Sermon from Sunday, December 18, 2022
Speaker: Rev. Doug de Graffenried
Scripture: Matthew 1:18-25
Our lesson this morning comes from the first chapter of Matthew’s gospel, starting with the 18th verse. Hear these words.
Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way: when his mother, Mary, had been engaged to Joseph before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit, her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly. But just when he had resolved to do 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 as your wife. For the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins. All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the Prophet: Look, a virgin shall conceive and bear son, and they shall call him Emmanuel, which means God is with us. When Joseph awoke from sleep, he did is the angel of the Lord commanded him. He took her as his wife, but he had no marital relations with her until she had borne a son and he named him Jesus.
This is the word of God for the people of God. Thanks be to God. Amen.
Back in the day before inflatables, there were plastic yard creatures, people, things, and they were all molded in plastic was lightweight plastic. You put it in your yard, and they all have one thing in common right in the middle of whatever you had. There was a round circular hole right in the middle of the back. And the reason is so you could reach your hand in and put the new 40-watt light bulb in it each and every holiday season. Santa was that way; The reindeer were that way. All the creatures of Christmas back in the eighties, plastic round bubble in the back 40 white light bulb. Terrytown is where the Mississippi River Bridge lands and Terry Town and Gretna are just part of the West Bank of New Orleans, and one of the churches I served was on the West Bank, so I’d go from seminary across the river to do church stuff, and I was introduced to yard decorations, Terry Town style. There was this one family that had everything in their yard they could possibly have or buy. I think they actually had 4th of July decorations in their yard. It was just out of hand. but in the center of the yard, they had the nativity. Somebody had built the wooden creche and it was built nicely, and the baby was back in the center of it. I don’t know if there was a baby there of just a 40-watt light bulb in a manger. But it had a light shining. And on this side, we had the Magi. They’d already shown up. They had camels, the three Magi all lit up. it was great. And on this side, we had the shepherds and of course they had sheep with 40-watt light bulbs in them. Was just an incredible luminous display. And then around, around the baby, we had the holy couple, we had the Virgin Mary doing much like she’s doing right here.
Of course, she was well illuminated. And then we had Santa Claus. Joseph was no place to be seen in this nativity, and that’s pretty much how we handled Christmas. We got the sheep and the shepherds. We’ve got the wise man, and they all have camels and their three gifts. And we’ve got Mary. But Joseph, not germane to the story. You don’t need him. Holy Spirit took care of everything. Joseph is more or less, an afterthought. He is so insignificant that early on, as the New Testament takes shape and as the church starts doing Christmas and some of the things that we do, the early church bumps Joseph off. They almost get rid of him. They make him an old man When he finally marries Mary and they let him hang around because he hung around at least until Jesus was 12, because we’re told that story. But after that, Joseph; kaput. Gone. and I want to talk this morning about old average Joe because I think we can learn some things that we can all take from him and we can all go from this place a little wiser, maybe walking a little closer to Christ because we considered good old Joseph.
First thing I want to say about Joseph is he was a guy who did the right thing. He did the right thing. He is engaged to Mary and in Jewish ceremonial custom or, civic custom, he has paid the bride price. The bride price was paid to the father of the bride. And when the bride price was paid, the betrothal, the engagement was official. Now, as you might have surmised, weddings back then and marriages back then were primarily arranged. This whole thing we’re doing right now of dating and whatever it is we do and swiping and all that is actually a function that comes; it’s 20th century. Prior to that, most weddings, most marriages were arranged. It’s an arranged marriage. Mary and Joseph very likely are cousins. They are at least from the same tribe. They probably have known each other. And if we follow the archeological evidence, Mary and Joseph are probably 13, 14 years old. They’re engaged and Joseph discovers that Mary is pregnant. and he decides, and you can tell by the way the text is written that he ruminated over it, He thought, what is the right thing to do? And he decided that he would divorce her privately and that culture and engagement was a marriage. It took a divorce to undo an engagement. There are two ways you could do a divorce. You could publicly accuse Mary of adultery and have her stoned, or you could privately write a bill of divorcement and the ceremony would be over. The marriage would be over, the situation would be annulled. And so Joseph, not wanting to put her up to public disgrace, decides, I’m going to help her keep her honor and keep her dignity, and I’m going to put her away privately. and in a dream, Joseph is encouraged to go ahead with it. Don’t be afraid. Don’t be afraid to take Mary as your wife because the child that is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She’s going to bear a son. He’s going to be special and you’re going to name him.
And so we see Joseph kind of trudging along, heading to Bethlehem at the Roman army’s insistence of everybody get together and have a family reunion. And Joseph is so inept, Joseph is such… Joseph is just not capable of finding a place to stay. His relatives won’t even let him stay at the house with them. And poor Mary, poor Mary. All Joseph can do for her is find a cave or a barn with this manger stall. And we have taken the whole Christmas story and rather than listening what the text says, we’ve romanticized it and we’ve let Hallmark cards define what it looks like and some other artists. But the text doesn’t say that. We find out from Matthew’s gospel and from Luke’s gospel that there is no room at the inn for her to be born or to give birth rather. And the word for inn is the Greek word, katalyma, and katalyma is also used in the New Testament to describe the room where Jesus had his last supper with the disciples. The katalyma is the guest room. We think ahh Holiday Inn was filled up. Motel six is full No, the katalyma is the guest room that people have in their house, and so because there is no guest room available, because all these people are in Jerusalem, they find the manger area. We think that’s terrible. No, it’s not. First century Palestinian homes usually had two levels, the top levels where the family hung out, that’s where they live. That’s where they did their family things. The lower level is where the family kept their animals because that’s what had value to them, their animals. It’s where they kept them. It’s where they fed them. It’s where they kept them secure. And on really cold winter nights, those animals would kind of warm the place up. So Joseph goes and finds a family relative who will let them stay in the lower level. And the good thing about the lower level is there are his kinsmen who are going to come in, the women are going to come in and Mary, unlike what we do, didn’t give birth alone. She had someone with her and Joseph doing what guys do during birth, probably paced outside. But the Scripture has such a short story about Joseph, and we have made so much up about him that we lose his quiet, plodding righteousness.
There’s a sermon coming and I’m working on it. Don’t know when it’s going to come out, but I’ve just been. and I’ve told some of you all about it. I’ve been bugged about how society’s picturing men these days, and I’m working on a sermon on being a godly man. That doesn’t exclude anybody. Being a godly man. Joseph was godly, but he was a man. If you allow me a moment of frivolity, he was a quiet man. We see in the story in Luke’s gospel, when Mary finds out she’s with child, what is the first thing we’re told Mary does? She shoots off to her cousin, Elizabeth. What are they going to do? They’re going to talk about it. Joseph doesn’t say a single word in the text, does he. No! Joseph doesn’t say a word. So one of the things I want to say is men and women are different. Have you not noticed? men and women are different. Women, first of all, your brain is superior to a male brain. Did you know that is physiologically superior? You have more synapses across the top of your brain. That’s why you can do some things we guys can’t do. But it’s a cross ventilation of synapses that cause some crazy behavior. When Tamara and I walk in Walmart, we walk in as a couple. I walk in as a male. When a male walks in Walmart, he has in his mind a vision of that which needs to be purchased. Car battery. I know where the car batteries are, and I go straight to the car battery. Grab said car battery, walk back to the self-checkouts, check out my car battery and I leave. Male way of shopping. Tamara goes in and she may know I need a car battery. And she says, well, I need a few things too. I said, no problem, I’ll go with you. So she goes with me to the battery section, and we walk through the hardware section, completely ignoring about four things she needs. And I know she needs them because we can get back over to the grocery section. She’ll say, I ‘ve got to go back to the hardware section and get this or that.
And when she’s by herself like she was last night, I was watching her own like 360. She went to Wal Mart Mendon. And here’s what I saw in my life. 360. when she got 12,000 steps, just going to Wal Mart.
We see joseph is doing the right thing. He’s not going to put Mary away publicly or privately. He’s going to go ahead and marry her. He’s going to introduce her and include her in the Bethlehem family. He is going to be single minded in his practice of hospitality toward her and in his obedience to God. And that’s the other thing about Joseph. He does the right thing in his obedience to what he hears. Joseph obviously is a dreamer. That’s how God seems to communicate with him, and that’s how the angels seem to communicate with him. They come to him in dreams and he’s going to have a dream later on that says Get out of Bethlehem and go down to Egypt. And Joseph will be obedient to that dream. and he’ll have another one that’ll tell him, go home, and Joseph will be obedient to that dream. I know y’all have all kinds of devotional material that you read, and sometimes you’ll text me about what you’re reading and share with me those things and they’re really cool things. But here’s what I want to ask out of your devotional time, and here’s what I want to ask you about out of your prayer time. Are you obedient to what you hear? If you just read this deep seeded devotion about God’s forgiveness and how God’s forgiven us and how God’s called us to forgive one another, do you get up from that and go practice forgiveness in your life? if you just read some marvelous almost poetic description of God’s love of how God called us to love him and love our neighbor, do you get up from that? And then through the rest of your day practice living out what God told you to do, or what you sense God told you to do? And even right now, there may be something going on in your life that you feel the nudging of the Holy Spirit, but he’s just so incredible You can’t believe it. You can’t believe that God would call you or God would want you to do what you think you’re being nudged to do?
How incredible must this news have sounded to Joseph? Go ahead and take Mary, because that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. Go ahead, Joseph. and Joseph obeyed what God told him to do. for years I’ve sat on boards of ordained ministry. We’re the group in the church that determined US ordination status and shepherds These ordinands through the process and makes sure that when they get through with their time in the board of ordained ministry, they’re ready to pastor a Methodist church. And as you’re sitting in some of these initial interviews, someone will present that they’re in their mid to late sixties. They’ve had a successful career, they’ve raised their family, they’re small in their grandkids. They’re heading on to retirement and they come in and there’s almost a thematic opera that plays out and they’ll say, I was called by God as a teenager. I was called by God in my twenties to be a minister. And I knew I was called by God, and I felt the leadership of God’s Holy Spirit in my life.
And it was obvious that God had given me some gifts and some talents, but I didn’t do it. I didn’t do what I knew God wanted me to do. But he’s renewed that call and now I can. And almost every one of them after the interview will talk out of a heart that is filled with regret because they wonder what God would have done in their lives or through their lives had they been obedient to his prompting and leading.
Joseph did the right thing, and he does the right thing. Joseph hears and obeys. and then Joseph gives Jesus his name and his profession. The Gospel of Matthew was written to a church that was undergoing Roman occupation and Roman persecution. It was the church located in Antioch. And so much of what’s in the gospel of Matthew is bracketed by the promise of the first chapter where, look, Matthew’s quoting Isaiah Look a virgin shall conceive and bear son, and they shall call him Emmanuel, which means God with us. And Matthew 28, where Jesus in the Great Commission tells the Apostles, I am with you always, even to the end of the age. So a church that’s undergoing Roman occupation and persecution and dealing with Roman pressure has the promise that God is with us.
God is with us no matter what.
Joseph named him Jesus, for He would save his people. But there’s one other thing you need to understand about Jesus’ stepfather, Joseph. Joseph gave Jesus his occupation as a carpenter, and Jesus was not a kind of carpenter that worked at the wood shop in front of a lathe and made intricate wooden furniture. Jesus was the kind of carpenter that put the second floor onto the house. Jesus was the kind of carpenter that worked with stone and mud and timbers. Jesus was the kind of carpenter that his carpentry involved A hammer, nails, and wood. And that’s why he came. And that was his ultimate job. The hammer, the nails, and the wood. Don’t miss the irony. Don’t miss the significance of the carpenter hanging on the cross.
The stories are different. Friday night and Saturday night, we read the story from Luke two. and it just makes you want to come to church, and it makes you want to sing Silent Night. But Luke two wouldn’t have happened had Joseph not done the right thing, had Joseph not been obedient to what he felt God wanted him to do. And you and I would not be here had Joseph, not given his son Jesus a name and a profession. The nails, the hammer, and the wood.
Would you stand and pray with me?
Father, we thank you that the story of Christmas is the story of average Joes, people like Joseph and Mary, who were just folks and who got caught up through the power of the Holy Spirit And your story. be with us as we live, our story as we seek to do the right thing and as we seek to be obedient to that which you’ve told us to do, we pray in your name.