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Sunday sermon 22 December 2013 (Advent 4) – Joseph, man of God

Reading: Matthew 1:18-25


So you’re engaged – and the engagement ends. Do you get to keep the ring?

Depends – I think – on who breaks the engagement. If it’s the guy – then she keeps it. If it’s the girl – she gives the ring back.

Well that was the law I studied when becoming a marriage counsellor.

What do you make of Joseph and Mary’s muddle?

18 Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. 19 Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly. (NRSV)

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. (NIV – one of them anyway)

What was the nature of their arrangement? It seems that the English words don’t capture their status. Were they engaged or married? Was does it mean to be “pledged to be married”.

It was more like a two stage wedding. The first was a contract arranged by the parents – a betrothal- a marriage contract in fact which could only be broken by divorce. The second step happened about a year later when the groom actually took the bride home as his wife – that’s when the feast took place. These two phases have specific Hebrew names which I won’t bore you with. The point is it was different from our set up today. We have other issues – partners galore, common law arrangements- and now legally you can marry anyone. Within a week of the new law on marriage here in NZ there were campaigns for polygamy. The boundaries will get pushed again and again.

Last week we reflected on Mary – her soul and spirit response to God in the face of the predicament she finds herself in.

Today we look at Joseph. He was in a corner – a proverbial tight spot. They were in-between the two phases of marriage – a time when they were not living together and certainly not sleeping together. In the literal sense of the Hebrew language he did not “know” her. Remember the passage in Genesis?

Genesis 4:1 says:  Now the man knew his wife Eve, and she conceived and bore Cain…

Hebrew is quiet a concrete language. The latest NIV generously translates the passage like this:

Adam made love to his wife Eve, and she became pregnant and gave birth to Cain…

I digress of course. The point is – there was clearly none of this intimate “knowledge” between these two. (I hope from now on you will not walk around saying that you know people. Could be misunderstood by those who remember anything of this today!)

So here’s this man in a place of panic mixed with distrust of this girl. If it wasn’t him, then who on earth was it?

Well there’s the solution. No one on earth.

There are debates in theological circles about the word “virgin” and whether in the New Testament the word translated simply means “young girl”.

The bible text is quite direct here. Listen again to the NIV version in the pew:

Mat 1:18  This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit.

Mat 1:19  Because Joseph her husband was a righteous man and did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.Jospeh dream

Mat 1:20  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.

What is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. There it is.

I love the response of this righteous man. He did not want to expose her to public disgrace – because this would be a breaking of the serious code of marriage really! It implies adultery – forbidden by one of the big ten. (Can you remember which one? Between ‘don’t murder” and “don’t steal” is the 7th commandment – ‘don’t commit adultery”.)

But Joseph gets a text – an email –  a facebook message? Nope – just a dream – an angel appearing saying to him:

“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.

And of course it gets better:

Mat 1:21  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.”

Matthew reminds his listeners about the fulfilment of the prophecy of Isaiah 7:14 which we also heard today. Makes sense – Matthew’s gospel was written for a Jewish readership or audience.

I love Joseph’s openness to being led by God.

We need more Josephs today – open to the Lord’s leading.

And his obedience is fairly efficient:

Mat 1:24  When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife.

Mat 1:25  But he had no union with her until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus.

We need to pray for the men of this nation – and this community too – that they hear God speak into their lives.

We are especially grateful for this man – who taught Jesus the skills as a carpenter – and would have shaped his life.saint-joseph-miguel-de-angel

I’m sure that Jesus was like Joseph – just like he sounds like Mary in the beautitudes.

Men of God. Listen to His voice.


Sunday 18 November @9 – Yes, God cares about your relationships

Yes, God Cares About Your Relationships

Preacher: Lester Simpson

John 13:1, 12-17, 34-35, 1 Corinthians 13:1-7, Philippians 2:1-5,

According to one story about Adam & Eve, after the honeymoon was over a bit of friction crept into their marriage, and Adam went to God and said:

“Lord, this woman you gave me, she’s very beautiful and all that, but she has some irritating habits that are driving me crazy.  Could you take her back, please?”

God agreed, and Adam reverted to the single life.   But within two or three weeks the loneliness got to him, and he asked God to bring Eve back.

God complied, and Adam & Eve settled down to married life again.

But after a few weeks Adam returned to God complaining, ‘Lord, this woman is so frustrating.  She talks all the time, and wants me to do this and do that.  I’d rather be without her.”

And God fulfilled his wish.

But after a week or two of silence, Adam missed Eve so much he asked God to restore her.

This happened several times until finally God said to Adam, “The trouble with you, Adam, is that you can’t live with Eve, and you can’t live without her!”

And that’s the way it’s been ever since!

Relationships – something we can’t avoid unless we go and live on a desert island all alone.

All too often human relationships are brittle and broken, e.g.:

– one in every 3 or 4 marriages ends in divorce, leaving behind a trail of scars, hurts, confusion and broken dreams.

– even within the family, relationships can be difficult.  Try living with teenagers!

– what about adult brothers and sisters who haven’t spoken in years?

– to say nothing about those awkward neighbours and the people at work who are hard to get on with.

Henri Nouwen said this: “The main source of suffering in North America has to do with relationships.’

When life is full of anger, hurts, differences and blow-outs, it becomes wearying, negative and depressing – causing us to ask:

Does God care about my situation,

my mediocre existence,

my struggle to hold things together?

Yes!  God does care about our relationships.  He made us to live in relationship – with Himself and with others.

He made us to love and be loved.

How important are relationships?  They are:

  • Creation’s goal – we’re made in the image of the Triune God, to relate to Him
  • God’s priority – first four commandments are about our relationship to God, and the next six about our relationship to others
  • Christ’s passion- “A new commandment I give you, that you love one another as I have loved you”.
  • The Apostles’ concern – 30% of the NT letters deal with relationships

This importance is underlined by the frequency in the NT of words like “together” and “one another”.

God shows relationships matter by the fact that the Bible contains so much teaching in this area – from Cain’s rhetorical question, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” through to John’s letters:

“Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God.”

The Bible is not the only place you can find teaching on relationships.  There is a plethora of teaching available in books, workshops, counselling sessions and online sources.

Much is sound and good,

but the basic principles are there in the Scriptures, in the Word of God.

We are wise to test all techniques, approaches and methods by the Word of God.

Let me suggest three Basic Principles for Building and Maintaining Stable and Healthy Relationships:

i.e. how to love other people, whether the love is in marriage or in friendship or neighbourly relations:

1. Recognise that to Love is to be Vulnerable:

CS Lewis: “The only place outside Heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all the dangers and agitation of love is Hell.”

Life involves us in hurting and being hurt.

Once we accept this as true/realistic, we can use our energies learning how to deal with it, rather than trying to avoid it or deny it.

Brian Hathaway wrote this: “The true mark of a Christian community is not the absence of conflict, but the presence of reconciliation.”

No one likes being hurt, and one of the greatest fears in any relationship is the fear of being rejected.

Think of the way a couple at a certain point in their relationship start to hide feelings and information from each other, because they’re afraid it might sabotage their relationship.

But without risking knowing and being known, we cannot build close relationships.

Keith Miller describes in his writings how he struggled with this, and how as he grew in his trust in God and God’s continuing love for him, it helped him to open up and build close relationships.

The other side of the hurting process is forgiveness, forgiving the other person who has hurt us.

To refuse to forgive is to imprison ourselves behind a wall of resentment.

Forgiveness doesn’t mean brushing off the hurt as if it didn’t matter (which is a form of denial) or pretending we can just forget it,

but going to the other person,

speaking the truth in love,

expressing how we feel,

seeking reconciliation,

and showing forgiveness.

We read in Proverbs 27:5-6  “Better is open rebuke than hidden love.  Wounds from a friend can be trusted, but an enemy multiplies kisses.”

To love is to be vulnerable – just as God, in loving the world through Jesus became vulnerable to the world’s rejection and hatred.

2.  Love with Self-Giving Love, Not Acquisitive Love:

i.e. love that seeks to give, rather than to get.

When Paul appealed to the Philippian church to adopt the same attitude as Christ, it was in the context of dealing with (note this) strained relationships:

“Do nothing out of selfish ambition…Look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.

Have the same attitude as Christ, who although He was God, did not cling to his prerogatives, or claim His rights, but gave up His heavenly glory, and became a servant… going even to the cross” (Phil. 2:3-5)

Self-giving love is servant love, e.g. Jesus washing his disciples’ feet.

Cf. the Servant Song: “Brother, sister let me serve you,  let me be as Christ to you.”

In 1 Corinthians 13:4-5 we read: “Love is patient, love is kind, it does not envy, does not boast, is not proud, or rude, or self-seeking

(Or in JB Phillips’ translation: “Love does not insist on having its own way”)

The love that builds relationships is not expressed in claiming rights or insisting on its own way, but in mutual submission.  (See Ephes. 5:21)

Jonathan & David provide a model of self-giving love in their friendship.

Jonathan honoured David above self, he risked his reputation for David, and was faithful to him, no matter the cost.

That cost was considerable – because supporting David meant that David would become king, not Jonathan.

3. Don’t Retaliate:

Peter, in counselling his 1st century readers how to cope with persecution and suffering, reminds them of the example left by Jesus:

“When they hurled their insults at Him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats.  Instead He entrusted Himself to Him who judges justly.”  (1 Peter 2:23)

As in the Golden Rule – Jesus practised what he preached, He exemplified what he taught.

The source of this kind of love is God.

1 John 4:7 “Friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God”

If you’ve read “The Shack” (W. Paul Young), you’ll recall there are some wonderful passages about the love of Father, Son and Spirit who dwell in a circle of love and mutual submission in the Godhead.  At one point Papa tells Mack they want him to join their circle of love.

God’s love is giving, not manipulative (“God so loved the world that He gave His only Son…”),

constant , not fickle (i.e. covenant love)

In an age when commitment is at a low premium, we need to focus on covenant love, love which is the expression of commitment and loyalty.

That’s the only foundation for the right kind of love, for enduring relationships.

The greatest chapter on love in the Bible is 1 Corinthians 13.

Someone doing a study on this said afterwards they felt like giving up, because the study asked lots of questions that only served to drive home how much the person had failed.

Pity, because the purpose of God’s Word is not to put us down, but to lead us to Him, to experience His forgiving, affirming, liberating love, and to enable us in turn to love others.

Yes, God’s Word does convict us of our failures, for we can’t follow Christ in our own strength.  But as we yield our lives more and more to Him, His Spirit will change us into His likeness and we will manifest his love in our relationships.