Saturday, December 21, 2019

2019/12/22 Joseph and Coincidence (4th Sunday Advent)

Sometimes I listen for preaching ideas from other preachers, and I often get some great insights into scripture that I’m not wise enough to think of.  But there’s one thing that sometimes bothers me – especially this time of year – it’s like some of them have to dance around a bit to try to limit the role of Mary and Joseph.  You know – so much of the Christmas readings center on Mary and Joseph, but they seem to want to play it down.  Their main point is true - it’s all God’s plan and God IS the one who makes it all happen, but it’s like they want to ignore that God uses some very specific people in achieving His plan of salvation.

For example- today’s reading speaks pretty highly of Joseph – he kinda sound like a real stand-up dude with a lot of guts – but I listened to three of them this week who’s perspective is “well, Joseph’s not that great of a guy – I mean – he was going to divorce Mary after all”.  At a glance, it sounds like they have a good point – it might sound like Joseph is kicking her to the curb like a jerk… but if we take time to understand what’s really happening here, I think we’ll get a different picture.

First – we gotta clear up the confusion about Jewish betrothal.  Notice in that first line it says, “ when Mary was betrothed to Joseph, but before they lived together”.  Betrothal sounds a lot like our modern ‘engagement’…and until this week, I always thought it was the same….but it’s different.  Jewish marriage has two parts – first is kiddushin they exchange vows or promises, and at that moment they are legally married – but the woman still lives at home until the man can pay the ‘bride price’ – some amount agreed on between the groom-to-be and the woman’s father.  This may take up to a year.  Then after the price is paid and the home is ready, comes the second step: nisuin, when the bride moves in with her husband.

Notice right there in the first line is says they are betrothed but not yet living together… which means  they are in this in-between state: but legally married…that’s an important point….  If they WEREN’T legally married, why would it say he decided to divorce her?  If they were just engaged, you could simply call it off.

Keep that in mind – now – It says, Joseph was a ‘righteous man but he didn’t want to expose her to shame’.  What’s it mean that he was ‘righteous’?  It means he followed the Jewish law.  What’s the law say about a woman who has sex outside of marriage?  She should be stoned.  Did Mary have sex outside of marriage NO – but all Joseph knew was there was a baby coming and HE wasn’t the daddy – cause if he was the daddy, he would remember being there!  So putting two and two together, he figures she MUST have been unfaithful. 

It must have cut him to the core.

He THOUGHT that divorce was the only option.  I mean, obviously, she didn’t want to be married to him if she’s fooling around on the side – so obviously, we shouldn’t complete this marriage.  Now any normal man would have been really ticked off – don’t you think?!  He would have run into the streets “exposing her to the shame” – which means he would lead the charge to stone her – why – because she hurt his pride.   But Joseph swallowed his pride.  He was just going to quietly end the marriage – not because he was a jerk – but because he wanted to save her life and let her find happiness with the man she had apparently chosen instead of him.  I got a lot of respect for Joseph.

Next  - did you notice that Joseph had a dream – and he believed the dream?! - and he actually DID what he felt God called him to do in that dream!??!  I wonder how many people here have had a dream where God told them to do something and we actually got up and did it!?  I’m sure there are a few people here, but for most of us, that would take a giant leap of faith to make that big of a life decision based on a dream.

OK – so all that’s interesting, I guess – but does any of this have to do with you and me?
I think it comes down to that last line: he did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him.

That one sentence implies some important lessons for us:
First lesson – Obedience.  When he felt like God told him to do something, he obeyed.  That’s another reason to respect Joseph.  Do WE do what God tells us to do?  Sometimes, I’m sure – but I’d bet that every person here DOESN’T do what God tells us to do at least once a day.  I can make that bet because that’s what sin is – not doing what God has revealed to us – and every one of us falls into that.
Second lesson for us - we should be ready to recognize a sign from God.  Joseph recognized this sign because the angel spoke the exact words that were in the prophecy about the virgin giving birth and ‘he shall be called Emmanuel’.  Would you and I recognize a sign from God if we saw it?  I would also bet that every person here DOES receive signs from God – probably every day!  But we have to train ourselves to see the signs.  Sometimes they’re flashy and grab our attention, but often they’re subtle and we only catch them if we’re awake.

What’s that look like?

Some people say that when someone dies, if you see a redbird hanging around, it’s a sign that your beloved is still with you.  That sign brings comfort.

I know the day of Tim Friedman’s funeral, I went home and saw two bald eagles circling over our house.  I rarely see even one eagle, but that day there were two.  I took that as a comforting sign…

My friend, Jerry was driving to work one morning and for some reason, his old buddy Tom popped into his head.  He and Tom used to talk a lot at work and even prayed together quite often, but Tom had moved to another location, so they rarely ran into each other.  Jerry punched the hands-free dialer and 3 seconds later, these two old friends were catching up – and he found out about all the struggles Tom was going through dealing with a major health issue for one of his kids.  Jerry suddenly felt the need to support Tom face-to-face, so he swung by Tom’s workplace and waited for him.  Tom teared up as soon as he saw his old buddy’s truck… To anybody walking by it might have looked odd to see two grown men hugging in the parking lot, but that gesture meant the world to Tom.  Then Jerry rushed back to his truck to leave and noticed a strange light in his front seat.  He had picked up two of those electric candles for his wife and they were in a box on his front seat – but somehow – while he was talking to Tom, those candles had turned on.  Was there a logical explanation?  Nope. Jerry took it as a sign – kind of like a thank you from God for listening to His prompting that morning.

What’s a sign look like?  A coincidence.  Think about it.  Sometimes, God makes it OBVIOUS that He’s at work.  But more often, a sign from God usually looks like just a coincidence.  However, to those with the eyes of faith, we see the hand that moves the world at work. 
But as Albert Einstein said, “A coincidence is God’s way of remaining anonymous”.

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