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Sermon for Christmas Eve 2021

Christmas Image

Matthew 1:18-25

I’m gonna do something I think I’ve never done before.  I’m gonna preach a sermon about Joseph.  There’s not a lot of love for Joseph out there in the Christmas narrative.  There is a lot of focus on Mary and on Jesus.  And rightly so.  But Joseph, well, it seems like he is lost in the shuffle.  If you are putting on a Christmas pageant the role of Joseph is going to the tallest boy who doesn’t want to have many lines to speak. 

Contrast that with the wisemen who aren’t even named in the Bible, those three will have a lot more to do in any Christmas play.

So what gives?

Well, I think Joseph gets lost in the mix because after his appearance in the birth narrative, and then again in one story when Jesus was 12 years old in the Gospel of Luke, Joseph disappears from the story. 

He just exits stage left very early in the Gospels and we are never told exactly what happened although we can guess that Joseph died sometime between when Jesus was 12 and when he was 30 years old.

First a little background, the little bit that we know of Joseph.  We know that he was a carpenter or a woodworker.  So, he was a tradesman, he was a work-a-day guy.  And we should remember that he was a woodworker before the advent of power tools which means Joseph put in some hard days.  We also know that he was not well off given the fact that Joseph and Mary gave the less expensive offering when Jesus was presented at the temple… just an every day guy.

Our Gospel text tonight teaches us some things about Joseph particularly that he was a stand-up guy.  Joseph wanted to protect Mary from the beginning even before the angel told him about this child she was carrying.  At first, all he knew was he was supposed to marry her and suddenly she was pregnant and he was not the father. 

A lot of guys might be angry or seek revenge or want to publicly shame their fiancée.  Apparently, Joseph was a very kindhearted man because he decided to divorce her quietly.  In his culture being betrothed or engaged was on the same level as already being married.  He had every right to make her life difficult but he chose the path of forgiveness instead of vengeance.

As soon as God intervened Joseph responded in faith.  Sometimes modern Christians want to deny miracles like the virgin birth.  “Oh that’s just a story that didn’t happen, he didn’t really walk on water, and so forth.”

 Frankly what’s so hard to believe?  If God can create the universe he can do these things.  And why should we have such a hard time?  Joseph has the biggest reason to be upset the biggest reason to be skeptical.  The truth is any other time in the history of the world a betrothed woman turned up pregnant that meant unfaithfulness had occurred.  Joseph truly must have seen an angel in his dream to be convinced otherwise.

From that point forward Joseph had a new mission, not only to protect Mary but to protect the child she carried.  This meant perilous travel, it meant a trip to Egypt, it meant a disruption to his work as a carpenter, it meant dropping everything, and Joseph did all that.  Whatever it took.

It would be nice if more men were like Joseph.  More men saw their bride and their children as their responsibility to guard, to protect, to cherish to nurture, to provide for no matter what the cost. 

What would our world look like if we had more Dads like Joseph out there?  We all know the statistics, the rates of divorce or absentee dads, or dads who don’t pay child support.  You don’t hear about that so much anymore but there used to be a lot of talk about dead-beat dads. 

This lack of standing up and taking responsibility is just one more aspect of the fall of mankind into sin.  Sin is man curved in on himself, prioritizing yourself above the needs of those around you, those whom you should be cherishing and upholding.

This is why we needed a Savior in the first place, because a lot of guys are not like Joseph, a lot of women are not like Mary a lot of us put our own needs before the needs of others, a lot don’t heed the call of God when it comes.

Another reason why Mary remains a focal point so much more than Joseph is because Mary remains in the story to the end.

Mary sat at the foot of the manger on day one.  Jesus’ improvised wooden cradle.

And Mary stood at the foot of the cross 30 years later.  Jesus’ improvised wooden means of public humiliation and execution.

Humble Mary who accepted God’s call to bear this child this Savior also had to feel the pain of a mother seeing her firstborn in such distress.

Mary would have wanted so badly to protect her son, even as Joseph had protected both her and Jesus decades earlier.

Christmas and Easter are the two main Christian Holidays and although the world probably considers Christmas the bigger holiday the church holds Easter as more important.  Easter is our promise of life eternal, Jesus rises three days later and we too shall arise.  On Easter we focus on Jesus and his victory over sin and death.

But Christmas is meaningful and the focus is not on Jesus alone, it’s on all the circumstances that came together to usher this Savior into the world.

Christmas is a family drama… a young family, away from home, trying to get by.

You see that’s how God created us to exist, not as individuals but as members of a family.  So it makes sense that Jesus coming to save us, that he wouldn’t just arrive like in a capsule as a fully grown man, but that he would be born into a family and live and be raised as we are.

My point in all of this is please see how God was putting all these puzzle pieces together, working with all of these moving parts in order to save you… and this is our evidence of God’s great love. He did not divorce humanity quietly but instead stuck it out, and moved to save us from our adversary.

I leave you with this summary of how Christmas is the ultimate symbol of God’s love from John’s letter:

In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. 

Christmas is life, life come to us, and life given to us.  Amen.