Sermon preached by Rob Barber
on Sunday 22nd December 2019 (Fourth Sunday of Advent)
Isaiah 7.10–16; Psalm 80.1–8; Romans 1.1–7; Matthew 1.18–end
So here we are, the last Sunday of Advent, the last Sunday we prepare for the coming of Christ. As with the imminent birth of a child in the family, we treat this in a great sense of anticipation.
In the Gospel reading, we heard the story of Jesus’ birth. Matthew’s version of events is far less dramatic than the account we read in Luke’s gospel, no hordes of angels singing in the sky and that sort of thing. This is a very down-to-earth straightforward account – “The birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way”.
I’ve often felt that the great unsung hero in this story is Joseph. We know very little about Joseph – we know he was a carpenter and that he was a good religious man, but apart from that there is very little reference to him in the gospels. After the stories of the birth and infancy of Jesus, the only other reference to him is when Jesus was found in the temple some twelve years later.
We do know that Joseph was an honourable man. He was engaged to Mary and had discovered that she was expecting a child that wasn’t his. On finding this out, he was prepared to send her away somewhere, who knows where, in order not to humiliate her. Now, these days, we may throw our hands up in horror at the very thought of anyone doing such a thing, but back then, this would have been considered the honourable thing to do. Remember, in those days and in that culture, it would have been considered perfectly acceptable for him to have had her publicly stoned to death in order to clear his own name.
But in the end, he did neither. An angel spoke to him in a dream and persuaded him to take Mary as his wife. That must have been quite some conversation, because in a situation like that, I reckon a lot of us would need a fair bit of convincing. But by opening his mind and listening to God rather than following his initial instinct, he changed the entire course of history.
Joseph would have been familiar with the words of the prophets and the psalmists telling of God’s promise to his people that he would send the Messiah. I’m sure that never in his wildest dreams had he ever imagined that he was to take such an active role.
So Jesus came into the world, not so much born to be king, but born to be our saviour.
We can learn a lot through Joseph’s actions. He’s shown to be a man of very deep faith. He trusted God and as such, took a great leap of faith into the unknown in what must have been a difficult and confusing situation. God moved him in strange ways and he was responsive to this.
We also learn that he was selfless. He demonstrated his love for Mary by not alienating her but instead, accepted her and remained loyal. This selflessness allowed him to act without fear of ridicule or scorn. Doing God’s will was what was most important for Joseph.
We can learn from these aspects of Joseph’s character. For example, how do we respond to God when he communicates to us in strange ways? Can we make that same leap of faith that Joseph did when we’re unsure about the future? Can we embrace those people and situations that least suit us?
This season of Advent is the time for us to examine our ability to focus beyond our own concerns and respond to the needs of others so that Christ can come into their lives though us. So we need to open our minds and recognise the power of God.
We can take a lot of inspiration from Joseph, the “back room boy” of the Incarnation, taking a back seat while his adopted son carried out his ministry. And that must have been hard for Joseph – having to accept that he was an adoptive father. When Jesus was found in the temple at the age of 12, he spoke of being in “his father’s house”. His father – that’s not you, Joseph. Despite that though I’m sure Joseph spent much of Jesus’ childhood quietly encouraging and nurturing him.
So Joseph was the unsung hero by quietly preparing for the birth of Jesus with gentleness and faithfulness. He loved and supported Mary and together they brought Christ into the world.
We too can be unsung heroes like Joseph, and who knows, like Joseph, we too could find ourselves very close to the workings of salvation! We are challenged to imitate Joseph’s example as we live and work with other people.
So without any great heroic acts, we accept Jesus into our hearts and minds, listen to God and on this, the last Sunday of Advent, say “Maranatha! Come, Lord Jesus!”