Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Bethany Bullet - December 21, 2010

“Because Joseph was a righteous man and did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.”

Could you blame the guy? He recognized the situation. All signs pointed to one thing…his fiancé had been unfaithful. Joseph really didn’t have a choice. As a righteous and devout follower of Yahweh he could not follow through on the marriage; that is what a righteous man in his day would have to do according to the Law. Looking at the original language we could also translate this as “Although Joseph was a righteous man…” Kind of changes things doesn’t it? So was Joseph being “righteous” by filing for divorce and keeping it quiet? Or is it another example in the Bible of the outwardly righteous not acting so? It is a fascinating text and I think that it is intentionally ambiguous to make a point, and point to ourselves in the process.

Put yourself in Joseph’s shoes. His hand had been forced. He recognized the signs. Logic as well as the Law dictated a particular course of action. I am sure his feelings and emotions were raw. This was not a quick decision. Matthew tells us that he “considered it.” And then in typical divine fashion, there is a twist in the story, recognition of a different plan, an important plan, a plan beyond Joseph, indeed beyond humanity, a plan that doesn’t seem to make sense.

How often have you analyzed a situation, recognized the circumstances and formulated a plan without even a hint of the greater consequences let alone seeking the LORD for wisdom and guidance? Have you ever acted in a way you thought was righteous only to see that your intentions were neither righteous nor right? Whether it is in a relationship or a business referral, we have all made poor decisions.

So what can we learn from Joseph? First we need to recognize what God is doing.

In the Christmas story we have a cast of characters who don’t seem to recognize what is going on. Zechariah demands a sign and his tongue falls silent. Elizabeth keeps a low profile. Mary is frightened at the announcement, and Joseph decides to up and leave. Sound familiar? Have you found it hard to recognize what God is doing? Would you like a huge sign in the sky? Well it came, in a star and in a multitude of the heavenly host the night Jesus came as a baby.

Recognizing who Jesus is - the eternal Son of God that comes in the flesh. He came for those who have trouble recognizing that they need help. This helps us understand why he came.

Jesus is the only righteous One, who recognized our sinful condition and had in mind to save us from public disgrace. This was not something that was to be done quietly but was something that would rock the foundations of the world as He would defeat death and the devil as the promised Messiah and Redeemer.

Another way to recognize what God is doing is to see that He keeps His promises. During Advent and Christmas we hear from those often ignored Old Testament prophets who remind us that God is in the business of keeping His Word.

  • The Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel (Isaiah 7:14)
  • The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death light has dawned. (Is. 9:2)
  • For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. (Is. 9:6)
  • But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, 
out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times.” (Micah 5:2)

God has indeed kept His promises through His Son Jesus Christ. In Jesus, we find a Savior. In Jesus, our sins are forgiven.

Looking at the story of Christmas and indeed the entire story of salvation found in the Bible we also recognize that God at times acts contrary to common sense.

Just think about…
• the flood
• the passage through the Red Sea
• the message in the mouth of a donkey
• three men in a fiery furnace
• the mouths of lions that were closed
• a hand writing on a wall
• AND a King being born of a virgin.
Wouldn’t it make more sense for Jesus to be born to a queen? The King of kings and Lord of lords slept His first night on earth, not in a palace, but in a feeding trough. It just doesn’t make sense. He lived in the humble home of a carpenter not surrounded by the riches of royalty.

In fact, GRACE doesn’t make much sense does it? We do not deserve the gifts we have been given. Our actions are contrary to what has been required. To recognize what God is doing, we need to recognize our own sinfulness. The story of Jesus birth is only important because of what that baby came to do, namely make the trek to Calvary, to suffer and to die in our place. You see, God recognizes us for who we are but does not treat us as our actions deserve. God would have every right to cast us off, to expose us to public disgrace, to leave us to die in our sinfulness. But God at times acts contrary to common sense.

But Paul reminds us, “But when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law, to redeem those under law, that we might receive the full rights of sons.” (Galatians 4:4-5)

This is what God is doing in the Christmas story.

So what does that mean for us? Once we recognize that the Christmas story is more than just a birth announcement, once we understand what God has done in Jesus, we can start to recognize what God is calling us to do.

Like Joseph, we have been called to listen to His voice and trust Him. God knows what He is doing and He does as He promises. Recognizing what God is calling you to do is similar to Joseph and Mary, the shepherds and the wise men. Since He is faithful, we can trust Him. When He speaks through His Word that your sins are forgiven, they really are. When He promises to be with you always, He means it. When His Word is connected to water in Baptism, something amazing happens. When he says “This is my body…this is my blood broken and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins,” we know that all our sins have been washed away. When He calls us to make disciples of all nations, we need to heed His command.

After Joseph heard the words of the Angel and the promises of God, he obeyed His call. At times it can be hard to listen and obey, but Mary and Joseph listened to what God was saying to them and named the Child Jesus, a name that means “The LORD saves” because that is what this Child would do. As the angel told Joseph, “He will save his people from their sins.”

We too can follow the voice of the Savior. Obey His commands and listen to His call as it comes when we spend time in the Word, as we are gathered for worship, as we respond to His grace, as we live a life of faith.

In many ways living a life a faith is contrary to common sense. A life of faith embraces that which the world dismisses. It is the Christ part of Christmas; a bold witness to the promises of God recognizing what He has done and will continue to do through us. Living a life of faith may be contrary to the world, but it helps us to recognize what we are, and whose we are. Like Joseph, we may think we have it all figured out, but we too have experienced some divine intervention as Jesus Christ intervened in the world so that we can recognize Him as Lord and Savior. Like Joseph, our perspective has changed as to what is considered righteous.

Because Jesus was righteous He did not want us be exposed to public disgrace so He had in mind to quietly enter the world as a babe in Bethlehem to make us righteous. That is something to recognize.

Let us pray…
In this season of anticipation help us to recognize who you are, and what you have done through Jesus. In this season of expectation we prepare to welcome Christ Jesus into the bustle of our lives and the hard to find moments of solitude. We prepare to welcome Christ Jesus into our homes and situations along with friends and families. We prepare to welcome Christ Jesus, into our hearts, and those often hidden parts of our lives. We prepare to welcome Christ Jesus, for beneath the surface of your story is an inescapable fact. You entered this world as vulnerable as any one of us in order to nail that vulnerability to the cross. Our fears, our insecurities and our sins, all that can separate us from God exchanged by your Grace for Love. We cannot comprehend the reasoning only marvel that Salvation comes to us through a baby born in a stable, and reaches out to a world in need. We boldly pray this in the name of our Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

Pastor Seth Moorman


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