4th Sunday of Advent LSB #’s 367:1-3, 367:4-5, 375:2-6, 368
Text – Matthew 1:18-19
Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When His mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. And her husband Joseph, being a just man & unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly.
OPEN THE DOOR
Family Life. When you think about those two words what comes to mind? Norman Rockwell? Father is at the head of the dinner table, carving the roast. Mother is wearing her unsoiled apron, beaming over the meal in matronly elegance. The children are gathered dutifully around the table, obedient & rosy-cheeked.
And when Christmas rolls around – family life is absolutely perfect!
Now, when you live – not think, but live family life – what comes to mind? Dad snoring on the couch? Mom a limp dish rag, completely maxed out? The younger children fighting again? The adolescent son locked in his room with the walls shaking to some alien music? The older daughter who’s been on the phone so long that her head will soon be stuck to it.
Family life, according to Norman Rockwell, has no hassles, no headaches, & is never in hot water. But real family life faces painful & perplexing predicaments. Loved ones die. Children make bad decisions. Parents get divorced. There’s never enough money. And who’s going to the nursing home this week to visit mom?
I bet Joseph & Mary – because they appear in the Bible – had a Norman Rockwell family life, right? Dead wrong. Let’s take a look. “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.” (Matthew 1:18)
If Mary’s pregnancy isn’t shocking enough, the explanation is even more so! Through
the Holy Spirit? Really? Come on! Can you imagine 15 year-old Mary going to her twenty-something fiancée? Joseph is talking about floor plans & wall colors when Mary interrupts, “Joseph, sit down. We need to talk. Joseph, honey, I’m pregnant.” So long Norman Rockwell. Houston, we have a problem!
Close the door. That’s our 1st option when there’s trouble. It’s the one Joseph took. He closed the door. As we read Matthew 1:18 we see that the child was conceived by the Holy Spirit. We know that, & Mary knew that, but Joseph did not. All he could think of was how unfaithful Mary had been.
It must have torn him up. When Mary broke the news Joseph’s heart must have broken into a million pieces. “Because Joseph her husband was a righteous man & did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.” (Matthew 1:19)
There is a huge difference between our modern idea of engagement & that of the first-century Jews. This verse describes Joseph as already being Mary’s “husband & it uses the word “divorce” to describe ending the engagement. Though they were not yet living together, Joseph & Mary had a binding contract that could be terminated only by death or by divorce.
Joseph plans to divorce Mary quietly. After all, he wasn’t that gullible. Mary said the Holy Spirit made her pregnant. Well, would you believe that? It’s clear to Joseph that Mary wasn’t the person he thought she was. Mary was, in fact, carrying another man’s child. Joseph doesn’t want to talk about it or work through it. So he chooses to close the door.
When family conflict comes our way we sometimes react exactly like Joseph. Let’s say a neat-freak wife needs a certain amount of law & order in her home, but her lazy husband doesn’t give a rip. So the wife says, “I’m so mad! Look at this mess! Nobody ever picks up anything!” But the clueless husband responds, “You need more energy! Are you still taking those vitamins we spent all that money on?” This couple exchanges clichés & facts, but they don’t directly address the problems. They close the door.
When all hell breaks loose, another option is to slam the door. In the OT the penalty for adultery was death (Deuteronomy 22:13–21). Thankfully, Joseph forgoes this option. He doesn’t want to embarrass Mary or disgrace Mary or hurt Mary. He just wants to move on without Mary. This is commendable, & it’s why Matthew 1:19 calls Joseph “a righteous man.”
When faced with similar family pain, sometimes we are not as righteous. We slam the door. We drop verbal bombs. We rant & rave. We have tempers & throw tantrums. We fight like cats & dogs; like the Hatfields & McCoys. Discussion is over. Lines are drawn in the sand. It’s “in your face,” “no way Jose,” & “it ain’t gonna happen.” Slam the door.
Another way of handling family hurt & hassles is to lock the door. That’s what Joseph is planning to do – total withdrawal. Lock the door. It’s broken & I’m done. The issue is too sensitive, too intense & too explosive. I lock the door & throw away the key.
Is there a better way? Yes there is. Open the door. It’s that simple. Open the door! But we need help – God’s help – to do this. So did Joseph, “But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, ‘Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.’”
Can you imagine having a dream like that? “Joseph, wake up! You’ve been drafted!” Joseph gets the inside information – literally! Mary was not lying to him after all! Joseph needed help with family life so God spoke to him in a dream. In fact, four times in Matthew 1–2, we are told that God speaks to Joseph in a dream (Matthew 1:20; 2:13, 19, 20).
We need help with family life, too. Martin Luther taught us to say, “I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ my Lord or come to Him.” Using my “own reason or strength” I close doors. I slam doors. I lock doors. Luther continues: “But the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel.” God gave dreams to Joseph & His Holy Spirit calls us by the Gospel.
God told Joseph, “What is conceived in Mary is from the Holy Spirit.” But Jesus is not only conceived by the Holy Spirit. At His baptism Jesus is filled with the Holy Spirit. When tempted, Jesus is empowered by the Holy Spirit. When Jesus died He gave up the Spirit. Three days later Jesus was raised by the Spirit. What is the 1st gift Jesus gives after His resurrection?
It’s the Holy Spirit. The same Spirit calls us by the Gospel; delivering all of the gifts purchased & won for us by our Savior – mercy, forgiveness, new life, & the power – in the midst of deep family pain – the power to look at our spouse & children & open the door. That’s what Joseph did. He finally opened the door – accepted & loved & cared for Mary & the Child.
In the last book in the Chronicles of Narnia, the one titled The Last Battle, C. S. Lewis describes his characters facing the mother of all battles. At a strategic point they come to a door. Some claimed that behind the door was a life-threatening monster.
But once through the door, “They stood on green grass, the deep blue sky overhead, & air blew gently on their faces like that of a day in early summer.” Walking through that door took them into a heavenly kingdom. And once there, they could continue to go “further & further in” making wonderful discoveries. What is the point?
Open your foreboding door. Open your heart, open your ears & open your life to people in your family. The door isn’t as threatening as it looks. In fact, when you open the door, maybe not at first, but soon enough, you will find yourself standing on green grass, the deep blue sky overhead, with air blowing gently on your face like that of a day in early summer. Amen.
From the bondage that oppressed us, from sin’s fetters that possessed us, from the grief that sore distressed us, we, the captives, now are free. Oh, the joy beyond expressing when by faith we grasp this blessing, & to You we come confessing that Your love has set us free. Amen.
 Matthew 1:20 ESV
Pastor Dean R. Poellet