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Evan Earwicker: Joseph, Matthew 1:18-25

December 4, 2023

Audio Recording

Joseph expressed righteousness through his kindness, refraining from publicly shaming Mary despite her surprising pregnancy. He models a life guided by faith rather than fear, one that will embrace God’s plan despite its inevitable challenges.

Christmas Incarnation Graphic
Christmas Incarnation
Evan Earwicker: Joseph, Matthew 1:18-25

Sermon Transcript:

You're listening to a live recording from Westside Church in Bend, Oregon. Thanks for joining us as we come to Christmas. This is the central claim of the Christian faith, is that when humanity was far from God, unable to relate to God, unable to really truly know and understand God in any kind of intimate, relational way, when this was our predicament, God wrote Himself into the story.

God picked up the pin of history and into the arc of the human existence God put Himself.

And so as we lean towards Christmas and all the craziness that December represents for many of us, I know we take these moments together an hour here, an hour there to reflect on and to remember that God has become part of our story, that he is close to us. And I love the song. Oh, holy night. Any fans of a holy night? Yeah, I love that line. Long lay the world in sin and error pining until he appeared.

And so we celebrate all the time, but especially at Christmas, we celebrate that God is here among us. And I think the burning question that we face and we've all faced it, I think we face it when we watch the news and see wars raging around the world. I think we feel this burning question when life takes a turn and goes bad. We feel this question in doctors offices and at funerals. We wonder this one singular question that comes again and again, is God really with us?

Is God really close to us?

And for centuries, people living in the same world we live in, facing trouble and fear and uncertainty and pain and heartbreak have been asking the same question. And the story of Christmas for them as it does for us, has offered the answer in the name of a child.

Matthew One, verse 23, quoting from Isaiah, says, look, the virgin will conceive a child. She will give birth to a son, and they will call him Emmanuel, which means God is with us. If the question that burns in our hearts is God really with us? The answer of the child says, God is. God is. God is with us.

I love what Paul writes in Acts chapter 17. He says he is not far from any one of us. And that is really good news today. If you came in here, maybe you're visiting with us, maybe you haven't been in church in a long time or ever at all, and you're sitting here and that question is burning in your heart. Is God really close? The answer for all of us, regardless of history and past, regardless of what you came today, bringing with you the answer from Paul and the answer from the angels is he is not far from any one of us. So let's pray and we'll get into this. Lord, we thank you for the promise of the Advent season that once far from God, humans have now been brought into a place where God, you are with us.

And in a hurting world and in lives that experience trouble, ups and downs, we hold fast to the promise that, yes, in fact, you are with us, close to us, not far from any one of us. In you today, Lord, we have life and we move and we have our being. And so we rest in that promise today. In your name. Jesus. Amen. Amen.

So it is in the lives of normal, ordinary people that God shows up in the Christmas narrative. And isn't it true that oftentimes it is through the lives of ordinary, regular people that God, even today, ministers grace.

If we are waiting for the most camera ready, famous, talented, good looking, whatever you want to say, that kind of person to be the catalyst or the vessel that brings the grace of God to us, we will often find that we are looking in the wrong direction.

Because it is through the kindnesses and the faithfulness of simple, ordinary, regular people that God often moves and allows the presence of his glory and his grace to be ministered to the world around us. And I love that in the Christmas story, it's not different than that.

It's not some elite class of people that get to be part of this story.

The presence of God shows up in normal people's lives and through their faithfulness and obedience. No heroic acts, just simple faithfulness and obedience and kindness, god moves into the neighborhood. God shows up in our place, in our time. So we're beginning Advent in Matthew, chapter one. And over the next few weeks, we're going to be looking through the lens of these ordinary people, how they would have experienced and understood the story as it unfolded in real time. Today we're talking about Joseph. We don't know a lot about Joseph, precious little we know about Joseph. But what's nice is the Gospel of Matthew actually gives us a lens from Joseph's perspective.

We have in the first chapter and two chapters of Matthew, we get to see some of the mechanisms at play in Joseph's heart and mind as he steps into this story. So that's what we're going to look at today. We don't know much about Joseph. We know he's a tradesman, a carpenter in a backwater town far from Jerusalem. He's living his life. He's actually in the lineage of King David, which was a big deal back then. Have you done your family tree? Do you know where you come from?

Any crazy ancestors? Shout it out if you have a crazy ancestor.

Yes. Yeah, true. I think we can all say yes to that by name. Will we recognize any of your crazy ancestors?

Maybe not. I think King Richard the Lionhearted is somewhere in my lineage, which I like to bring up a know in conversations.

But this is a big deal for Joseph in his time to be in the lineage of David was a big deal. And actually, if you are paying attention to the prophecies about the Messiah, it was key that the Messiah would come from the house and the line of David. So Joseph, even in his lineage, plays an important critical role in the prophetic fulfillment of the promise of the Messiah. And so we have Joseph here. He is a tradesman, he's working class and he gets engaged betrothed to this woman named Mary. Come on, guys, he's engaged to Mary.

We're starting the very beginning here. He's engaged to be married to Mary.

And what we have to understand, in their day, the engagement legally was the beginning of the marriage contract. They would get to the wedding and the weding was for celebration and for consummation. But the marriage contract actually gets set into place at the engagement. And so here we have Mary and Joseph. They are legally joined as a married couple. They have yet to get to the wedding, but here they are engaged and he gets some news from Mary and it's not good news.

And the news goes something like this joseph, I'm pregnant. But trust me, it's not what you think.

An angel told me it's actually the Holy Spirit's baby.

And if you think that sounds normal, it's because you've heard this story your whole life. For Joseph it sounded crazy because that's exactly what it was, right? So Joseph gets this news and without all of our traditions around Christmas, this news is terrible and laughable and unbelievable.

And so he's wrestling with this horrible news that the woman that he's engaged to be married to is now pregnant with a child that is not his.

And so we read this story from Matthew, chapter one, starting in verse 18. It says, this is how Jesus the Messiah was born. His mother Mary was engaged to be married to Joseph, but before the marriage took place, while she was still a virgin, she became pregnant through the power of the Holy Spirit. And Joseph, to whom she was engaged, was a righteous man and did not want to disgrace her publicly. So he decided to break the engagement quietly.

As he considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream. Joseph, son of David, the angel said, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child within her was conceived by the Holy Spirit and she will have a son. And you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins. And all of this occurred to fulfill the Lord's message through his prophet. Look, the virgin will conceive a child, she will give birth to a son, and they will call him Emmanuel, which means God is with us. And when Joseph woke up, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded and took Mary as his wife. But he did not have sexual relations with her until her son was born and Joseph named him Jesus.

Joseph named him Jesus. It's interesting in that passage of Scripture how in the same sentence it describes Joseph as righteous and then says, and he didn't want to publicly shame her, but he was going to divorce her or end the engagement quietly.

For Joseph, who is receiving this news and his point of view, imagine your fiance comes to you. I'm pregnant. It's not yours. It's an angel that told me that it's God's. All of that is plenty of reason for him to not be kind or careful with Mary. And especially in their day, the law was on his side not only to end the engagement and divorce her, but the law was on his side to publicly shame her.

To publicly shame her. He could have easily moved on with his life, but in the process of publicly shaming her, he would have ruined hers. He would have ruined hers.

But the Scripture says that he was a righteous man and so he expressed kindness to Mary. And I think oftentimes we think of righteousness as how close you are to the rules, how close you are within your legal rights to enact something against someone who has wronged you. That is the right thing.

That is the just thing to do.

And yet in the story, we find that the narrative connects Joseph's righteousness with his unwillingness to disgrace her publicly. And I think this is true from the heart of God and for those who follow him, that our righteousness should look like kindness.

Our righteousness should look like kindness. That's my first point today, is that Joseph righteousness, it looked like kindness.

It looked like kindness.

It is all too popular in our day and age to hold on to where you feel like you are right.

And with that rightness in, you prove how wrong other people are.

And in this story, the thing that brings in and ushers in the presence of God into our world, it starts with this guy who is righteous, he is Godly, he is upright. And what is the outflow of that? It is kindness and a covering of shame.

We can learn a lot from this kind of righteousness and these decisions that Joseph is making even before he decides to stay with Mary and fulfill the marriage, and even before the angel comes to visit him, his heart to show and express kindness to Mary, who at this moment he doesn't think necessarily deserves that. His willingness to show kindness is something that costs him.

His willingness to say yes to God's word through the angel to marry Mary. Mary is something that cost him. We find this rumor of Mary's infidelity and illegitimacy of the child following Jesus his whole life. In John chapter eight, there's this fascinating moment, this encounter that Jesus has with this angry crowd. If you know John, chapter eight, you'll know that at the beginning of the chapter jesus stands in a crowd who is about to stone a different woman who is caught in the act of adultery.

And he steps in the middle of this angry crowd holding stones to end this woman's life. And he gets down in the dirt and he says, any of you without sin, you cast the first stone. And they all leave until it's just Him and this woman. And he says, I don't condemn you. Now go and sin no more.

And it's right after that moment in the same passage that Jesus is having an argument and a discussion with likely many of the same people that were in that crowd, and they're angry at him.

And so he turns to this crowd and he says, listen, you say that you are the children of Abraham, that Abraham is your father, and yet you are scheming to kill me, and all I've done is come to bring truth to you, and yet you want to kill me. That doesn't sound like you're the children of Abraham. And it riles them up so much that this is their response. Well, at least we're not illegitimate like you.

John, chapter eight.

And so we find that for Jesus's entire life, these rumors of his illegitimacy are following him. And we may not understand the level of shame, although I think we would understand a level of it, but the entirety of your reputation in that day could be absolutely destroyed by a rumor like this, not only for Jesus, but also for Mary and for Joseph.

And so when Joseph hears the word of the angel saying, hey, don't be afraid to take Mary as your wife, surely he knows this is going to cost me.

And I think that today, for us, righteousness that looks like kindness and a covering of shame will also cost us.

And so the question is, will we walk in the way of Joseph and Jesus to stand up for those who are weighted under the blanket of shame and say, Neither do we condemn you?

Joseph's righteousness looked like kindness.

I have to think that making a costly decision to say yes to the words of the angels had to have something to do with what the angel said would be the name of the child.

That, as Joseph is weighing the decision, do I operate according to the word of the angel or do I do what is absolutely logical and within my rights?

That Joseph had those words ringing in his ears, but if God is with me, but if God really is with me, well, that changes everything.

So Joseph says yes to the words of the angels, and you know the story. They go to Bethlehem. The child is born.

By the way, I heard one scholar, we don't know this, but he said likely there was room in the city of Bethlehem, but not for a family like this, not for a woman clearly pregnant before the wedding. There was no room for them.

They go on, and Herod, the King, hears word about this prophecy of a child being born that would be the king. And so he puts a decree out, I want no baby boys born in Bethlehem to survive. And so there's a price on the head of Jesus. And because of this, Joseph takes Mary and the child and they flee into Egypt, where they are refugees from this murderous king.

That wasn't easy. That wasn't pleasant. They have to wait it out for several years until Herod is dead before they can return home.

And so we find that the coming of Jesus is nothing but trouble for Joseph.

From the very moment that Mary came to him and said, listen, I'm pregnant, I think it's God.

This has been nothing but trouble.

And the trouble did not end when Herod died. But the rumors of Mary's infidelity would have followed that family for the rest of Joseph's life. What a cost to pay. What a cost to pay.

And it's in the struggle and the difficulty and the challenges that somehow, somehow the presence of God is ushered into our world.

And I know this is true, and I hope this is something that will be proven in your life that oftentimes it's not in our best days, where God's grace and presence and mercy ministers to us, but it's on our worst days that become the catalyst for his grace to reach us, I think. So it was with Joseph that for all the trouble he was embracing and saying yes to, it was all met with this great contrast when he held that child in his arms and he whispered, emmanuel, God really is with us.

Joseph righteousness looked like kindness. And secondly, Joseph lived by faith, not fear.

I read this as babies, we're born with only two innate fears the fear of falling and the fear of loud noises.

And I shuddered to think about the experiment in the 1950s that discovered that we only have two fears as babies.

Nope, not afraid of tarantulas. Check that one off the list. All right.

Yeah. It is terrible.

If we only have two innate fears as babies, that means that every other fear that we have is a learned fear.

And if it's a learned fear, that means it can be unlearned.

I think faith at its core, as we look at the life and the teachings of Jesus, what faith in the way of Jesus looks like, practically, is the unlearning of fear.

All through the parables and the teachings of Jesus, again and again, Jesus is saying, listen, I know why you're afraid, but here's why. You can trust me. Here's why. Instead of fear, faith is the currency of my new kingdom.

And fear is a powerful motivator. Fear is a powerful motivator. It gets us to do things and it gets us to vote certain ways, and it gets us to say certain things. And it gets us moving. Fear is a powerful motivator.

But here's the problem. When we were constantly motivated primarily by fear is that we become people who spend our entire lives running from the things that we are afraid of. We live lives of avoidance where we try to build up security around us that keeps us from our fears. And I'll tell you what we end up living lives where we're playing not to lose and it's a bad way to live.

And Jesus and his story invites us into an abandonment of this kind of life where we're constantly running from the things that we fear. Last night I was driving with my son. I know I'm telling a lot of stories about my son lately, I apologize. But he's just with me so much.

So a lot of my stories are about him all the time.

But last night we were driving and he recently got a book from his school about snakes. And so he said dad, do you know the difference between king cobras and rattlesnakes? I said no buddy, what's the difference? And he said well the king cobra has those wings like this. That's true.

And I said well we don't have king cobras around here so you don't have to worry about that. But we do have rattlesnakes. And he goes, what?

I said yeah, there's ratlesnakes around here in the desert. And he goes dad, I never want to go to the desert. And I said Budy, we live in the desert.

Blows his mind, right?

And here's the thing we live surrounded by the things that make us afraid.

And so if your life goal is to run from and avoid the things that stir up fear in your heart you will have an identity as one who is constantly on the run. And that's no way to live.

And I think about the story of Joseph and every step he takes. The fears are mounting and mounting and mounting and at some point Joseph has to decide am I going to live running from my fears or am I going to say yes to a life of faith?

And isn't it true that that is the question that we all face?

Will we live a life surrounded by the avoidance of our fears or we will step into faith? And I have these conversations from time to time. Evan, don't you know this is how? Aren't you afraid of this?

What are we going to do about this thing that we should all be afraid? Don't you fear what is fill in the blank and there's plenty of things to be afraid of. But here's the thing. As the people of God, the people who have been invited to the Co announcing with Jesus of the new kingdom of heaven that is colliding with earth, the goodness of God that is evident all around us, fear cannot be the motivator for this kingdom.

We as a community of faith centered around the person of Jesus embrace a new kind of motivation. And in one John 418, we understand what it is. When John says perfect love, it casts out all fear. And who do we look to for an image of perfect love?

It's the one that was sent because of love. John 316 you may know it, for God so loved the world that he gave his only son.

The motivation for the incarnation, the coming of Jesus to earth is the love of God. And what is the outflow of the love of God? It's that all fear is cast out. If God is with us, fear has no place.

And so this is our posture now to a world that's watching, a world that is drowning in fears that are constantly being stirred up and stoked everywhere we look and every voice that we hear, be afraid, be afraid, be afraid. We stand in the perfect love of God expressed in this child Emmanuel, and say, if God is with us and we've seen his love and now we relate to God, his perfect love casts out all fear.

It's, it's not common to come into places and communities that operate as an antidote to fear.

I think most gatherings and communities and if you want to get something done, you have to very clearly articulate what we should be afraid of.

And yet here we are.

And what a beautiful subversive kind of protest to stand up and say we stand the perfect love of God.

Jesus was constantly pushing against this idea of fear and scarcity.

He would walk around Galilee and the poor that he would talk to, they knew a thing or two about scarcity.

They knew there was a lot to be afraid of.

And he would go and he would say things like, a shepherd had 99 sheep but one was lost. And so he actually left the 99 to go look for the one. And they're like, what? That's really bad. Shepherding like, come on man, you skipped economics here, bro.

There's no way that shepherd would leave 99% of all he's got to go after the one.

And then there's this other parable and Jesus says this very wealthy man, he had all this money he needed to invest it. And so he brought three of his employees and he gave a share to each of them. And he said, I'm going away on a trip and when I come home I want to see that you've invested my money well. And so the first goes off and does pretty well invest that treasure and the second one doesn't do so well, but he gets a little bit of return on the investment.

And the third employee was scared.

And in the parable Jesus tells the third employee says, you know what, I don't want to screw this up, so I'm going to dig a hole, a nice hole, a safe hole. I'm going to take this money. I'm going to put it in that hole. I'm going to guard that hole. And then when my master comes back, he will be so proud of me because I didn't lose his money.

So the master comes back and speaks to the employees, and first one says, I did pretty well. Here you go. He says you're blessed. Thank you so much. Second one I didn't do as well, but I did something. He's like you're blessed.

Third one, master, you're going to love this. Nobody got to. The money in the dirt.

And Jesus, to make a point, says that the employer gets so mad.

And I read this, right? I'm like, why? He didn't do that badly. I mean, he just protected. He was doing it in your interest.

And the Master says, you should have at least put it in a bank and got me some interest.

You should have at least moved past your fear enough to do something. But you've just sat in the things that you're afraid of and you've built up protections that try to keep you from the things that cause fear. And that's no way to live in this kingdom. Again and again, the Gospel tells us, fears are going to be all around you. What are you going to do?

What will you risk? How will you step into faith that says yes, even when it comes with a cost?

We are all here because a long time ago, a guy named Joseph heard some words in a dream that said, don't be afraid. And at great cost, he said, okay, I believe this, that on the other side of faithfulness is not the end of trouble or difficulty. Trouble comes.

Heartache is real.

And yet on the other side of our faithfulness and our yes to God comes the assurance crystal clear, the yes. In fact, God is with us.