by Gary Roth
based on Matthew 1:18-25
Advent draws us to the center of the greatest drama ever written the story of
the clash between God and Satan, of good against evil. It is a story so large that kings
and emperors, rulers of this world and rulers of other worlds, are all only pawns in the
story. And we, too, are drawn into the story each of us has our own part to play
out because, as we are drawn into the very center of the story, we realize that the story
is far from over. We are also called into the battle, even as we celebrate Gods
entrance into that battle on our behalf. And we rejoice because, with the birth of His
Son, we know that God has joined the battle with us He is on our side, and so the
tide has finally swung in our favor.
Yet these greater themes are not the object of the lesson today. Luke speaks only of a
man and a woman, and of their anxiety over the birth of their child. He tells their story
in so unpretentious a manner that we might easily miss its importance like a
listing on the back page of the newspaper. Yet it is on this small stage of the lives of
these two people that the greater drama is played out. In the lives of these two people,
we see the whole gospel story in a microcosm God breaking into the lives of His
people, claiming them as His own, and using them to bring in His kingdom.
The story begins very simply: Matthew 1:18-19
No flashing signs, nothing much another sad story in a world filled to the brim
with them. A man and woman in an arranged marriage and, suddenly, before the marriage
date, its found out that shes pregnant. The mystery and magic of the wedding
day is suddenly lost to them, and their life becomes embroiled in problems and conflicts.
What was to have been a time of happiness, a special time for them, suddenly loses its
luster and there is a great brokenness that appears in their life a terrible
mistake. Joseph, being a just man, decides that there is only one course to take. Mary is
pregnant. He is not the father. She must have been unfaithful. Even though he loves her
deeply, he has little choice in the matter. The Levitical code deals very strictly with
the matter of infidelity it is a major crime, punishable by death through stoning.
As a just man, he cannot just sit on his hands.
To further complicate the matter, if he took her as his wife, that also would not be
without consequence. People would either assume that the two were irresponsible, or that
she was playing Joseph for the fool. His reputation, his career, his life would be ruined.
Legally, a child that was not his would become his heir. So he decides that the best route
for both of them the only reasonable choice, really is to divorce her
quietly. Perhaps then she could move somewhere else, or have a relative bring up the child
for her. And he would be free to find another wife.
Yet, as he considers what to do, an angel appears to him in a dream. At the crucial
moment, as he resolves finally to get rid of the problem to get rid of Mary
an angel comes in a night vision, and tells him of Gods plan for him.
I think that this is the hardest part of the story for people to accept. Not many of us
receive nighttime visitations by angels any more. A lot of folks have difficulty believing
that God speaks to us at all any more. Yet He claims that He does He speaks to us
decisively in Jesus Christ. The question, really, is whether we are listening. And that
was the real question that faced Joseph. He had made a decision. He had decided to put
Mary away. But in this night vision, God opened up a new possibility to him, by putting
him in touch with Gods Word. Matthew goes on: (1:24-25)
We all know the ending. Were so used to hearing it that we dont even stop
for a moment any more to realize that it doesnt make sense. Not from Josephs
point of view. He had just nailed himself to the cross. His reputation would be ruined,
and possibly his business. All he owned would go to a child that was not even his. He
would be considered a weakling, a disgrace; he would be laughed at as the fool who had
been taken in by Mary.
Joseph was in a position where the end wasnt either light or darkness, bad or
good a decision like most of the ones we have to make a decision between two
alternatives that would have negative effects either way. Either way, someone would lost.
In this world we all know how that game is played its better thee than
me. No one could blame him for getting rid of Mary. It seemed to be the only
reasonable thing for him to do, and I can imagine how his friends and family pressed him
to do that. He had to look out for number one. He wasnt responsible for her dilemma.
He shouldnt be held responsible for the consequences of her irresponsible behavior.
He had a life to live too. So, in terms of his responsibility toward himself and his own
interests, in the end, he acted very irresponsibly.
But Joseph showed what he was really made of in that moment. He showed what was really
important in his life. Setting aside the knowledge of the economic and social
consequences, and even the possible religious consequences of his action he decided
to follow what he believed was Gods will in the situation. Although he didnt
even know what God had in mind, since the Jewish people were looking for an earthly king,
not a savior from sin. So although he comprehended only the faintest glimmerings of what
the angel was talking about, in his desire to be obedient, to listen to the Word of God,
and to respond in faith he changed his mind and married Mary even over his
Matthew inserts a notation that sums up Joseph experience: 2:22-23.
By his obedience to his Lord, rather than to the exigencies of the situation, in
opening his life to the realm of the possible, and letting God use him as He deemed fit
in denying himself and affirming Gods plan, whatever the personal cost
Jesus, the Savior of all humankind, came into the world. The Hebrews had a favorite name
for God: Yahweh Nisi, God who is before us. But by this one persons
faithfulness, Yahweh Nissi, the God who goes before us, became Emmanuel,
the God who is with us the God who took on human flesh and acted
decisively in history in our behalf.
This is truly a beautiful season of the year. It is a season in which we remember how
God gave Himself for us in the form of a very special baby how He presented Himself
to us in a very special gift. It is a time for joy, for praising God, for celebrating and
giving gifts. But it is especially a time for rebirth as Gods people. Its a
time to discover who we truly are to discover the wonderful possibilities God
offers us as His children. It is time to put away to put to death the world
and its sham, its shallowness. It is time to slough off the chains of its rule over us, to
break the bonds of cold reality by keeping our eyes and our hearts fastened on God and His
Roger Garaudy once said of Jesus:
He has lit a torch. He demonstrates the spark of flame that brought him to birth. All
wisdom, before him, meditated on fate, or necessity mistaken for reason. He showed their
folly he the opposite of fate. He, liberty, creation, life: he who defatalized
Joseph was able to make the decision he made because he was standing on the brink of
Christmas. He could let go of himself his desires, his dreams because he saw
Gods kingdom coming. He saw Gods desire to be active in his life. As so he
responded he broke all the rules we cling so tightly to to survive. Because he knew
that, if he were to let go, if he were to fall, it would only be into the hands of his
As we also sit on the brink of Christmas once again, it is my earnest prayer that you
may also realize how God has chosen you to be a Christ-bearer, that He wants to come into
the world again, to be borne into it through your faithfulness and your love. He waits to
be born again this Christmas into your heart and into your life. May you, like Joseph,
living on the brink of Christmas, receive this most wonderful gift.