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12.24.17 Where is God in the Waiting? Matthew 1:18-25a Sermon Summary

by on December 27, 2017

Not many people would offer Joseph the father of Jesus as an exemplar of faith. Maybe we should give him another look.

We know very little about Joseph the father of Jesus. The gospels tell us he was a descendant of David and that he was a carpenter. He is remembered as Jesus’ father during Jesus’ adult life, which implies he was out of the picture by then. Later speculation says that he was an elderly widower, which is used to explain Mary’s perpetual virginity and more recently to defend some politician’s predilection to date teenagers.

Despite such a dearth of information, Joseph might be considered along the other exemplars of the faith in the Bible: Noah, Moses, Hannah, Abraham and Sarah, Joseph the son of Jacob, David, Mary, Paul, and of course Jesus, to name a few.

Some of these others have a long narrative presence in the Bible. Others have brief but extraordinary episodes. Joseph has neither. His story is told very matter-of-factly. He’s sort of like a place-holder in the narrative of Mary and Jesus. But there are a number of characteristics about Joseph that qualify him for inclusion in the above list.

First, Joseph was a religiously righteous man. Matthew tells us this directly. Joseph apparently had a reputation to maintain, which is why he couldn’t bring a pregnant Mary into the picture. For as the angel reminded him, he was a “son of David.”

Second, Joseph was a man of discernment. When he heard about Mary’s pregnancy, he didn’t rush to judgment. He didn’t exercise his rights immediately. He didn’t claim the moral high ground. Instead, “He planned to dismiss her quietly.” Matthew tells us he “resolved” to do this, which implies careful deliberation, a weighing of pros and cons, a working out of the details. For Joseph, faith required discernment.

Third, Joseph was compassionate. This is what led him to plan to dismiss Mary quietly. He was “unwilling to expose her to public disgrace.”

To the qualities of faith Joseph already had—righteousness, discernment, and compassion—God was about to call him to yet deeper faith. All his righteous discernment and his compassionate motives could not prepare him for God’s revelation. And this is why the angel comes to him in a dream.

Sometimes it isn’t enough to walk the straight and narrow, or to make decisions with prayer, or to treat others with compassion. Sometimes God wants to do something so unusual he has to move us out of the way. God has to bring us to a dark wood, to a place where our faith can take a new turn.

For Joseph, that was in the darkness of night. The angel came during a dream, when all these admirable qualities of Joseph’s faith were in a suspended state. There the revelation occurred. Mary’s child is of the Holy Spirit, and he is the Savior of the people.

When Joseph awoke, he added a fourth quality of faith: Patience. Joseph waited. He waited to have marital relations with Mary. Maybe he was unwilling to cause skepticism about Jesus’ origins. Or maybe it was to protect Mary against her own doubt.

Or maybe he waited out of respect for God’s priority. Joseph had learned that God is in religious righteousness, that God is in faithful discernment, and that God is in compassionate decisions. Now he would discover that God is also in the waiting.

This Christmas, as we celebrate the first arrival of Christ in his birth and await the final arrival of Christ in the fullness of God’s Kingdom, may God find us waiting faithfully. Faithful like Joseph. For God is in the waiting.



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