Joseph knew what the law of God said about unfaithfulness.
Hesham Shehab: God Breaks into Our Lives
Matthew 1:18-25 English Standard Version (ESV)
The Birth of Jesus Christ
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. 19 And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. 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. 21 She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” 22 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet:
23 “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel” (which means, God with us). 24 When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife, 25 but knew her not until she had given birth to a son. And he called his name Jesus.
The wait was almost over. The big day was approaching. All the plans for Joseph and Mary’s wedding were falling into place. Everything was proceeding just as it was supposed to.
Suddenly, there was a problem. It was not just a minor nuisance or inconvenience, either. It was a big problem. It was the kind of thing that could not only ruin a wedding, but a life. Mary, Joseph’s bride-to-be, was pregnant. This might not cause much of a ruckus in this culture today, where pre-marital sex and other violations of the 6th Commandment are commonplace.
We’re also told it’s just fine to bring children into the world—or to destroy them according to your whim—regardless of your marital status. We’re indoctrinated by movies, TV, literature, magazines, and many of those we encounter every day to believe that it’s all about you and what you want, not what God has proclaimed.
But sex and children are a big deal to God. They are gifts He provides to us, we who are created in His image and intended for faithful relationships.
Joseph knew what the law of God said about unfaithfulness. He could have taken the situation before the authorities and demanded justice; Mary’s execution by stoning.
Adultery was punishable by stoning to death. Yet Joseph showed a deep concern for Mary. Joseph was a righteous and just man, we are told. The only way to make this right without resulting in the application of swift, violent justice would be to divorce Mary quietly, so that she can become engaged to the father of her Child, and then marry him instead.
In that shame culture, while Joseph was considering his options, God breaks into his life with full force, just like God broke into Mary’s life before; where Joseph has just resolved to bring some sort of order back into his life without leaving too many messes, God comes and turns everything topsy-turvy again. At least for Joseph – to the outside world, the great turmoil goes unnoticed.
God breaks into Joseph’s life with full force, just like God broke into Mary’s life before; where Joseph has just resolved to bring some sort of order back into his life without leaving too many messes, God comes and turns everything topsy-turvy again. At least for Joseph – to the outside world, the great turmoil goes unnoticed.
Joseph experiences a “Holy disruption” – the experience that God has other plans for his life… God intervenes in favor of the unexpected, the surprise. This holy disruption changes Joseph’s life forever. He has been touched by God, and he knows that he cannot go on as if nothing had happened.
Sometimes, when God intervenes in our lives, we do not notice it. God uses His Word and Sacraments, and also uses people.
In the words of today’s gospel, it sounds rather ordinary: When Joseph awoke from sleep, he did as the angel commanded him; he took Mary as his wife. Again, to the outside world, nothing spectacular happens here; Joseph marries Mary, just as planned. They have a baby, just as expected. But these simple words, Joseph did as the angel commanded him, speak of a deep trust Joseph put into God’s plan, this crazy, surprising, totally unexpected plan. Joseph decides to listen to the angel voices and surrenders himself, Mary and the unborn child into God’s hands. And this decision has nothing to do with common sense, but seems rather foolish. Wouldn’t we declare someone who listens to angel voices to be mentally disturbed in our day and age?
Come think about it, the Christmas story is full of what we would consider strange or weird folks: a young girl consenting to having an obscure child. Joseph following his dreams. Strange magi, coming from Persia, Iran, or Iraq, who follow a star. Shepherds who hear voices in the fields.
But wouldn’t the world be a better place with more loveable weirdos like those around? Foolish people who choose to listen to God rather than to try to fit into the mold of society? Weirdos who believe that God is Emmanuel, God with us, and live their hope, their dream of peace on earth and goodwill to all people, even and especially in those places where there is no hope, no peace, no goodwill whatsoever?
Idealists and missionaries who cross oceans and put themselves in harm’s way in order to share the Gospel with the lost, help refugees, and nurse the sick.
Missionaries help us rekindle the love of God in our hearts and remind us that God is in the business of miracles every day.
What would this world be without such holy fools, missionaries, dreamers, idealists, bearers of hope? Well, probably a sad and dark place, hell on earth.
Poor dreamer Joseph. His role in the whole drama of God with us unfolding may seem small and insignificant; we hear about him before Jesus is born, during the Bethlehem story, on the flight to Egypt, and then a couple more times during Jesus’ childhood, but then he quietly disappears again. Joseph pales in comparison to his adored wife, Mary. However, Joseph is a reminder for all of us that, when things don’t pan out the way we expect them to, it is crucial to listen for the voice of God; to seek for guidance; and to follow that voice, trustingly and faithfully, no matter, what the world might think or say. To be open to any holy interruption of our lives, in which we encounter Emmanuel, God with us, in maybe quite surprising people and situations – and not only in the manger. God is with us; Immanuel. Amen.
Rev. Hesham Shehab
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