Sunday, 18 December 2016

Joseph's Faithfulness - Annie Saunders Sermon for Advent 4

May I speak in the Name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, in Love


Today I want us to think about faithfulness.  What does it mean to be faithful? The word faithful derives from the noun for faith and means to believe or have faith in God or another person or a cause. To be faithful means to be a person who is loyal, reliable, trustworthy. An individual who is steadfast, resolute, dutiful and dedicated. In addition to be a faithful person means to be great with or filled with faith in God one who is grounded in God or abiding in the Lord, living in Him and His Spirit. Our Gospel reading from Matthew focuses on the role of Joseph in the nativity narrative. As Joseph is the person in the account usually given a back stage role I want us to consider his faithfulness and how he can act as a role model for us.

Joseph is the solid silent type. Mary, Elizabeth, Gabriel and even Zacheriah all speak but even in Matthew's account - the gospel which includes Joseph - Joseph is silent. Often portrayed incorrectly as much older than Mary he is the figurine that gets pushed to the back of the crowded crib. In fact Joseph is the faithful one who holds everything together, is faithful to God, faithful to Mary and to Jesus and who stands firm as the leader in the family. Silent, quiet but an individual of action

What can we learn about Faithfulness from Joseph? Let's look at Matthew's text on the reading sheet. Joseph is faithful to Mary. We are told by Matthew that he is engaged to Mary but engagement in Jewish legal and religious culture was more binding than it is today. Although prior to marriage the couple did not live together or have intimate relations Jewish law considered them already man and wife. A woman found to be unfaithful in a betrothal relationship could be charged with adultery or even publicly tried and executed. And Mary is with child. So for Joseph this is personally and publicly a very risky situation and one with life long consequences too.

We can imagine Joseph's immediate feelings when he hears her news – outrage, anger, hurt, disbelief. We can tell that Joseph battled with his emotions and with himself – verse 19 tells us he decided to dismiss her quietly but the following verse says that Joseph had to resolve to do this. It sounds as if he went  through a process of resolution trying to deal with this very difficult and delicate situation. Also in our text we are told that Joseph is a “righteous man” and that he is unwilling to expose Mary to public disgrace.  By using the term “righteous”, Matthew is telling us that Joseph is a man of God who worships God fully and who keeps all the Jewish laws. So in terms of his public reputation, Joseph has a lot to lose – the situation makes him vulnerable. At the same time Joseph is obviously a kind man who cares for Mary -  he is sensitive to her situation.

But then – an angel of God appears to Joseph in a dream. The angel says:

“Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins”

Joseph wakes up and “he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him  ..”. He obeys God immediately. He doesn't need to resolve the situation anymore, he just obeys God. Joseph's response indicates he is very much a man of God, a righteous man – he immediately obeys the Lord. He is submitted to God – his ego and male pride don't get in God's way because Joseph is already faithful to God.

In addition to being faithful to God Joseph is also a man of great faith. He is asked to believe the impossible and once God has spoken to him via the angel he straight away believes God rather than his own rational mind. And Joseph has dreams. In time to come he experiences three more of these dreams in which God speaks to him. It seems then that as a man of faith who already knows and obeys God Joseph doesn't need a miraculous physical manifestation of an angel – God can speak to Joseph in his dreams and Joseph already knows God's voice.

God has confidence in Joseph – like Abraham the Lord knows He can trust Joseph because Joseph is a person of integrity; he possesses the same faith and love for God shown by Abraham and Moses – he is in fact a great man of faith, a leader and a role model. God called Abraham a father of many nations but Joseph is the human father God chose for Jesus, His divine Son.

So what do we find in Joseph that can help us to follow the Lord faithfully? First I want to point out two things: Joseph is faithful. And Joseph is ordinary and human like me and you. He isn't a rabbi or a priest with learning and authority but a carpenter or builder. He isn't affluent. He is human – he has the same passionate emotions and responses we would have in his situation. And he is caring. Your average Joe! But Joseph is open to God – not only can God speak to him in his dreams but the man immediately does what God instructs him to do, he puts aside his own feelings to serve God. Joseph listens to God. In fact he seems to be almost like a conduit for God, an open channel, a man who is both open to and listens for God's voice.

Joseph trusts God. He trusts that by God's grace and by God's faithfulness, all will work out according to God's wishes. When we consider Joseph's subsequent actions and his lifelong trust in God we remember Paul's words in Romans chapter 8. That all things do work together for good, for loving followers of the Lord who are called by God for His purposes, His plans. Joseph shows us a great example of how this living, faithful trust in God works.

Joseph is courageous. His faith in God allows him to meet the difficulties and dangers which face him in obeying God, the fears and apprehensions he must have experienced. Like Mary, Joseph doesn't know where God is leading him. Like us he doesn't have the whole picture of God's plan. But Joseph is big hearted and trusts God faithfully enough to go ahead and take the risks, both the personal and the life threatening dangers to come.

In conclusion, we can learn a lot from Joseph's faithful following of God. We can ask God for a little of Joseph's openness and his ability to listen. Perhaps we may want to pray for Joseph's amazing trust or for his bravery. What has struck me about Joseph is just how faithful he was. I've been praying for greater faithfulness generally. The other thing which has impressed me is that Joseph grew to be like God – loving, protecting, providing for his family, guiding Jesus as a child. As a person who tries to follow God and as a parent like Joseph, I find, probably like our Lord did, that Joseph is a role model I want to copy and be inspired by. So I pray for Joseph's faithful love for God and for his self-less care for others for all of us this Christmas.


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