as Jesus the Son of Joseph.
We don’t know a whole lot about Joseph, we know that he was a carpenter, that he lived in Nazareth and that his family was originally from Bethlehem. We know that his father’s name was Jacob, that he was a descendant of David.
We know that it was Joseph that the Angels came to in a dream to warn about King Herod looking for Jesus, and how he took his family to Egypt.
We know that when Jesus was 12 years old that Joseph took him to Jerusalem for the Passover feast and we know that Joseph taught Jesus his trade. But then we don’t hear anymore from or about Joseph after that.
We presume that because at his crucifixion Jesus asked John to care for his mother that Joseph died before Christ was crucified.
In Mark 6:3 Jesus is identified as Mary’s son and his brothers are named but there is no mention of Joseph so it’s not that much of a stretch to presume that Joseph died before Christ began his ministry. And we know that Joseph was considered to be the Father of Christ by the people of Nazareth.
You know the story; Joseph was engaged to a young girl from Nazareth named Mary. Historically and culturally we can almost assume that they had been engaged from Childhood. And so we don’t know how long they had been engaged but we do know that they had entered into the last stage of their engagement, which was known as the Betrothal. Now Betrothal was much more serious than our engagement. It lasted for about a year and was a legally binding contract, which could only be broken by death or by divorce.
I’m sure that the couple was doing all the things that couples do to get ready for weddings. You know the bride is rushing hither thither and yon, and she keeps asking the groom, so what do you think honey, is this right, should we do that, what about flowers, and the reception. And Joseph being the good groom is nodding and smiling and saying, “whatever you think dear.”
And I don’t know exactly how she broke the news to him, but at some point in all of the wedding arrangements she must have done a “I’m so excited about this, and what with Rachel coming for the wedding, and Martha, and Elizabeth, did I tell you that Elizabeth was pregnant? I did, that is such a neat thing, you know I’m pregnant too, maybe the boys will play together when they grow up, do you think we ought to have fish at the reception as well as the beef?”
And Joseph does a “whoa, what did you say?” and Mary would respond and say, “Do you think we ought to have fish at the reception as well as beef? You know in case there are vegetarians there?”
“No not that, the other part.”
“Oh, you mean about Rachel coming down, didn’t I tell you?” Seriously I don’t know how Mary did it, how do you tell you fiancé that you’re pregnant and it had nothing to do with him. Maybe she read him the Christmas story out of Luke.
However she did it, it must have left him completely stunned, how could she possibly have betrayed him, and then expected him to believe that entire line about her still being a virgin? The father was the Holy Spirit, right. Like what turnip wagon did she think he fell off of?
And the conversation must have ended with Joseph feeling betrayed and Mary feeling hurt because he didn’t believe her, and he doubted her integrity.
But what could he do? He had trusted her, he wanted to spend the rest of his life with her, but for her to go and . . . it just wasn’t right. So, what was he to do? Well there were a couple of options, he could have her stoned to death, according to the law that was the punishment for Adultery and during the betrothal period it would be considered adultery. The other option of course was to simply break off the engagement but remember that by this time it could only be done with a formal divorce.
The Bible tells us that Joseph was a just man, and so he decided to simply go through with a quiet divorce so Mary wouldn’t be disgraced publicly and get on with his life. But life is never that simple is it? That night as he tumbled into a trouble sleep, something remarkable happened. An Angel appeared to Joseph, I wonder if Joe’s first thought was “I knew I should have skipped the chilli and ice cream before I went to bed.”
Let’s pick up the story in Matthew 1:20-21 As he considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream. “Joseph, son of David,” the angel said, “do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife. For the child within her was conceived by the Holy Spirit. And she will have a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”
And there is the “Fear not” for today. Do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife.
It’s kind of interesting what happened here. Perhaps you’ve never noticed it, or if you have then perhaps it didn’t bother you.
If we go back to the scripture that was just read it says Matthew 1:24-25 When Joseph woke up, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded and took Mary as his wife. You say, “Ok, what’s the problem?” Well no problem really but In Luke Chapter 2 we are told how Joseph had to go to Bethlehem to take part in the Census listen to what it says in Luke 2:5 He took with him Mary, his fiancée, who was now obviously pregnant.
Kind of beat that one around for a while, Matthew says Joseph took Mary home as his wife, but Luke calls Mary, Joseph’s fiancée. I wonder, and I realize that I’m speculating but I wonder if Mary had to live with Joseph and his family until the wedding because her parents wouldn’t let her stay when they found out she was pregnant?
I wonder if the wedding was perceived to be a shotgun wedding, what type of wedding would it have been, they didn’t have shotguns back then? I remember a friend calling me and telling me that him and his girlfriend were getting married and it was going to be a formal wedding, that her father had painted the shotgun white.
We really don’t know much other than they were married, and the scriptures tell us that she remained a virgin until Jesus was born.
The children that Mary had after Jesus belonged to Joseph.
If you know the Christmas story you know that the Roman Authorities called for a census and that everyone had to return to the town of origin and for Joseph that meant taking his pregnant wife, probably by donkey from Nazareth 150 KM to Bethlehem, where the child would be born.
Not the type of trip recommended for someone who was 9 months pregnant, either walking or riding a donkey.
When Angela was 8 1/2 months pregnant, we moved back from New York, but she got to drive a brand-new Plymouth, my dad would have said she would have better off with a donkey but he was always a Ford man.
So that’s the story, but what do we learn?
Because Joseph Obeyed, Mary Had a Husband
Mary wasn’t chosen to carry the son of God in isolation. When we are first introduced to her we are told Matthew 1:18 This is how Jesus the Messiah was born. His mother, Mary, was engaged to be married to Joseph. But before the marriage took place, while she was still a virgin, she became pregnant through the power of the Holy Spirit.
And then we read in Luke’s account in, Luke 1:26-27 In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a village in Galilee, to a virgin named Mary. She was engaged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of King David.
In both cases who Mary was, was tied to Joseph. She wasn’t unattached, she was engaged. And she wasn’t engaged to Bob or Tim, she was engaged to Joseph.
Jesus was never intended to be raised in the home of a single parent, now if you are a single parent don’t get all huffy on me.
Years ago, I preached a message on marriage and as part of it referenced a secular study that talked about the challenges faced by kids being raised by single parents. My intent was to suggest that your kids might be another reason for working on keeping your marriage intact.
Well, afterwards I got a snotty call from a single mom who suggested that I was implying that her child was worse off than other kids and that I had no right suggesting that in a message, and that was the last I ever heard from her. Oops.
There would have been all kinds of challenges that Mary would have faced without a husband in that time and culture.
Now, you might be in the same camp as Australian journalist Irina Dunn, when she wrote “A woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle”
And well that might be true today, it wasn’t true 2000 years ago. As a woman, Mary would have been limited in how she could earn a living.
As a single mother Mary would have been scorned and ostracized. The difference in how unwed mothers are viewed by society has changed radically in the last 50 years, imagine how different it would have been 2000 years ago.
And without a husband Mary would have been at risk, being a single mom, her situation would be compromised, she would have been seen as having loose morals and being easy prey.
And not only did Joseph marry Mary, but he treated her with respect. Matthew 1:24-25 When Joseph woke up, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded and took Mary as his wife. But he did not have sexual relations with her until her son was born. And Joseph named him Jesus.
We don’t know the full conversation between Joseph and the angel, but we know that Joseph understood that until Jesus was born that even though they were living as husband and wife that Mary was to remain a virgin. And Joseph respected that and respected Mary.
But it wasn’t just for Mary, Because Joseph Obeyed, Jesus Had a Father
Again, in 2019 it’s hard to imagine the stigma that would have been attached to not having a father. But there was a time, in the not too distant past that was a reality, and 2000 years ago to not have a father would have subjected Jesus to ridicule and distain. Plus, the emotional weight that would have been on him. We know that Jesus came to an awareness of his heavenly father, but we don’t know when that happened. The only story told from Jesus’ childhood happened when he was 12 and his parents had taken him to Jerusalem for the Passover celebration.
You know the story how he got separated from his parents and when they finally found him, he was in the temple in dialogue with the religious leaders and we pick up the story in Luke 2:48-49 His parents didn’t know what to think. “Son,” his mother said to him, “why have you done this to us? Your father and I have been frantic, searching for you everywhere.” “But why did you need to search?” he asked. “Didn’t you know that I must be in my Father’s house?”
Apparently, at that age, Jesus had an awareness of who his Father actually was. I wonder if he just knew or if Mary told him? That would have been an interesting conversation.
But, what about when he was 8 or 6 or 4, and needed a daddy in his life? It was Sigmund Freud
who wrote “I cannot think of any need in childhood as strong as the need for a father’s protection.”
And that protection for Jesus came from a carpenter named Joseph.
And it began very early, if we go back to the Christmas story we read, Matthew 2:13-15 After the wise men were gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. “Get up! Flee to Egypt with the child and his mother,” the angel said. “Stay there until I tell you to return, because Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.” That night Joseph left for Egypt with the child and Mary, his mother, and they stayed there until Herod’s death. This fulfilled what the Lord had spoken through the prophet: “I called my Son out of Egypt.”
Again, not sure if that journey was one that could be made without Joseph.
But it was more than simply needing a flesh and blood father in his life.
When I was growing up one of my mother’s favourite poets and song writers was Rod McKuen, and McKuen was an anomaly not that he was born out of wedlock in the early thirties, that’s been happening ever since there were boys and girls.
The anomaly was that his mother chose to raise him as a single mom. And it wasn’t enough to know that he was loved by his mother, McKuen spent his life trying to learn about his Father.
In his book, Finding my Father, McKuen talks about the need he felt deep inside to know who his father was, “Every day of every year I thought about my father. To find out why it is I’m here and what brings me to each step in my life,” to satisfy something that might be lacking in us both.”
Joseph was there to protect Jesus, and to provide him with the father figure who would educate him, who would teach him a trade and to provide a stable home.
Because Joseph Obeyed, He Paid a Price
Obedience often comes with a price
Think about the time that Joseph spent in Egypt on the run with his family. Pretty sure that wasn’t in Joseph’s plans. It would have made sense that after the census that he was planning on travelling back to Nazareth and resuming his trade as a carpenter.
And what about Joseph’s reputation? It wasn’t only Mary that the town gossips would have been talking about. Remember that one-line description of Joseph in the reading earlier? It said, “Joseph her fiancé was a good man.”
Both Mary and Joseph were described as good people so I’m sure that there were those who had a field day with their apparent indiscretion. And who would have believed their story?
Sure, an angel told you that, right.
Sometimes we operate under the assumption that if we are obedient that everything will be fine, but that isn’t always the way it works. Next month we are starting a new series called “Worst Case Scenarios” and we are going to look at some of those situations. Daniel was obedient, and he was thrown to the lions. Shadrach Meshach and Abednego were obedient, and they were thrown into a furnace, Paul was obedient, and he ended up in a ship wreck.
But in all of those situations, God was with them.
And bottom line, is that to obey God is what we have been called to do.
Jesus reminded those who had chosen to follow him of that expectation in, John 14:15, 21 & 24 “If you love me, obey my commandments. Those who accept my commandments and obey them are the ones who love me. And because they love me, my Father will love them. And I will love them and reveal myself to each of them. Anyone who doesn’t love me will not obey me. And remember, my words are not my own. What I am telling you is from the Father who sent me.”
What is it that God is calling you to do and what are you afraid of?
Maybe it’s the first point of obedience which is baptism or maybe you’ve gone beyond that but are struggling with obeying Christ in other areas of your life. Maybe areas of integrity or morality. You know, who you are how you behave.
So today, I would challenge you, just as God’s messenger challenged Joseph, Fear Not, just obey.