This is a copy of my talk given at the Community Carol Service by Candlelight on 15 December 2019 at Emmanuel Church, Billericay. Though there were nine readings, my talk was focussed on Matthew 1:18-25.
The cast of characters associated with the story of Jesus’ birth is both colourful and memorable – not least the words which are spoken. The Angels take centre stage to announce the birth of the Saviour; the archangel Gabriel makes his unforgettable announcement to Mary; an angel appears to Joseph to announce the name of the child; and an angelic choir “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men” (Luke 2:14).
In response, Mary offers a beautiful hymn of thanksgiving – we call this the Magnificat: “My soul magnifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour” (Luke 1:46-48).
The wise men, who are desperate in their search to find the new-born King and present Him with gifts of honour, ask: “Where is He who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw H star when it rose and have come to worship Him” (Matt. 2:2).
The shepherds hurry to find the baby Jesus after the announcement of the angelic choir. On finding Jesus, Luke writes how the shepherds were compelled to tell others: “… They spread the word … and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them” (Luke 2:17-18).
Oddly enough, only Joseph has no speaking part. He is the lone silent member of the cast. Angels bring heavenly greetings. Mary sings a song of praise. Wise men worship. Shepherds preach. It is astounding, don’t you think, that, in the Christmas story, Joseph’s voice is silent. No notable lines are attributed to him. No sound bites. No quotes or anecdotes. Only silence.
In fact, as we search the Gospels, we discover they do not contain a single word spoken from the mouth of Jesus’ earthy father. However, Joseph’s importance cannot be overemphasised. He is irreplaceable in the story of Jesus’ birth.
Joseph, to me, is the forgotten man, the silent voice, the unsung hero of the Christmas story. I’ve never preached on Joseph at Christmas before, but as I’ve looked a little closer at him, I see his “Actions speak louder than words!” And through his silent actions, Joseph teaches us three important lessons:
1. The Importance Of Mercy
We are introduced to Joseph in the middle of a personal crisis. Having become engaged to a young girl, he has worked hard to establish an income to support his new bride and begin a family. He is in love. He is committed to Mary. He believed she loved him, until the news that his bride to be is pregnant outside of marriage – a real source of shame and disgrace in the culture of that day.
Heart-broken and betrayed, how should he respond? Should he publicly shame her? Her explanation of the pregnancy was unbelievable. Mary could have been stoned on the charges of adultery and blasphemy – as they were in those days. However, Joseph chooses the path of mercy. We read earlier that he was: “faithful to the law, and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace, so he ‘resolved to divorce her quietly.’
Before any divine explanation, Joseph chooses mercy. No malice. No angry outburst. Joseph could have asked a lot of questions here: “How could you do this to me? Who’s the father?” But no words are recorded, only acts of mercy. He might be the talk of Nazareth. Friends might make snide remarks, but he would not hurt Mary, no matter what he thought she’d done to him. When he could have demanded a harsh sentence, he chose mercy.
There is much to learn from Joseph’s example here. Maybe you’ve never been in a position quite like Joseph’s, but we’ve all been wronged by another person. We all know what it’s like to be hurt or offended. How do you react when you are wronged? I’d love to think I’d respond in the way Joseph responded. But the reality is I don’t.
If we are truly merciful, then we will do right by others, even when they have done wrong by us. One of Joseph’s other sons, James (Jesus’ brother) who would grow up to be a disciple of Jesus, wrote: “But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits …” (James 3:17). A second important lesson that we learn from Joseph, is:
2. The Importance Of Redemption
In Joseph’s dream: “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.”
God gave Joseph a glimpse of the divine plan and gave him the unique job of raising the Messiah. God told Joseph, that Mary’s Son would: “Save His people from their sins!” In fact, the name ‘Jesus’ is a transliteration of the Hebrew word ‘Yeshua’ which means ‘The Lord is Salvation’ or ‘Saviour.’
From His name, we learn Jesus’ mission on earth was to save us, redeem us, from the consequences of our sins. The word redeem originally comes from the marketplace and means to ‘buy back’ or to ‘purchase’ something. You ‘redeem’ something when you buy it for your own use. But, in order to redeem something, a price must be paid.
There’s a story of two close friends who grew up together, went through school together and even attended the same university. However, as sometimes happens, they went their different ways and lost contact. One went on to become a judge, while the other one went down and down and ended up a criminal. One day the criminal appeared before the judge to await sentencing having pleaded guilty to the charge. The judge recognised his old friend and faced a dilemma.
He was a judge so he had to be just; he couldn’t just let the man off. On the other hand, he didn’t want to punish the man, because he loved him. So, he told his friend that he would fine him the correct penalty for the offence. That is justice. Then he came down from his position as judge and he wrote a cheque for the amount of the fine. He gave it to his friend, saying that he would pay the penalty for him. That is love.
In the same way, God has done for us what we were unable to do for ourselves. He redeemed us. He paid the price for our sins though Jesus’ death and resurrection. What an awesome Christmas gift!
Can you imagine Joseph’s mixture of emotions, knowing that he would be responsible for the upbringing of the most important child ever born? God is asking Joseph to raise the Saviour as his own son. Most people would never accept that kind of challenge. But there is a third important lesson we learn from Joseph:
3. The Importance Of Obedience
With Joseph, there is no hesitation. “When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife.” He understood clearly what God expected of him and was ready to obey! He would take Mary to be his wife and suffer the cutting remarks of a child conceived prior to their wedding. He would obey in spite of the fact that this child of divine promise would be born under a cloud of infidelity. He called his adopted son ‘Jesus’ just as he was told to do. Joseph believed God and obeyed Him.
I don’t know about you, but personally I find the virgin birth a strange and slightly embarrassing doctrine to defend: it’s just so unlikely, isn’t it? It has the odour of myth about it rather than fact. I’d be much happier to relegate it to something that fundamentalists could believe, but the rest of us could take with a pinch of salt. It would be much more convenient if the virgin birth would go away. Thankfully, Joseph makes it easy for us to defend. His actions show that he was convinced that the baby was God’s; his obedience removes all doubt for us.
Later in the Christmas story, Joseph takes Mary and the infant Jesus to Egypt. He leaves behind an established carpenter’s trade and business. He leaves family and friends, to obey God and go to Egypt. He did as he was commanded.
The Bible defines faith with obedience and obedience with faith. In other words, they are two sides of the same coin. You cannot have one without the other. Obedience is not doing what others say, or doing what others say God has said, or doing what you wish God has said. Obedience is simply doing what God says. It’s vital to believe in God, but unless we are ready to obey Him, then our belief is useless. And we can learn what he has for us through the study of His word.
And now you’ve met the man to whom God was prepared to entrust the greatest gift of all, What do you make of him? An amazing man, I think!
Many of you here this evening belongs to organisations which serve the community of Billericay, and further afield, not just at Christmas but all year round, in many amazing ways, bringing joy and hope and comfort into people’s lives – can I thank for you for all you do.
May you, and each one of us here, be people who value mercy over judgement; people who are prepared to deny ourselves for the sake of others; people who are obedient to the will of God.
Christmas matters, not just because Jesus was born a man, but because God was born a man.
If you have never believed in Jesus as the Saviour, then there is no better time than today in which to celebrate his entrance into our world.
May God grant you the light of Christmas, which is faith.
The warmth of Christmas, which is love.
The radiance of Christmas, which is purity.
The righteousness of Christmas, which is justice.
The belief in Christmas, which is truth.
The all of Christmas, which is Christ.