Matthew 1:18-25 (NIV) 18 This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit. 19 Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly. 20 But after he had considered 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 home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” 22 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: 23 “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”). 24 When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. 25 But he did not consummate their marriage until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus.
My dear friends in Christ,
Throughout the Advent season we have asked the question, “What child is this?” The shepherds answered, “He is Christ the Lord! What a child this is!” The wise men answered, “This child is the true King, our real Savior, the proof that God’s Word is true.” Last week we heard Mary’s answer. She knew her son was special because he was God’s Son. “Do whatever he tells you.”
What about Joseph? Although Matthew, Luke and John all mention Joseph by name, none of them record a word he said. If that’s true, how can we hear his answer?
What does a first time daddy experience? Excitement! “I’m holding my baby.” In that same moment there is fear. “I’m holding my baby?!?!” It doesn’t take long for dad to get used to it, but that first time is exhilarating and terrifying at the same time! Joseph was a new father. Can you imagine his excitement? “What child is this? This is our child, our son.” Can you imagine the terror? “What child is this? This is God’s Son! How did I end up in the middle of this?”
Joseph didn’t choose to be involved in this miraculous birth. He didn’t think he should be involved at all, especially when he found out that the woman to whom he was engaged, Mary, was pregnant. Was Joseph angry? Yes—his fiancée had obviously been with another man! Did he love Mary and want what was best for her? Yes. “Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly” (Matthew 1:19 NIV). We may not hear a word from Joseph, but we see his actions. He loved God’s Word. He followed the law of Moses. He did the things that were right in God’s sight. He didn’t want to see Mary disgraced, or even worse, stoned for her actions. Joseph was a good man.
While Joseph considered his next step, God gave him some clear direction: “An angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, ‘Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins’” (Matthew 1:20–21 NIV). Joseph woke up. The dream was over, but the message was clear. “This is what I want you to do.” The words came straight from heaven! We can almost hear the questions flooding into Joseph’s head. “You want me to do what? I can’t do that. Everyone will ridicule me for taking Mary as my wife. The child, the child isn’t even mine and you want me to care for him as my own? I don’t think I can do it.”
What is our first reaction when someone tells us to do something? It doesn’t matter whether a parent tells us, or a teacher, or a sibling, or even our beloved grandma. We think, “No! Why do I have to do it? I did it last time. It’s someone else’s turn!” We have the same reaction to God’s commands. Jesus said, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” (Matthew 22:37 NIV). “No! Right now I love all these things that are under the tree with my name on them. I’ll love you, Lord, as soon as Christmas is over and I have everything I asked for on my list!” God said in Psalm 50, “Call on me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you will honor me” (Psalm 50:15 NIV). He wants us to use his name to pray, praise and give thanks to him. Why should we use it correctly? Everyone else uses “Jesus Christ” and “O my God” as an afterthought, an exclamation point. Jesus also said, “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:39 NIV). “No! Why should I love that person when they don’t treat me very kindly? I shouldn’t have to love someone who hurts me or takes advantage of me. I won’t! I’ll make them pay for what they did!”
If we refuse to listen to God’s commands, the consequences are severe. We heard God promise in Psalm 50 to deliver us when we call on him. In the same Psalm he warns: “Consider this, you who forget God, or I will tear you to pieces, with no one to rescue you: Those who sacrifice thank offerings honor me, and to the blameless I will show my salvation” (Psalm 50:22–23 NIV).
Joseph may not have been a man of many words, but he was a man of action—godly action. “When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife” (Matthew 1:24 NIV). No questions. No doubts. Just action. Joseph did what the Lord had told him to do. He took Mary home as his wife. That was just the first action. On the 8th day, Joseph had Jesus circumcised according to God’s covenant with Abraham. He named the boy “Jesus,” “the name the angel had given him before he was conceived” (Luke 2:21 NIV).
40 days after Mary had given birth, Joseph took Mary and Jesus to the temple. The law of Moses required that they “present him to the Lord” (Luke 2:22; Leviticus 12:2-8) and offer a sacrifice. Joseph made sure it happened. He took his family to Egypt to hide from King Herod when the angel brought another message from the Lord, and later returned to Nazareth instead of Bethlehem.
The Bible mentions Joseph one last time, when Jesus was 12 years old. “Every year Jesus’ parents went to Jerusalem for the Festival of the Passover” (Luke 2:41 NIV). Joseph was a good father. He lived his faith, celebrating the feasts and festivals, offering sacrifices, teaching his son to love and respect God’s Word. Joseph quietly did everything God called him to do as Jesus’ earthly father.
God didn’t choose Joseph because he had been a faithful believer and would be the perfect father. God chose Joseph to fulfill all his Old Testament promises. God promised David, “Your house and your kingdom will endure forever before me; your throne will be established forever” (2 Samuel 7:16 NIV). God would send someone from David’s own line who would reign over God’s kingdom forever. Through Joseph and Mary’s family lines Jesus was a descendant of King David. The ancient prophecy was finally fulfilled.
Joseph knew the answer to the question, “What child is this?” He could say, “Jesus is my son.” The people around Joseph acknowledged it. “All spoke well of [Jesus] and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his lips. ‘Isn’t this Joseph’s son?’ they asked” (Luke 4:22 NIV). Joseph was a man of solid reputation and a hard working carpenter. “Jesus is my son.”
Joseph would also tell us, “Jesus is God’s Son.” He’s God’s Son because he says and does things that only God can do. He preached sermons that amazed the crowds “because he taught as one who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law” (Matthew 7:29 NIV).
Jesus told a white capped, storm ravaged Sea of Galilee, “Quiet! Be still!” (Mark 4:39 NIV) and it obeyed. Jesus told a crowd of over 5000 men to sit down. They sat, and Jesus fed them all with 5 loaves and 2 small fish. Jesus told a woman who had lived a sinful life, “Your sins are forgiven. Your faith has saved you; go in peace” (Luke 7:48,50 NIV). I wonder if Jesus ever told Joseph that same thing, “Dad, your sins are forgiven.” He may have. We don’t know. Jesus has told us. Even though Joseph wasn’t Jesus’ biological father, Jesus was like his dad—sometimes he was a man of few words. On the cross Jesus didn’t say much. He made sure we could see his love and forgiveness in action. He promised, “It is finished!” He died for us. He forgave our sins! We can go in peace. There is no greater gift that God can give us on this Christmas Eve.
Now God can call us righteous and faithful. Now we can do all those things he asks us to do in peace and joy. We can, like Joseph, quietly serve our Savior. We can go to church, “as is our custom.” We can read and study God’s Word so that we are “faithful to the gospel.” We can “love our neighbor as ourselves.” I will love my neighbor, starting with my family. I’ll let my love show in my actions as well as my words. I will love my fellow believers here at Salem, even when we might not get along the best, or have a disagreement. I will love the unlovable, because God has loved me. That’s what this child, Jesus, has done for me!
What child is this? The son of quiet, godly Joseph. The Son of God who came for us. Jesus, our Savior! Amen!