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    Dec 09, 2018

    Whose Child Is This?

    Whose Child Is This?

    Passage: Matthew 1:18-19

    Speaker: Vivian McCarthy

    Series: Faithful

    Category: Advent

    Joseph went against everything he knew. Everything he believed. And he chose to love – no matter whose child this was.

    Joseph was a righteous man.  In our study for this month, Adam Hamilton suggests that Matthew may have been trying to make a point when he wrote this, and he wonders WHICH point Matthew was trying to make.  Was he using that phrase only to say that Joseph didn’t condone adultery?  Or was he using “that phrase in reference to the next line:  ‘Because he didn’t want to humiliate her, he decided to call off their engagement quietly.’”[1]

    I think it was likely both.  He clearly didn’t condone adultery.  But as a man of mercy and grace, Joseph was willing to take the blame for what he would have seen as a sin/ to protect Mary and/or the child she was carrying so that they would not experience a lifetime of shunning and struggle.  He knew the dire consequences for Mary should she be “caught” in adultery.  He knew the dire consequences for the baby. In their culture, and under the laws of their faith, adultery was a very serious offense, and somebody was going to take the blame!

    Joseph chose to take the blame on himself – to, in some very important ways, lay down his life for the woman he cared for. 

    Last week we heard an excerpt from the first chapter of our study where Hamilton ponders some specific teachings of Jesus, wondering what Joseph taught him or modeled for him that may have shaped Jesus’ teachings.  You may remember that I said that my favorite in Hamilton’s list was when Jesus taught about not looking with lust at a woman and Hamilton saying that sounds like what a dad might say to his son in “the talk” when the boy was about 13 or 14.  Such a normal, human, loving grace-filled conversation.  Such a normal, human, loving grace-filled way to nurture and guide a child.

    Is this another such example?  Did Jesus learn through living alongside his earthly dad that Joseph’s choice to not subject Mary to humiliation was comparable to laying down his life for the sake of someone else?  Did Jesus come to learn that God’s way includes laying down one’s life as an act of love and grace?  Did Jesus come to learn that God’s way includes laying down one’s life in an act of forgiveness?

    Joseph had every right to feel betrayed.  Some of us may be able to imagine Joseph’s struggle from a personal experience of adultery – a marriage falling apart for any reason – or maybe a boyfriend or girlfriend going out with someone else when you thought your relationship was serious.  ALL of us can imagine Joseph’s struggle when we think about the many kinds of betrayal we experience in life.  A friend who lied about you or shared your secret with a third party.  Being blamed for something you didn’t do.  Theft.  An employee endangering your business by unethical conduct.  A friend or even a friend in Christ dismissing you because you don’t do something the way they think it should be done.  A sharp word when you need a word of comfort.  We have all experienced betrayal.

    You know how you have been betrayed.  You know how it felt.  Joseph’s struggle was as real as it gets.  And I can only imagine that he lost quite a bit of sleep after Mary told him that an angel visited her with this news.  Of course it was the Holy Spirit.  How naïve do you think I am?

    But it was through his struggle – through his fitful, restless sleep that God spoke to Joseph through his own angel-messenger.  I’m taking some poetic license here – the angel said, “Don’t go about this in the usual way, Joseph.  You have an opportunity to do a Godly thing and turn the world upside down.  Where the world would chastise and humiliate, God would love and offer grace.  Where the world would judge and shun, God would offer a new way of looking at things, a new way of teaching, a new way of being.”

    That wasn’t part of today’s scripture reading.  That’s the next part where Matthew wrote in verses 20-25:

    20 But just when he had resolved to do 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 as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” 22 All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet:

    23 “Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel,” which means, “God is with us.”

    24 When Joseph awoke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took her as his wife, 25 but had no marital relations with her until she had borne a son; and he named him Jesus.

    We have read and heard those verses so often that maybe we hear a beautiful story – which, of course it is – but do we even BEGIN to catch on to how scary this was?  How counter-cultural it was?  How “against God’s word” it was?  Righteous meant following God’s laws – the laws of the synagogue – to the letter.  But friends, faith – discipleship – requires us to look beyond the surface of the warm, beautiful feelings we have for the story to search out the heart of God.  And it requires us to look beyond what we have “always known” for the same reason – to find God’s heart – and maybe even re-examine what we think we know of “God’s ways.”

    Joseph did that.  He went against everything he knew.  Everything he believed.  And he chose to love – no matter whose child this was. 

    The choir is going to sing an anthem that in some ways completes the meditation.  They are singing powerful words by Charles Wesley – from two of his hymns, Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus and Love Divine, All Loves Excelling

          Come, thou long-expected Jesus, born to set thy people free;

          from our fears and sins release us, let us find our rest in thee. 

    Wesley then moves from praying that Jesus will set us free to rehearsing some of the names or descriptions of this Savior that appear throughout the Hebrew scriptures:

                Israel’s strength and consolation, hope of all the earth thou art;

                dear desire of every nation, joy of every longing heart.

    Every longing heart.  We all long for assurance – for forgiveness – for worthiness – for freedom from fear – for grace. 

                Born thy people to deliver, born a child and yet a King,

                born to reign in us forever, now thy gracious kingdom bring. 

                By thine own eternal spirit rule in all our hearts alone.

    I know the hymn doesn’t end there, but it moves us to the next hymn that we are about to hear.  You see, Charles Wesley and Joseph of Nazareth knew that for God to rule in our hearts alone, it requires a change of heart – a making room in our  hearts – so that Christ can reign in our hearts.  And so, the choir will move to Love Divine, All Loves Excelling, a hymn that prays for Jesus to “enter every trembling heart.”  Now, choir I know that you aren’t singing that part – but this amazing piece moves good Methodists there – kind of how snippets of Hebrew scripture stories caught the ear and the attention of the Israelites.  They didn’t need to hear the whole story to understand that point.

    The anthem urges us, “In your heart prepare the way.”  Prepare the way for Jesus to enter your trembling heart.  Prepare the way for Christ to fix in us the humbling dwelling of love divine, all loves excelling – in other words, the kind of love that Jesus showed in his every act.  The kind of love that Joseph showed in his decision to take Mary as his wife.

    Hope and Expectation.  Deep hope.  Deep expectation – that the world will be changed by the Christ – the Prince of Peace.  Even that our hearts will be changed by the Christ – the Prince of Peace.  How else can we be disciples?

    [1] Adam Hamilton, Faithful: Christmas Through the Eyes of Joseph, page 45 Participant book.