“Love Never Fails”
Dr. Robert F. Browning
Calvary Baptist Church
December 22, 2019
How long do you think it took Joseph to go to sleep that night? When people are wrestling with tough decisions, as Joseph was, they are usually restless and find it almost impossible to sleep. I am sure you understand.
What was weighing so heavily on Joseph’s mind that it interrupted his sleep? Did it have to do with his engagement to Mary and upcoming marriage?
Yes, but not like you might expect. On this night, he was not concerned about having a home and all the furnishings ready by the wedding. He had a far greater problem to deal with, one he never imagined.
The way Matthew tells the story, Mary told Joseph something even she found hard to believe. She was going to have a baby, and Joseph was not the father.
I cannot imagine how difficult this was for Mary. She knew she was not just jeopardizing her marriage to Joseph, but she was putting her life in peril.
Mary knew what would be expected of Joseph upon hearing this shocking news. Being the righteous man he was, Joseph would be expected to break off his engagement to Mary, publicly shame her for being promiscuous and have her stoned. To do any less would be a violation of the Law and lead to more questions of Joseph and criticism of him.
You see why Joseph tossed and turned that night. This good man could not treat Mary this way, even if she had disappointed him. This was why Joseph decided to break off their engagement and quietly send her away.
Having made this painful and heartbreaking decision, Joseph fell asleep.
Matthew tells us an angel visited Joseph in his sleep urging him to reconsider his decision to terminate his relationship with Mary. The angel informed Joseph that Mary had not been promiscuous; the baby she was carrying did not belong to another man.
God was at work in Mary’s life, and Mary and her baby needed Joseph’s support. Just as Mary trusted God and yielded to God’s will, so God needed Joseph to do this, too.
When Joseph awoke, he reversed the decision made the night before. He did not carry out his plan to send Mary away but did just the opposite. He took Mary as his wife, becoming the husband Mary could rely upon and a loving father to her son.
How does this story speak to us today? What lessons can we draw from this part of Matthew’s account of Jesus birth? Let me share a few I thought about as I pondered this passage last week.
There is always more to a story than meets the eye. This was certainly true for Mary and Joseph. What appeared to be an indiscretion on Mary’s part was actually an act of obedience to God. What a difference this revelation made in the way Joseph handled Mary’s dilemma.
This is why it is important for us to be good listeners who refuse to jump to conclusions. There are two sides to every story, and we do no one a favor by jumping to conclusions and making decisions without all the facts.
Perhaps this was why Joseph was chosen to play such a significant role in the birth of Christ. He was a good listener. As a matter of fact, Joseph never speaks in Matthew’s birth narrative. It is not what he said that was important; it is what he heard and the impact it had upon him.
Do you need to be a better listener? A part of being a mature person who makes wise decisions is the ability to see life from others’ vantage point and to listen to sound advice.
This is why C. S. Lewis wrote, “My own eyes are not good enough for me. I must see through the eyes of others.”
So should we all.
We don’t get every decision right the first time, and wise is the person who changes his or her mind when more details are revealed. For me, the most striking part of this story is Joseph’s willingness to change his mind after he discovered why Mary was going to have a baby.
He could have refused to reconsider the decision he made before he slept and continued with his plan to send Mary away. He chose, however, to do what was best even if it meant changing his mind. Too much was at stake for Joseph to be stubborn, defensive and wrong.
Humility is a trait of a righteous person. The ability to admit there is a better way forward and to change direction before it is too late is the sign of a mature person and a faithful believer.
What decision do you need to reconsider? When you made it, you were as convinced it was right as Joseph was the night he struggled with what to do about marrying Mary. But now, you are not sure.
You don’t have the peace you thought you would. You are having second thoughts. You know more now than you did earlier, and you can’t brush these new insights away.
Is it time for you to follow Joseph’s example? Do you need to reconsider?
I certainly don’t know if this is the case for you, but if it is, don’t let pride stand in your way. Righteous people make things right, even if it means changing their minds.
Just because we have the right to do something does not mean we should. What we have the right to do is not always what God calls us to do.
Joseph had to decide between what he had the right to do according to the ancient writings of his ancestors, stone Mary to death, and what the angel was encouraging him to do, take Mary as his wife. That evening judgment and mercy clashed, and this righteous man chose mercy.
Wise is the person who knows when to do what Joseph did and does it. Could this be the message that guides a decision you need to make this week?
The best way to help someone facing an intimidating challenge is to walk by their side and let them know they are not alone. Fear loses its grip on us when we are holding the hand of a loving family member or dear friend. Be that kind of faithful companion.
My favorite scene in the 2006 Christmas movie, The Nativity Story, was the time Joseph and Mary were on their way out of the village of Nazareth to make the one hundred mile trek to Bethlehem. Caesar ordered a census and each male had to return to his place of birth with his family to register. In this scene, Mary was riding on a donkey and Joseph was walking alongside her.
By this time, the citizens of Nazareth shunned Mary because they thought she had been promiscuous. Because Joseph stood by her, his good name and reputation tumbled just like Mary’s.
In the departing scene of this movie, Mary and Joseph slowly made their way out of town as many people watched from the sides of the road. As they passed what had been friendly neighbors, most of them deliberately looked away after catching a glimpse of Mary. No one waved, said goodbye or offered words of encouragement for the long journey.
As Joseph walked by the last person and headed out of town with Mary by his side, he said to her with a twinkle in his eye and a bit of sarcasm in his voice, “These people are really going to miss us.” Everyone in the theater laughed.
As I watched this particular scene in the movie, it dawned on me that the best way to reach out to people who are struggling is to walk alongside them. This is what Joseph did for Mary, which was the gift she needed the most. Had Joseph abandoned Mary, I am not sure she would have survived. With him by her side, she could handle even the most painful slurs and frightening scenarios.
One person can make a big difference in the life of someone facing a stiff challenge. Be that person.
What impact do you think Joseph’s decision to marry Mary and provide her with a safe home had upon Jesus? I think it shaped and molded him into the person he became. All throughout his public ministry, Jesus reflected not only God’s loving heart but also Joseph’s compassion, loyalty and courage.
Jesus knew more was at stake for Joseph the morning he decided to take Mary as his wife than his reputation, rights, privileges, feelings or obligations to the law. The welfare of a young girl, the birth of a special baby and the implementation of God’s dreams for all mankind hung in the balance.
And Joseph chose to do the difficult. He put the interest of others above himself and followed his heart.
Do you recall the time the woman caught in adultery was dragged before Jesus by the scribes and Pharisees? The religious authorities, who wanted to stone her according to the Law, asked Jesus what he thought they should do.
How did Jesus respond to her dilemma and their expectations? “If anyone of you is without sin, let him be the first to cast a stone at her.” (John 8:7)
Who taught Jesus to stand up for the underdog? Where did he learn to be an advocate for the powerless and help those in despair? Who encouraged Jesus to walk alongside those who were struggling so they would never be alone?
Who modeled for Jesus this level of wisdom, compassion, courage, grace, faith, hope and love? I believe it was the man who changed his mind and married his mother when everybody expected him to send her away.
Who needs you to love them like this? Who needs you to listen to their story and give them another chance? Who needs you to walk alongside them, offering encouragement and support? Who needs you to model this level of wisdom, compassion, courage, grace, faith, hope and love?
It could very well be someone at your Christmas gathering.
I do not believe it is coincidental that the first story associated with Jesus in Matthew’s gospel is a story about second chances and sacrificial love. Isn’t this the good news Jesus proclaimed? Isn’t this what it means to be righteous in God’s eyes?
Look around the room when you gather with your family this week and ask God to show you who needs a special touch from you and follow Joseph’s example. I assure you it will make a difference in your life as well as theirs.