H: 12/1/19: “Joseph: The Family Man”

5 Christmases

“The Family Man”

11/30 – 12/1

Introduction:

Today marks the beginning of the Christmas season as well as the introduction to our new Christmas series — 5 Christmases.

Christmas is a time of year when billions of people around the world come together in the spirit of giving, love, and unity. And while most countries around the world observe this Holy day, there are some that don’t. I want you to imagine what it would be like to grow up never hearing about Christmas. Then imagine one day you traveled to America and witnessed your first Christmas. The lights, the decorations, the gifts — what does it all mean? Let’s say you turn to someone on the street and said, “Excuse me, what is this all about?” In a hurry, they point you across the street to the nearest Church that has a nativity scene set up in front. “That’s what it’s all about,” they say and rush off. Curiously, you cross the street and walk up to this strange display. You try your best to make sense of what you’re seeing but the longer you stare at it the more confused you become.

Who are these men in ornate robes with bejeweled crowns on their heads? There are others who look like peasants in ragged clothing holding these strange sticks. What are they all doing in this barn? Why are they all huddled around this baby lying in — Wait, is that a feeding trough? Oh God, are those animals here to eat that baby? Ok, you can stop imagining. Many of us take for granted the characters and story surrounding Christmas but this year we want to view Christmas through the lens of 5 different people who were there, 5 perspectives, 5 challenges, 5 Christmases. Our prayer is that we would see ourselves in their stories and what they had to overcome to experience the miracle of Christmas. So take your notes out with me because the first lens we’re going to look through is that of Joseph — The Family Man.

When you hear the Christmas story, it is often Mary and the baby Jesus who take center stage. You never hear much about Joseph. In fact, did you know that throughout the entire Christmas story, Joseph never says a single word? Look it up! The Bible doesn’t record a single word from Joseph. But though he may not be a man known for his words, he was certainly a man of action.

As a builder Joseph was used to following a plan. He was a measure twice before you cut once kind of guy. And at first glance it would seem like everything was unfolding according to Joseph’s plan. He had a steady job as a carpenter, he came from a resectable family, he was a righteous man who kept the commands of the Lord, and very recently he was engaged to his bride-to-be, Mary. But like all God-fearing Jews, Joseph longed for the deliverance of his people from the crushing grip of the Romans and he prayed earnestly for the coming Messiah who would bring this deliverance.

Little did Joseph realize that in order for his prayers to be answered, his plans would have to give way to God’s plans. This builder was about to become a tool in the hands of God.

In this life, each of us will come to a crossroads where we will have to decide either to stick to our plan, or follow God’s plan into the unknown. These are the times in our life that require the most trust — when we let go and let God.

One day a climber fell off a cliff and as he tumbled down he caught hold of a small branch. “Help! Help! Is there anybody up there?” He shouted. Suddenly, a majestic voice boomed through the clouds, “I will help you, my son, but first you must have faith in me.” “Yes! Yes! I trust you!” Cried the man. “Ok,” boomed the voice, “Let go of the branch.” There was a long pause, then the man shouted again, “Is there anybody else up there?”

Every single one of us will find ourselves in a similar spot. We’ll either cling on for dear life to the safety and security of our plans or we’ll let go and let God bring us into His plan. Joseph had to release some things in order to experience God’s miracle in his life. Let’s look at,

3 Things Joseph Gave Up/Let Go On Earth…

RIGHTS

18This 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. 19Because 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,” (Matthew 1:18-19 NIV).

Joseph and Mary grew up in the same small town and knew each other their entire lives. In those days, marriages were arranged by families. So when my daughter Evangeline grows up and asks me why she can’t date whoever she wants, I’ll say, “Sorry honey, it’s in the Bible.” Verse 18 says, Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph. You might say they were “engaged” but in those days it was different. After a couple was pledged in marriage, their families would spend a year (sometimes longer) getting to know each other and preparing for the marriage. Her parents would get to know him and his parents would get to know her. The groom would pay a dowry, which was a sum of money agreed upon by their families, and the two would be legally bound in marriage even though the wedding ceremony (and what follows) came later. So even though they were only “engaged”, engagements in those days were legally binding.

That’s why it says, “but before they came together, [They’re not married yet] she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit. 19Because 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.”

Up until this news Joseph has done everything right. Everything was unfolding according to plan. He and Mary were a good match. They were both respected in their community and Joseph had honored Mary and her family but doing the right thing. Then, the unthinkable happens. Just as everything seems to be falling into place, Mary gets pregnant and Joseph is not the father.

How do you think Joseph felt in that moment? If you follow the stages of grief, his initial response would have been shock and disbelief. How could Mary be pregnant? This is impossible! Mary’s not that kind of girl. She took her vows seriously. When did this happen? Young women pledged in marriage were often closely guarded with chaperones during their engagement to prevent this very thing from happening! Eventually shock would be replaced with anger. How could she do this to me? How could her family be so careless? Doesn’t she realize the shame this will bring on both of our family’s? How could she be so selfish? If I act quickly I can protect my family and see to it that she’s punished. I’ll definitely want my dowry back plus a little extra for this. Eventually, I imagine Joseph took the matter to prayer.

As Joseph prayed through his options he realized the law gave him a choice. As a husband, he could present the certificate of divorce in an open public manner designed to cause the greatest degree of shame and embarrassment to the woman (possibly even corporal punishment). Or he could quietly divorce her involving only a couple of witnesses. Maybe the father of her baby will do the right thing and take her in. In this way Joseph could honor both the law of the Lord and Mary. The Bible says Joseph chose grace over his rights.

Fast-forward the tape. A woman caught in adultery is brought before Jesus. The law states that she should be killed for breaking her vows. But in that moment, Jesus extends love in the place of the law. Later, He would fulfill the law by taking her punishment and all of ours upon Himself at the cross. We often wonder what Jesus was writing in the dust when this event took place. Some speculate He was writing out the sins of this woman’s accusers. But maybe He wrote, WWJD? What would Joseph Do? What would my Dad do? Dad would have extended grace. He would have covered this woman’s shame and protected her from harm. Is it any wonder God called a man like Joseph to be the Father of Jesus?

This is the love God extends to all of us. I am so thankful God doesn’t treat me as my sins deserve. He doesn’t expose me to shame and punishment, which would be His right, instead He extends mercy and forgiveness. Sometimes, like in Joseph’s case, God will call us to surrender our “rights” in order to extend His grace.

REPUTATION

20But 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. 21She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”

22All 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”).

24When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife,” (Matthew 1:20-24 NIV).

On the one hand, you can imagine the wave of relief Joseph must have been feeling after this dream! Mary was innocent! This was all part of God’s marvelous plan to bring forth the Messiah! Of all the people God could’ve chosen, He chose us. On the other hand, there were some new realities they would have to embrace if they were to see this through. In choosing to stay with Mary after the news of her pregnancy, people would assume they had consummated their marriage before the appointed time. The reputation he had spent a lifetime to build would be gone in an instant. He and Mary would have to leave their homes, their families, and seek a new life in another land.

Many of my good friends are having babies and seeing their pictures reminds me of what it was like to become a father for the first time. Every step of the journey — from finding out about the pregnancy, to the Doctor visits, to the delivery was such a rollercoaster of emotions — there’s nothing like it. On the one hand you’re overjoyed and excited but at the same time there are so many questions and unknowns. Every day you’re thinking — I wonder if they’ll look like me, what kind of hobbies will they enjoy, what if they don’t look like me, will I have to drive a minivan? And every day is filled with new joys and discoveries, as well as new challenges and sacrifices. A story that I think captures this tension is the day I sold my motorcycle. With the kids, I no longer had the time or the money to keep riding, the bike was taking too much space in the garage, and (hold on, my wife wrote this part so I want to make sure I get it right). But I vividly remember loading my bike onto the back of this guy’s truck, strapping it down, and watching him drive down the road and out of sight. As he drove away I thought about all the memories I’d had on that bike — the sense of freedom. What snapped me out of that trance was Evangeline pulling my hair. She was sitting on my shoulders and even though she didn’t say a word, it was as if she was saying, “Am I worth it?” If you were to tell me everything it would have cost, up front, before having kids, I don’t know how I would’ve answered that. But now, having kids; every time a choice had to be made — to sell my bike, to sell my xbox, the sleepless nights, late night trips to the ER, all of it has been worth it.

God doesn’t show us the full extent of what following Him will cost us. If He did, many of us might get scared off! We do our best to measure the cost when we first decide to follow Him but none of us fully knows. As we walk through life with Jesus there will be highs and lows — joys and sacrifices. Following Jesus may cost you your reputation at times, your comfort, even your livelihood. But the more you get to know Him, and the more in love with Him you become, you discover, it’s all worth it. Joseph was willing to sacrifice his home, his livelihood, and his reputation in order to fulfill God’s marvelous plan for his life.

REWARD

4So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. 5He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. 6While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, 7and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them,” (Luke 2:4-7 NIV).

Joseph was looking forward to enjoying the rewards of his labor. Enjoying his marriage, someday fathering his own child, and settling down to raise a family. Instead, his dreams would have to be put on hold.

It began with the journey to Bethlehem. When Jalee was 26 weeks pregnant we hiked to Laie falls and I thought that was impressive. 9 months into her pregnancy, Mary journeyed for 3 days, across 80 miles of rugged terrain with no Motel 6’s along the way. Chances are they spent their nights outside by the campfire. I imagine Joseph trying to be strong for her along the way, “Almost their honey. Don’t worry, when we get to Bethlehem you’ll have a nice warm bed and I’ll make sure you and the baby are comfortable. Strike two. Perhaps traveling at a slower pace because of her pregnancy, by the time they arrive to Bethlehem there is not a single room available. The best Joseph can do is a cave-turned-barn outside of town. Far from the clean, warm, room he’d promised they’d have to make-do with a stable. As Jesus was born it was not to the sound of family and friends celebrating but to cows and goats.

I wonder if Joseph had questions in that moment? “Did I really hear from God? Was this a mistake? How could I let my son be born here? How could you let Your Son be born here? Was this Your plan? Hello God?”

Suddenly his thoughts are interrupted. He hears a sound outside. Men are moving about outside the cave. Suddenly, a group of rough looking men come into view. “Oh no,” thinks Joseph. Shepherds were the lowest caste in society. They were often untrusted and they smelled like, well, sheep. What are they doing here? Joseph positions himself between the men and his family but is not prepared for what happens next. The shepherds fall to their knees. They begin rambling about angels and a message. “For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.” To anyone else they would’ve sounded crazy. But to Joseph and Mary this was confirmation.

All of it was true. The angels, the dreams, the risk, the sacrifice, the hardships, the doubts, and fears — all of it leading to this moment. Jesus was born. God’s Messiah was here. It was all worth it. Like His Father Joseph, Jesus laid it all down for us. The Bible says about Jesus,

“Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

Joseph let go of his earthly rights, reputation, and reward but the Lord restored unto him the right to witness the birth of the Messiah, the reputation of being Jesus’ earthly father, and the everlasting reward of being an instrument in God’s miraculous plan to save humanity. Whatever you give to God He gives back to you 100-fold.

Jesus told His disciples, “Yes, you have followed me. In the re-creation of the world, when the Son of Man will rule gloriously, you who have followed me will also rule, starting with the twelve tribes of Israel. And not only you, but anyone who sacrifices home, family, fields—whatever—because of me will get it all back a hundred times over, not to mention the considerable bonus of eternal life. This is the Great Reversal: many of the first ending up last, and the last first.”

God has a plan and a purpose that is far greater than anything you could imagine for yourself. Choosing to let go of your plan in order to walk in God’s plan comes with sacrifice. Jesus gave everything to bring you into this new life and everything we give for Him will be restored 100-fold.

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