Sermon for Christmas Eve Morning 2006
“The Lord Comes to His Temple: The Home of Joseph” (Matthew 1:18-25)
Our theme for our Advent and Christmas sermons has been “The Lord Comes to His Temple.” We heard how the Lord visited Mary and made her womb his temple, as the very presence of the Incarnate God dwelt there. Next, we heard how the Lord made the house of Zechariah his temple. The Savior, carried in the womb of Mary, crossed the threshold and graciously visited Elizabeth, her unborn baby John, and her mute husband Zechariah. This past Wednesday, we stopped at a watchtower along the Judean Road to Bethlehem and learned about all the exciting events that took place there so long ago.
But this morning, we get a little flashback in the timeline of our theme. It was either six or nine months before that trip to Bethlehem that there were some perplexing moments back in Nazareth, some 70 miles to the north in the region of Galilee. A poor carpenter by the name of Joseph received some troubling news. His fiancée was pregnant. And they had never been intimate.
When and how did Joseph find out? Did Mary break the news to him right before she skirted off to visit her relative Elizabeth in the hill country of Judea? Or was it after she returned from that three-month stay? If it was at that point, was she beginning to show? Perhaps, but even at three months, it would be easy to hide a pregnancy under the layers of robes that women wore in those days. Nevertheless, Mary knew that she wouldn't be able to hide this baby for long. Soon her belly would be pushing all that fabric forward farther and farther. Maybe she decided to break the news to Joseph herself before he figured out why she had such a rosy glow in her cheeks. And if it was Mary who told him, she apparently didn't give him the whole story. She must have thought that Joseph would have a hard time believing that an angel had visited her and told her that she would conceive by the power of the Holy Spirit and that the baby to be born from her womb would be the Messiah promised from of old. “Uh, okay, Mary. Whatever you say,” you can just imagine Joseph saying incredulously. And so the only thing that Joseph apparently learned, whether from Mary herself or from the town gossips, was that Mary was pregnant.
How do you suppose Joseph felt? How do you feel when someone you love dearly hurts you? Start the litany...sad, angry, embarrassed, confused, disappointed, disgusted, depressed, deserted...you've been there. We've all been there.
And what do you do when you have to face a tough decision? Think of the decision that Joseph was faced with. St. Matthew tells us that Joseph was a “just man.” In our modern parlance, you might say that Joseph was “a good guy.” And that character is shown in the way that he decided to divorce Mary quietly without exposing her to additional public shame and ridicule. Why divorce, you might ask? They were only engaged, after all. Well, in those days, engagement was tantamount to being married, even though the actual marriage ceremony and consummation of the marriage didn't take place until much later after the initial betrothal. And Joseph would have been within his rights according to the Old Testament Law to have Mary stoned for committing adultery. So really, Joseph was acting with great restraint and compassion.
Joseph was about to do the wrong thing for all the right reasons. (Thoughts here borrowed from Dr. Jeff Gibbs' commentary on Matthew) Therefore, God had to intervene. He had to intervene and divinely reveal to Joseph what he could not know “by [his] own reason or strength.” The same goes for you and me. We cannot know or believe the Good News about Jesus unless the Holy Spirit has revealed it to us through the Word of God. Recall Luther's explanation to the Third Article of the Creed: “I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ my Lord or come to him. But the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel.”
Joseph desperately needed some Gospel at that moment in his life. He needed to hear some Good News. And so God graciously gave Joseph a dream in which an angel appeared to him and said, “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. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” That was Good News for Joseph. Not only did he not have to divorce his beloved. This Baby to be born of Mary would also forgive Joseph of all his sins, for no matter how much of a “good guy” Joseph was, he was also a sinner just like the rest of us.
Matthew tells us that when Joseph woke up, he did exactly as the angel told him. The Word of God had come to Joseph. What Joseph could never have believed by himself, God revealed with his almighty Word and enabled Joseph to have faith in this wonderful, amazing promise of a Savior from sin. That Good News enabled Joseph to do the right thing for all the right reasons. He took Mary as his wife. The baby to be born would now be the Son of David by his bloodline through Mary and by his legal status as the child of Joseph of Nazareth. And Matthew also tells us that Mary's virgin status was intact until she had given birth to her Son, proof of such a miraculous conception and birth.
Now there were two new residents in the home of Joseph the carpenter. There was his wife Mary. And there was the Second Person of the Holy Trinity himself. That Baby in the Virgin's Womb fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah, “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name 'Immanuel'”...and Matthew adds an explanation for that Hebrew word...which means “God with us.”
We don't hear much more about Joseph. He is mentioned in passing only a few times where people call Jesus “the son of Joseph” (e.g. Luke 4:22) or “the carpenter's son.” (Matthew 13:55) How strange that the foster father of Jesus doesn't get more ink. But then again...maybe not strange at all when you consider the purpose that his whole life was heading towards, unbeknownst to him...to care for and to raise the Boy who would become the Savior of the world...and to care for his blessed mother and get her to Bethlehem in time for her to give birth, since that was the place that the prophet Micah had said the Messiah would be born: “But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose origin is from of old, from ancient days.” (Micah 5:2)
The home of Joseph became the temple of the LORD God. For thirty years before he went to the cross, Immanuel lived there...God with us. Joseph's initial hurt over the news of Mary's pregnancy was taken away with the Good News of the identity of her Baby. That may not be the case with the hurts we face from our loved ones, our disappointments, our anger, our sadness. When those hurts linger, remember your identity as God's baptized child. Your God is Immanuel...God with us. No matter how much you have been hurt by those around you, you are still God's dearly loved child.
The decision Joseph faced was now an easy one, because God told him exactly what to do...marry the girl! That's not always the case with the important and often life-changing decisions we face. Sometimes we are panicked with the options that are presented to us and we don't know which way to turn, which direction to take. When you are faced with difficult choices, remember that you stand in God's grace by faith in your Savior Jesus. Come to him and pray for wisdom in your decision-making. Your God is Immanuel...God with us.
Always remember that your God is Immanuel...the God who is not far off...but the God who is with you...the God who is near you...the God who is as close to you as his Word in your ears and his Body and Blood upon your lips...the God who has made YOU his temple, and who inspired St. John to write, “Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God.” (1 John 4:15)