I. Care for Mary
II. Carry out the angel’s commands
Matthew 1:18-25 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. 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. 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 be with child and will 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 had no union with her until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus.
In the name of Jesus Christ, whose coming at Christmas we joyfully celebrate, whose coming at Judgment Day we eagerly anticipate, whose coming in Word and Sacrament we greatly appreciate, dear Christian friends,
There is a lot to do! Baking, decorating, hosting, shopping, visiting, wrapping…. And that was just yesterday’s work! Everyone’s pre-Christmas “to-do” list is long, overwhelming and can bring a lot of anxiety and frustration if it is not done properly or on time.
But I’m not sure any of us have any idea of how overwhelming a pre-Christmas list can be until we LOOK AT JOSEPH’S PRE-CHRISTMAS “TO-DO” LIST! I. Care for Mary II. Carry out the angel’s commands.
What kind of a relationship did Mary and Joseph have at the time Matthew records for us here? Were they engaged? Yes! Were they married? Yes! Were they living together as husband and wife? No!
Though not commanded by Scripture, Jewish culture in those days indicated that when a man and woman loved each other and wanted to commit their lives to one another, they would verbally make their vows to one another. This is similar to what our current culture says engagement is, but back then this was considered a marriage. No document needed to be signed, but neither was there a consummation of the marriage until later when a large celebration was held, after which the new bride and groom would live together and enjoy the “one flesh” blessing of marriage.
So, Joseph’s pre-Christmas “to-do” list included caring for Mary, which would have been natural and easy for him to do because she was his wife. However, this was not so easy because he had now just found out that she was pregnant. How did that happen? He was not the father of the baby because he had never slept with Mary yet. The only way he knew of for Mary to be with child was that she must have been guilty of an affair.
We are not told how he initially accepted the news that his wife was pregnant with someone else’s baby. I have to imagine there was some disbelief, then anger, then sadness…and plenty of all of it. But what we are told is that 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.
If it had been found out that Mary had cheated on him, she could have been put to death. If Joseph made this a big legal deal, Mary could have faced shunning from the rest of the community and from her own family. Joseph loved her and didn’t want to leave her, but a quiet divorce was the best way he could think of to care for her.
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. 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.”
Good news for Joseph and good news for all of us! There was no sin on Mary’s part! There was no affair! This was the miraculous way God entered this world in order to be our Savior! All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: “The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel”—which means, “God with us.”
Miracles are works of God that can not be explained by our human words or understood by our human thoughts. A virgin conceives a child— that is inconceivable! God becomes human— that is incomprehensible! Like Joseph, you and I simply have to accept this by faith and move on! When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. But he had no union with her until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus.
Joseph’s life had been turned upside down! The woman he had married turned out to be the virgin foretold in Scripture who would give birth to a son who would be God. The son whom he would now call his own would be named Jesus because he would save his people from their sins. Still, he knew his role was to carry out the angel’s commands, which were God’s commands, and he did so faithfully!
God can turn our life upside down as well! Even when we think we have life figured out, God continues to do things his way and we are simply taught to follow what he tells us. What is on your pre-Christmas “to-do” list? Your jobs of baking and decorating and shopping pale in comparison to what Joseph had to do, but what you have to do is important as well.
Your role as a Christian before Christmas, and anytime, is to “let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven” (Mt 5:16), to “always be ready to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have” (1 Pt 3:15), to “preach the good news to all creation” (Mk 16:15). If you haven’t done so yet, invite someone to Living Nativity or our Tuesday and Wednesday Christmas services.
Your role as a Christian husband is to be a servant/leader and your role as a Christian wife is to be a servant/helper. Think of everything you haven’t done to fulfill those roles, repent of those sins and consider what you can still do before Christmas— love your wife, respect your husband, be patient and forgiving toward one another, compliment each other.
Your role as a Christian father or mother before Christmas is to get the primary attention of your children away from the secular side of this holiday and focus them on Jesus by gathering as a family for devotions and prayers and coming to worship together.
Your role as a Christian child before Christmas is to honor, serve and obey your parents and give them love and respect. Carry out the instructions they give you (even you teenagers who think you don’t have to listen to your parents anymore) to do your household chores, to complete your homework, to go to church and all other things as well.
None of us have completed these lists perfectly, but we have a Savior Jesus who completed our “to-do” list perfectly so the punishment of our sins can be taken away from us. He came to forgive us for our failures and to fortify us for our future tasks. He came to save us from our sins, just as the angel said to Joseph.
Don’t let your pre-Christmas “to-do” list get you anxious or frustrated. As God commands, so God comforts. As God instructs, so God inspires. As God teaches, so God trains.
Joseph completed his list with the help of God. With God’s help, you can, too!