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Joseph and JOY

Joseph and JOY 

Advent Message #2 - 2o18

This year’s Christmas celebrating began last Sunday, when we thought about Mary, the mother of Jesus.

As we know, Mary was a young virgin when she was selected by God to be the mother of Jesus, the plan being that she would still be a virgin when Jesus was conceived, the conceiving to be done by the Holy Spirit.

God’s plan for a virgin to conceive did not make sense. Plus, if the plan was carried out, Mary would face some major difficulties. Being pregnant before marriage would likely cause her to be turned away by her family and rejected by friends. She would have the awesome responsibility of raising the one born to be the Savior of the world. After He was raised, Jesus would be mistreated during His ministry, leading to Him being crucified. Mary would be around to witness all of that.

Humanly speaking, it might be expected Mary would refuse God’s plan for her. It might be considered a normal thing for her to refuse, what with all the difficulties God’s plan would cause her.

However, Mary did not refuse. Instead, she accepted God’s plan. In fact, she rejoiced that she had been selected for a special task. Her rejoicing included a number of pronouncements. She agreed to be the handmaid of the Lord, doing what her Master told her to do. Her soul magnified the Lord, which means she honored God. She did that by accepting His plan. And her spirit rejoiced in God her Savior. All that because she knew her son was destined to be the Savior, helping those of low degree, those hungry, and those poor.

How good it is that Mary agreed to God’s plan. Because of her agreement - her obedience - what a wonderful example she is for us, even now.

However, there was one more obstacle Mary would face. An obstacle beyond her family and friends. The obstacle was Joseph, the man to whom Mary was betrothed at the time she was told of God’s plan.

You see, the plan, as mentioned earlier, included that she would become pregnant before she and Joseph were married. To be pregnant after the wedding, no problem, but to be pregnant before the wedding - especially since neither Mary nor Joseph planned to do, before they were married, what needed to be done for Mary to become pregnant - would be very awkward.

What would Joseph think? Mary was alone when God’s plan had been announced to her. Joseph had not heard the plan explained. How could he be expected to believe the divine nature of the conception? How could he believe anything other than Mary had been unfaithful to him. If not that, then she had been attacked by someone, such as a Roman soldier.

In either case, the baby Mary was carrying was not his. Joseph was indeed an obstacle. A dangerous obstacle because religious law at the time gave a betrothed man the right to order the stoning of the one to whom he was betrothed if that one was unfaithful. It certainly looked like Mary had been unfaithful, so for God’s plan to happen, what about Joseph?

The answer is shared with us in chapter 1 of the Gospel of Matthew. Matthew 1, beginning with verse 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 [while she was still a virgin], she was found to be with child.”

A few months after the conceiving, it was evident Mary was pregnant. We know the baby had been conceived by the Holy Spirit, but as mentioned, there was Joseph, described in Matthew as a “just” man. Actually, being just could have led Joseph to order the stoning of Mary. That was the justice allowed in such a case.

However, here the word “just” must have included being kind because Joseph was unwilling to put Mary to shame. 

What a display of love that was. His intent was to end his relationship with Mary. He did resolve to divorce her. However, his intent was to do so quietly, so as not to create any more problems for Mary.

As Joseph considered his plan to divorce Mary, “behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream. The angel said, ‘Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary to be your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit.’”

I imagine Mary had told Joseph that. She must have tried to convince him that what was happening to her was God’s plan and therefore divine. It would have been extremely difficult for Joseph to comprehend Mary’s words, but here was confirmation that Mary was telling the truth.

And there was more. In the dream, Joseph also heard, “She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.”

When Joseph woke from the dream, I wonder what he thought. Maybe, “That sure was a weird dream” or “that dream did not make sense” or “I wonder if I ate too much for dinner or if the meal was too spicy.”

Joseph might have had those reactions. But even if he did, he acted in a way that was true to God’s plan. A plan he did not understand, but a plan he was suddenly convinced had come from God.

His reaction? He did as the angel of the Lord commanded him. He stayed with Mary. He did not know her - he did not have relations with Mary - until after her child was born, but he did stay with her. And when the baby was born, he agreed with Mary to call His name Jesus.

Think of the sacrifices Joseph made. With Mary pregnant before they were married, some would accuse him of being immoral. Those who did not accuse Joseph would no doubt blame Mary for being immoral. Those who would doubt Mary would laugh at Joseph for staying with an unfaithful woman. And Mary’s baby was not his. That must have disappointed Joseph.

But he stayed with Mary, which was part of God’s plan. Him doing that is a wonderful example of how to have what is the theme of this year’s Christmas season, the theme being joy. Great joy for all.

Let’s think about that as we move to John 15. Let’s consider what can be done to have joy, and how Joseph displayed that,

The key verses in John 15 for the topic of joy are 10 through 12, but we will begin at the start of John 15, where Jesus explains His desire for His people to be part of Him.

Jesus said, “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch of Mine that bears no fruit, He takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit.”

Jesus wants to have a close relationship with His people. That is what Joseph had. It is what gave him the courage to follow God’s plan. It is what we should have as well.

Jesus said, “Abide in Me, and I will abide in you.” He wants that because, as a branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can we, unless we abide in Jesus, bear fruit. But he who does abide in Jesus, and Jesus in him, “he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from Jesus we can do nothing.”

Jesus repeats the point. If a man or woman does not abide in Him, he or she is cast forth as a branch and withers. Such branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. The implication is that if Joseph had rejected the message given to him in the dream, he would have withered spiritually.

But for those who do abide in Jesus - for those who abide in the Lord’s words - listen to the promise. “Ask whatever you will, and it shall be done for you.” I wonder if Joseph asked for the strength and the humility needed to stay with Mary. If he did, the promise is that his requests were answered.

By this God is glorified, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be disciples of Jesus.

Then verses 10 through 12. Jesus continues, “If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love.” Jesus is the example of that. He kept God’s commandments. He therefore abided in God’s love.

Jesus, said, “Keep My commandments.” The things He has spoken. Why? So Jesus may have joy in us and - listen for the theme of this Christmas season - “that joy may be in you.”  Not just joy, but that “your joy may be full.”

*       *       *       *       *

Remember the acrostic of joy we are using this season. The acrostic of Jesus first, Others second, and Yourself third.

Joseph is a wonderful example of that, beginning with him putting Jesus first.

Remember the things he faced - being accused of being immoral, being laughed at by others who did not understand the situation, being called upon to help raise a child who was not his, a child he, too, was told was to be the Savior of the world. What pressure there would be in raising such a child.

Joseph faced a lot of things, almost all of them negative. But when he chose to stay with Mary and help her raise her baby - the Savior - he agreed to God’s plan, thereby putting Jesus first, which is the first part of joy.

Let me remind us that joy does not necessarily mean happiness. Over the years, Joseph had to have had some unhappy days, including soon after Jesus’ birth, when Joseph had to take Mary and Jesus and flee Israel to protect the one destined to be the Savior.

Joseph had some unhappy times, but he could still have joy, which means having spiritual satisfaction that comes from obeying God’s plan.

Joseph did indeed put Jesus first, way above himself. Joseph also put others ahead of himself, which is described as John 15 continues. Jesus said, “This is My commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.”

Joseph did not lay down his physical life for others, but he laid down his plans and hopes and aspirations. He sacrificed those things so he could be the earthly stepfather of the Savior.

Joseph put Jesus first. He put others second. There is one more part of the acrostic. The Y part, which stands for yourself.

Remember that you and I are and Joseph was important. His faith and our faith never even suggests we are to ignore our own well-being and interests. For Joseph and for us, Jesus said, “You are My friends if you do what I command you.”

The benefit for Joseph? Being a friend. Not of Jesus yet because it would be three decades before His ministry would begin, but a friend of God. A friendship based on obedience to God.

And this. Jesus added, “You did not choose Me, but I chose you.” He chose Mary to be the mother of the Savior. He chose Joseph to be the earthly stepfather of the Savior. Jesus chose them and appointed them that they should go and bear fruit and that their fruit should abide. That is what happened as they did raise Jesus in ways that fostered His physical, emotional, and social health.

May we, too, have joy. Joy that comes from putting Jesus first, then watching out for the needs of others, then taking care of ourselves. As those things include obeying God’s commandments, we will have the privilege of being friends of God.

Two quick stories.

The first are words of the song, I Am a Friend of God.

Who am I, God, that You are mindful of me?[Joseph could have asked that.]
Who am I, that You hear me when I call?
Is it true that You are thinking of me?
How You love me, it's amazing.

I am a friend of God.

I am a friend of God.

I am a friend of God.

He calls me friend.

God Almighty,

Lord of Glory,

You have called me friend.

May being a friend of God - of Jesus - be the aim of all of us. May that desire inspire us to be like Joseph and put Jesus and then others above ourselves. That will give us joy.

Then this from Emily Clark. She spent a few recent years as a missionary in Wounded Knee, South Dakota.

Emily wrote that her first Christmas as a missionary in Wounded Knee, she planned an extravagant Christmas children’s event. It was a Christmas Make and Take.

There were different stations of Christmas crafts, ornament painting, and sugar cookie decorating. It was a grand plan.

Then the kids showed up.

It did not matter how well the stations were organized or how Emily had planned on controlling the event. The children had minds of their own. What was supposed to be fun turned Emily into an anxious mess. Paint and frosting covered every surface of every table, there was glitter on everything, children were running around everywhere.

But, Emily adds, what she saw as uncontrolled chaos was actually a room full of joyful children. They were making ornaments as gifts for family members, and giggling at what their peers were painting. They were eating way too many cookies. But they were experiencing the joy of celebrating the birth of Jesus.

She concludes, “There might be moments this Christmas season when you feel like your foot is slipping and everything is out of control. There might be moments when anxiety bubbles up and you cannot handle what is going on around you.” 

Putting it in terms of today’s message, Joseph most certainly felt that way.

But Emily continues, “Remember that the love of God is with you to support you. Remember that God will bring joy to our anxious souls.” He will do that if we will let Him do so. Just as He did for Joseph when he agreed to abide in the Lord, so can we be joyful as we obey Him all the time in everything.

*       *       *       *       *

Today’s closing is based on another song. It is called A Strange Way to Save the World. I am going to recite the words. As you listen, let’s be thankful for Joseph’s willingness to obey.

I’m sure Joseph must have been surprised at where this road had taken him 

because never, in a million lives, would he have dreamed of Bethlehem.

But then, kneeling at the manger, he saw with his own eyes 

the message from the angel in a dream come to life.

And Joseph said, “Why me? I’m just a simple man.

Why Jesus, with all the rulers of the world?

Why here inside this stable with hay?

Why Mary? She’s just an ordinary girl.”

I am not one to second guess what angels have to say, 

but this is such a strange way to save the world.

To think of how it could have been, if Jesus had come as He deserved, 

there would have been no Bethlehem, no lowly shepherds at His birth.

But Joseph knew the reason. Love had to reach so far.

And as he looked at the Savior, Joseph must have thought,

“Why me? I’m just a simple man.

Why Jesus, with all the rulers of the world?

Why here inside this stable with hay?

Why Mary? She’s just an ordinary girl.”

I am not one to second guess what angels have to say ,

but this is such a strange way to save the world.

Let's pray. Lord, thank You for Joseph’s obedience. Even though he could not have understood the plan, he did obey. Thank You, too, for his example of You first, others second, and ourselves third. Help us to also be obedient and filled with joy. Amen.

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