Dec 18, 2016 – A Righteous Man
In 1975 country singer Charlie Rich had been chosen to announce the Country Artist of the Year at the Country Music Association Awards show. The award went to John Denver, who’d not experienced a warm reception at that point in the country music community. In fact, many people detested him and his style of country rock.
When Charlie Rich opened the envelope, rather than simply announce John Denver’s name, Charlie took out a cigarette lighter, set fire to the paper bearing the winner’s name, and walked off stage… He didn’t like who was picked…. He didn’t think that John Denver was worthy of such an honor.
Picking someone to win an award is one thing; imagine God picking someone worthy enough to be the earthly father of His child. That choice comes with a greater consequence than some award show.
According to the gospel reading today God picked ‘a righteous man’ to be the earthly father of His only son, Jesus Christ. Though he was a lowly carpenter, that didn’t exclude him from being judged by God to be a righteous man. There’s no honest vocation that excludes a person from a right relationship with God. Our relationship with God is based on faith in God’s Son, who’s also the Son of this righteous carpenter, Joseph.
Since God deemed Joseph ‘a righteous man’ it would seem a good thing to look at what we know of Joseph that can teach us about what this righteous man was like.
We know that he was faithful, he went up to the temple each year at Passover – we learn that later in Matthew when Jesus was left behind in the temple.
And we know that Joseph followed God’s guidance – we see that in his obedience to the messenger of God in verse 24 today which says, “when Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him…”
We know he was also a steadfast man. He did not desert Mary as many men would have in the situation of finding his fiancé pregnant.
He also was patient. When the Lord told him to take the child and His mother and go to Egypt – he went! He went and he waited… He waited till the Lord told him to return after Herod’s death. How long that was we don’t know for sure. It’s likely that the time was many months or even a few years. But during that time, Joseph remained with Mary and Jesus and did what a righteous man should do; he looked after his young family.
So, in Joseph we see these things lived out; faithfulness, patience, trust, obedience and steadfastness. All these things tell us of the heart of this man. These things did not make Joseph perfect, but they speak of the type of man he was. And in him we have a high example to follow. We tend to take him for granted though. He did his bit and so we just file him away as a good guy and move on.
But that doesn’t do him justice. He is called righteous. And notice that’s tied to the attitude of his heart and mind. It says… Because Joseph her husband was a righteous man and did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly … he had in mind to divorce her quietly. For that to be known to Matthew, today’s gospel writer, Matthew must have either had contact with Joseph or Mary. Most scholars feel this information likely comes from Mary.
Can you imagine the talks she and Joseph must have had in their years of raising Jesus together? Joseph surely at some point told her what was in his mind to do when she was pregnant and of that dream that he had that convinced him otherwise.
Imagine also what she had to tell Joseph about being visited by Gabriel and then being pregnant? What that marriage counseling session would’ve been like, I can hardly imagine! But we’re told that a quiet divorce was what Joseph had ‘in mind’ so as not bring Mary into public shame. Again, we see in Joseph here an attitude of the heart reflected in the actions of the man. And that is one of the most important things we can learn from Joseph. That what is in our heart comes out in our actions.
What’s in our hearts this Sunday before Christmas? I know that next week lots of gifts are going to be opened, so let me tell you a story that can help us to remember that what Joseph chose to focus on in his heart is what came out in his action.
The story is about identical twins. One was a hope-filled optimist. “Everything is coming up roses!” he’d say. The other was a sad and hopeless pessimist. The worried parents of the boys brought them to a psychologist. He suggested to the parents a plan to balance the twins’ personalities. He told them:
“On Christmas, put them in separate rooms to open their gifts. Give the pessimist the best toys you can afford, and give the optimist a box of manure.”
The parents followed these instructions and carefully observed the results. When they peeked in on the pessimist, they heard him complaining, “I don’t like the color of this computer. I’ll bet this calculator is going to break. I don’t like this game. I know someone who’s got a bigger toy car than this.”
Tiptoeing across the corridor, the parents peeked in and saw their little optimist gleefully throwing the manure high in the air. He was giggling. “You can’t fool me!” he said, “Where there’s this much… manure, there’s gotta be a pony!”
The point is, that what you choose as your attitude in life is what will come out in your actions and words. I’m not talking about just choosing a simplistic, Pollyanna out-look on life. It’s not that you close your eyes to reality and plunge ahead. No, in fact it’s the opposite.
You keep your eyes wide open to what’s going on and realize that the gift that God has given us, in the Son of the carpenter, supplies us with the deepest reason for choosing a positive outlook on life. The abiding new-life that is ours in a right relationship with God comes to us as His Christmas (and Easter) gift to us and for us. His gift to us of Jesus is the reason we can choose joy.
We respond to God’s gift in how we live our lives. And what we do with that gift will be judged. That is God’s prerogative alone. We are not to judge each other or how others respond to God’s grace. Saint Paul reminds us of that in the book of Romans that we read from earlier. He writes in chapter; 14 verses 10-12, “Why do you pass judgement on your brother? Or you, why do you despise your brother? For we will all stand before the judgement seat of God… So then, each of us will give an account of himself to God.” We will give an account of how we handled the grace of God that has come into the world, and that has come to each of us in our baptism into Jesus, this son of Joseph the carpenter.
Joseph reflected a faithful relationship with God and God named Joseph a righteous man for his faith. Joseph was raised to trust that God would keep His word of a promised messiah and Joseph’s hope was in that Word. Though until the angel came and explained things, he didn’t know that he would see God’s promised salvation himself. And now he was being told that in fact, his own bride was the fulfillment of the words out of our Old Testament lesson today.
Verse 14 says “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.” Joseph was given the word of God in a dream that spelled out his part in fulfilling this prophesy of God. He acted on what God told him. His actions reflected the attitude of trust that was in his heart.
Remember we started out talking about Joseph being called righteous, that he was a man of faith and his life reflected that faith. Would God pick a man whose life did not reflect a relationship with Him as the earthly father for His Son? I think not. We follow Joseph’s example so as to reflect our attitude of trust in God alone. Joseph responded to the word that God gave him. He acted faithfully and in trust. We do that same thing. We act on the word of promise God has given us.
We all think “God would never pick me like He did Joseph. God wouldn’t pick me because I’m not a righteous person.” And we’re right. But here’s the thing about God’s love and grace…
He does pick you! In Christ God has made you righteous, by Christ’s birth, by His death on the cross and by His resurrection from the grave. Through Him, God has made… and so declares you to be righteous.
And He does pick you like He did Joseph!! He… picks… you to introduce this world to Jesus. You bring Jesus to this world. You have the same joy of introducing Jesus to the world you live in, just as Joseph did in his world.
God, in His Son has made us righteous and gives us the joy of Joseph. The coming of this Child, Jesus, into our lives restores us to a right relationship with God and that gift remains long after this season is over. That Gift changes our attitude to one of joy, because of the gift of faith we’ve been given and righteousness that’s been made ours… in Joseph’s Son – our savior Jesus Christ.
Sermon #861 Rev. Thomas A. Rhodes, Pastor – Zion Lutheran Church, Bolivar, MO
Old Testament Reading Isaiah 7:10-17
10 Again the Lord spoke to Ahaz, 11 “Ask the Lord your God for a sign, whether in the deepest depths or in the highest heights.” 12 But Ahaz said, “I will not ask; I will not put the Lord to the test.” 13 Then Isaiah said, “Hear now, you house of David! Is it not enough to try the patience of humans? Will you try the patience of my God also? 14 Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel. 15 He will be eating curds and honey when he knows enough to reject the wrong and choose the right, 16 for before the boy knows enough to reject the wrong and choose the right, the land of the two kings you dread will be laid waste. 17 The Lord will bring on you and on your people and on the house of your father a time unlike any since Ephraim broke away from Judah—he will bring the king of Assyria.”
Epistle Romans 1:1-7 1 Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God— 2 the gospel he promised beforehand through his prophets in the Holy Scriptures 3 regarding his Son, who as to his earthly life was a descendant of David, 4 and who through the Spirit of holiness was appointed the Son of God in power by his resurrection from the dead: Jesus Christ our Lord. 5 Through him we received grace and apostleship to call all the Gentiles to the obedience that comes from faith for his name’s sake. 6 And you also are among those Gentiles who are called to belong to Jesus Christ. 7 To all in Rome who are loved by God and called to be his holy people: Grace and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ.
Holy Gospel Matthew 1:18-25
18 This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit. 19 Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly. 20 But after he had considered this, 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. 21 She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” 22 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: 23 “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”). 24 When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. 25 But he did not consummate their marriage until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus.