A sermon at Ketchikan Presbyterian Church by George R. Pasley
1 Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God—2 the gospel he promised beforehand through his prophets in the Holy Scripture 3 regarding his Son, who as to his earthly life was a descendant of David,4 and who through the Spirit of holiness was appointed the Son of God in power by his resurrection from the dead: Jesus Christ our Lord.
5 Through him we received grace and apostleship to call all the Gentiles to the obedience that comes from faith for his name’s sake.6 And you also are among those Gentiles who are called to belong to Jesus Christ. 7 To all in Rome who are loved by God and called to be his holy people: Grace and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ.
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. 21 She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”
22 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: 23 “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”).
24 When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. 25 But he did not consummate their marriage until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus.
Now the birth of Jesus took place in this way- at the very beginning, something horrible almost happened. It was all set, Jesus would be born to Mary, and Mary was lawfully engaged to Joseph, and Joseph was a righteous man.
But BECAUSE Joseph was a righteous man, he almost called the whole thing off. And calling the whole thing off would have suddenly made Mary an outcast, scorned and abandoned, like Hagar out there in the dessert with her child, all alone.
And there is something we should notice: a little later, in the same story, something else happens- something tragic and awful that cost a lot of innocent lives, and it almost included the life of the little baby Jesus and only an intervening dream and fast action by Joseph, a righteous man, saved his life. This second near miss was not because of a righteous man, but because of an evil man, Herod. So we see something worth remembering: The best laid plans of God are OFTEN threatened by human beings, both the righteous and the unrighteous.
But today, we need to talk about how Joseph, a righteous man, almost foiled the plan.
He was afraid, that’s how.
Not that there’s anything WRONG with being afraid, Being scared saves lives. In fact, what Joseph was afraid of was even a GOOD thing: he was afraid of displeasing God.
Mary was pregnant, and she had no reason to be pregnant by any HONORABLE way.
Well he could not have that. The whole town would know, and suddenly he would NOT be righteous, he would be laughed at, scorned, an outsider.
But it was more than that. He wanted his life to honor God. Period. And he knew what Mary would suffer, so he thought maybe he would divorce her quietly.
Except there is no way it would be quiet. He was fooling himself.
So he thought about it, planned it, and finally decided. And then he had a dream. And the dream said, “No, Joseph. Something else is going on, and God needs you.”
God needs you to do- not the typically righteous thing, but the hard thing, the scary thing, the thing over which you are not in charge of the outcome.
The thing in which you leave this up to God.
The thing in which you’re willing to stand up for a disgraced woman or an odd child.
The thing in which you’re willing to lay aside your own plans or your own desires, and seek God’s, which never seem to be what we think they are.
The thing in which you’re pretty certain your life just took a wrong turn, but God says no it’s not- keep walking- keep walking because God needs you to walk that direction.
Well, it’s scary. And Joseph was scared, and nobody then or now would blame him for being scared.
The think about courage is, it knows the risk. It knows very well what could go wrong-
And sometimes, things do. And maybe it DID go very wrong for Joseph.
But if it did, he never said.
And the other thing about courage is, sometimes you do it because you know what could go RIGHT, if you do.
But I’m not sure Joseph knew.
Oh, he knew that this child would have his people from their sins, but I’m darn certain eh had no idea how that would happen.
But Joseph was still brave, and he did the rather foolish thing that God wanted him to do. And who’s to say that it turned out right?
From our standpoint, SURE it turned out right. The Kingdom of God belongs to us!
But we never heard form Joseph again, after we turn the page.
So how could he do it?
How could he summon the wisdom and nerve to do that foolish thing?
He was a righteous man, which meant for one thing that he had practiced making smaller decisions. He could make this one very hard decision because he had made a thousand smaller decisions that year alone.
Welcome the stranger
Forgive your enemy
Give your best to God and keep the seconds for yourself
Pray for forgiveness.
And then he made the hard one, because none of those little decisions are all that easy either. We avoid them almost every day. But Joseph made them, and then he made one that no one was ever asked to do before or since- raise the Son of God as his own, and guard him with his life.
But in that one big, hard, audacious choice Joseph was also asked to do the exact same thing that every single man, woman and child among us IS asked to do.
He was asked to trust God, and he did.
Because he was righteous
And because he was brave.
And whatever other choices he made after that, they all flowed from that one:
He decided to trust God. May God be praised.
In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Ghost. Amen.