Saturday, December 17, 2016

Year A, Advent 4, Matthew 1:18-25, Disobedient Faith

Peace, Lutheran Church, Otis Orchards, WA


Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus the Christ.  Amen

Joseph had a dream.
                And grace prevailed.
It took faith:  A lot of it,
And a willingness to disobey the law.
Apart from that, Jesus is never born.

We know very little about Joseph.
·         He was from Nazareth.
·         A Carpenter.
·         He fled to Egypt with Mary and Jesus to avoid persecution, to protect Jesus from Herod, who wanted to kill him.
·         Joseph died before Jesus’ ministry began.
·         And he is remembered as a righteous man.

It’s that last piece of information about Joseph that I find most interesting.
What the Gospel of Matthew actually tells us about Joseph’s righteousness, is that he was unwilling to expose Mary to public disgrace, and planned to dismiss her quietly.
That is, Joseph had determined that he would NOT do what the law required, but would be gracious and merciful to Mary.

Had this not been Joseph’s decision, Mary, together with the child in her womb, would have been stoned to death.

It was the law of the Lord.
“So you shall purge the evil from your midst.”
In Deuteronomy 22 it is written, concerning a woman who is engaged, or married, with respect to her virginity:
If, however, this charge is true, that evidence of the young woman's virginity was not found, then they shall bring the young woman out to the entrance of her father's house and the men of her town shall stone her to death, because she committed a disgraceful act in Israel by prostituting herself in her father's house. So you shall purge the evil from your midst.

Needless to say, if a woman is “found to be with child”, there is no evidence of her virginity.  That kind of goes out the door with pregnancy.

Joseph chooses to disobey this law in two ways:
First, he refuses to disgrace Mary by bringing her before the elders of the town, making known that she is with child, and subjecting her to the condemnation that the Law required.
Instead he resolves to ‘dismiss her quietly’, that is, to end the engagement, and allow her to go her own way, without making an issue about her being pregnant.
Secondly, Joseph has this dream.
An angel appears to him and says:
“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.”
So not only does Joseph not charge Mary with being unfaithful, and not a virgin,
                He does the unthinkable, and accepts her as his wife.

Of course, we might say that he did the right thing because, as the angel said, the child was from the Holy Spirit, and as subsequent tradition has maintained, Mary remained a virgin, and hence, was not to be condemned.

I knew a woman named Lillian.
She was a Jewish woman who lived in our senior housing in Sandpoint. 
Lillian was funny, in her own unique way.
And she was curious about Christianity.
But her opinion about Jesus’ birth was just priceless.
“Born of a virgin?”
“Hah,” she would say, “Oldest line in the books.  Mary got away with one there.  Of course there was a father.  Of course Mary had had sex.  That’s how you get pregnant.  Everybody knows that.”

Well, before we dismiss Lillian as a crazy old Jewish woman, we really have to admit that we would always reach the same conclusion, that if a woman is pregnant, she is not a virgin.
Imagine if it was your daughter.

“Mom, Dad, I don’t know how this happened.  It must be a ‘God thing’, because one day I just woke up and I was pregnant.  No, I swear, I haven’t had sex.  I’m saving myself till marriage.  It just happened.”
Be honest, now.
We wouldn’t buy that either.

I mean, truthfully, as the father of two daughters, had either of them become pregnant as a young girl, say, twelve to fourteen years old, or so, (that’s probably how old Mary was, because, once she went through puberty and began menstruating, she would have been considered a woman, and would then have been married), but back to the point:
                If my 12 to 14 year old daughter had become pregnant, the last thing I would think was that this was the result of the Holy Spirit. 
None of us would conclude that.
More likely, we would want to know who the father was, and would begin thinking of all the things we’d like to do to that young man. . .

But not Joseph.
There was no way that Joseph would have known that Mary was a virgin.
Dreams are just dreams.
We dream all the time.
Do we believe all that we dream.
                No.  We don’t.

And to believe that it was an angel speaking to you in a dream is quite a leap of faith.
You cannot know, that that’s the case.
But in the end,
Joseph chose to have faith.
Faith in Mary.
Faith that the Holy Spirit was at work.
Faith that grace was the better choice.

Apart from that faith, Joseph might well have done what the law required.
And Mary would have died, as well as the child within her, as the elders of the city pummeled her with stones.

Joseph made a choice that day.
Better to err on the side of grace, than the law.

Sometimes we are too quick to condemn.
And having decided to condemn someone’s actions, we are more than willing to do what the law requires.
Oh, we don’t get carried away.
It’s been a long time since an unwed mother was stoned to death.
But that doesn’t mean we don’t judge.
Nor does that mean that we don’t punish.
And when we find someone to be sinful,
And punish them accordingly,
We feel righteous.  And obedient.

And that may be so.
But this is the thing.
You won’t find Jesus in the judging and condemning.

This is what we can learn from Joseph.
If we choose to live in a gracious and merciful manner,
                We will find Jesus. 
                For he will come to us.
                He will come to us, full of grace and truth.
And he will come to us in the most unlikely of ways.

According to the Law, Mary should have died, and the child within her too.
According to the Law, Jesus was crucified.

But by grace, that Child was born.
And by grace, Jesus was raised.

The choice Joseph was faced with was whether to live by grace, or the law.
And he chose grace.

Likewise, the choice Jesus was faced with was whether to live by grace, or the law.
And Jesus was grace.

And I will be so bold to say that each of us must make the same decision that both Joseph and Jesus had to make.
Will we choose the law?
Or grace?

In choosing the law, we choose death.
In choosing the way of faith, and grace, we choose life.
And there we will find Jesus.


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