“A Decision of Faith by Joseph, Husband of Mary” (Matthew 1:18-25)

Pastor Ino

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Merry Christmas! I am glad to celebrate Christmas, the birth of Jesus Christ, together with you. We have just gone through the 4 weeks of Advent season. Each week we read from the Old Testament a passage of the Bible that has some connection to the life of Jesus. Each of those passages anticipates the coming of Jesus and describes his work as a Savior. Let’s look back on what we have read.

On the first week of Advent, we read from Jeremiah 29:11, which helps us see that, through Christ, God has a new plan for us: “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, to give you hope and a future.”

Then, on the second week of Advent, we read from Psalm 23, which reminds us that Jesus was born to be our Good Shepherd. The Good Shepherd guides us in the journey of life.

In the third week, we read Isaiah 9:6, which calls Jesus “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”

And last week, we read Isaiah 53:4, remembering that Jesus was nailed to the Cross because he was born to carry our sins. Isaiah wrote, “Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted.” On the Cross, he took up our sins and redeemed us by dying in our place. The next verse, Isaiah 53:5 says, “But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed.”

This Advent, we anticipated the birth of Jesus by reading these passages that remind us of why Jesus came to be born on Earth. Jesus Christ, who is the God of Glory and Prince of Peace. The Good Shepherd who guides us by the Holy Spirit and prays on our behalf. Let us bear these things in mind as we celebrate him.

And so we celebrate Christmas today. The word “Christmas” comes from the word “Christ” and the word “Mass,” which means to worship or to celebrate. In other words, a day to worship Christ and to celebrate his birth. The day God became flesh and was born as a man. This is something beyond our full human understanding. The birth of Jesus itself is a miracle. Through the faith of his human parents Mary and Joseph, we too have come to celebrate his birth. Because of the decisions Mary and Joseph made in faith, we celebrate Christmas today.

And what was the birth of Christ like? First, let us look at the Gospel of Matthew, chapter 1. Matthew 1:1 traces Jesus’ lineage all the way back to the patriarch Abraham and to King David.

Abraham is often called the father of faith because he believed God’s words and stepped out in faith. Abraham lived about 4,000 years ago and was the first patriarch of his people; God promised to bless all nations through his descendants (see Genesis 12:1-3). “All the peoples on earth will be blessed through you,” God said, and we believe God does this through Jesus—who was born a descendant of Abraham.

Jesus is also a descendant of David, Israel’s greatest king, to whom God promised that a descendant of David would sit on the throne forever (see 2 Samuel 7:12-16). Jesus was born as a man to fulfill that promise—he will reign forever.

“Jesus, the son of David, the son of Abraham.” The Gospel of Matthew emphasizes Jesus’ ancestry in its very first sentence. Jesus was born to inherit and carry on the promised blessings.

Matthew, the writer of this gospel account, then goes on to tell us about Joseph, who was engaged to Jesus’ mother Mary. Joseph came from the line of David. As a son of David, Jesus’ reign continues the reign of David’s kingdom. As Matthew 1:16 says, “and Jacob was the father of Joseph, the husband of Mary, and Mary was the mother of Jesus who is called the Messiah.”

The word “Christ” comes from the Greek “Christos,” and it means Messiah—which we understand to mean Savior. Meanwhile the name “Jesus” comes from the Hebrew name “Yeshua,” and in Greek this is “Iesous”. The meaning of Jesus’ name is “the Lord saves.”

Now, we will look at Christmas from the perspective of Joseph, father of Jesus. Matthew 1:18: “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.” Jesus was conceived even before Joseph and Mary lived together. It happened while they were still engaged, but in their culture, being engaged was more or less considered the same as being married. We don’t know if Mary was the one who told Joseph about her pregnancy.

Let’s look at the conversation Mary had with the angel Gabriel in Luke’s Gospel. We will read from parts of Luke 1:26-38:

The angel appeared to Mary and said: (v28) “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you . . . (v30-32) you have found favor with God. You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David. (v36-37) Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be unable to conceive is in her sixth month. For no word from God will ever fail.” And Mary answered, “I am the Lord’s servant. May your word to me be fulfilled” (v38). She accepted these events with faith. But she may have kept it all a secret.

So when Joseph heard of her pregnancy, he was confronted with a difficult decision. Should he continue to be with Mary, or to allow her to be charged with adultery—which according to the law, was punishable by stoning? Or, to keep it secret and divorce her quietly? He must have struggled to make the right choice. It would have been difficult for anyone. Regardless, he made his first decision within this conflict. As Matthew 1:19 says, “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.” He wanted to do right in the eyes of God and the law.

Earlier, verse 18 used this phrase: “when she was found to be pregnant by the Holy Spirit”. The word “found” here is an expression of great surprise. This surprise came with conflict, anxiety, and a huge decision to make. What a difficult burden Joseph had, but in the end he made his decision. He would keep the matter as quiet as possible.

Verse 20 says, “But after he had considered this…” Showing that he had spent time really thinking about what was the right thing to do and how it would affect Mary’s life. And that’s when an angel appeared to Joseph as well, in a dream. Joseph received guidance from God in a clear, direct way. The angel 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” (v20-21).

In this dream, the angel told Joseph to proceed with his marriage. The angel also implied that Mary was a virgin. Her child would be a son. Conceived by the Holy Spirit. It was a revelation from a God whose ways are higher than our human understanding can fully grasp. God’s great revelation came to fulfilment on the day we celebrate as Christmas.

Meanwhile, Joseph made another big decision—to obey God in faith. The rest of the chapter goes like this. Verses 22-25: “All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: ‘The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel’ (which means ‘God with us’). When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. But he did not consummate their marriage until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus.”

Joseph is the father of Jesus by law, though not by blood. The Bible asserts that Jesus was conceived in Mary by the Holy Spirit. Still, Joseph played an essential role in their lives when he chose to believe God’s guidance, to take Mary as his wife, to build a family with her and raise Jesus as their son. We often emphasize the faith of Mary. But Joseph, too, made decisions in faith—and this is what led to the first Christmas, as we know it.

Like Joseph, we are faced with tough decisions in life. Often we have to think hard about a situation and try to respond in the way that makes most sense. But there are times when we have to make decisions based on faith as well, based on trusting God’s words. Joseph and Mary did that, and their choices came with trials and hardships. Their choices led to the joy of Christmas, and we likewise hope to obey our God with the same faith that Joseph and Mary did.

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