by Elaine Maust
December 7, 2004
Happy Advent! Today is the second Sunday of Advent. This is the season when we look forward to Jesus’ coming. Each Sunday of this Advent we will focus the Sunday service on one of the characters in the birth of Jesus. Today we consider Joseph and his place in the Christmas story.
To do that we will imagine Joseph writing letters to Mary. As we said last Sunday, immediately after the angel came to Mary with the God News that she would be the mother of the Lord, Mary left her hometown. She went to live with her relative, Elizabeth who was six months pregnant with her own miracle baby, John the Baptist. Elizabeth and Zacharias were having this little boy in their old age. Mary stayed with Elizabeth three months.
Perhaps Mary and Joseph were illiterate. But for the sake of our sermon this morning, let’s just imagine Joseph writing letters to Mary while she was visiting Elizabeth. Joseph, writing letters that might have begun something like this…
- Dear Mary,I am so stunned by your decision to go to Elizabeth’s home. Why did you leave? And whatever was your hurry? I thought you were excited about the wedding plans.
There is no problem… is there?
Well, it’s okay. Soon we will be married and this difficult engagement time will be over. Don’t worry about anything Mary. Just look forward to the day when we will be together and able to start the family we have dreamed of.
Work is going well for me. I got an order for another table last week. I hope that you are well and happy. Please write to me soon.
Do you still have your Bibles open to Matthew 1? Matthew 1:18-24 tells the story of Joseph struggle with the news of Mary’s pregnancy. The Bible does not say how Joseph found out this news. It just says, (v18). Luke 1:39 says that after the angel left, Mary “set out and went with haste…” to the home of Elizabeth and Zechariah. I am left wondering… so how did Joseph find out? Hmmm.
Maybe Mary lived with Elizabeth for three months then returned to Nazareth. When she came back into town, word just got around that she was pregnant. And maybe that’s how Joseph discovered the news, village gossip. She was found to be with child. That’s logical.
But I wonder if maybe Mary wrote him a letter to tell him about the angel and the gift that God gave her. To let him know about her calling to be the mother of God’s Son.
- Dear Mary,I got your letter. Mary, It is good to know that you arrived in Judea safely.
But, what can I say about the other contents of your letter. Mary, you are pregnant? Are you sure? “With child by the Holy Spirit…” Mary, how can this be?
Now, Mary I know that you have a sensitive heart. Perhaps you were dreaming when you thought that angel spoke to you. Maybe you are just overly tired these days. Engagement is an uncertain and stressful time. Preparing for our weeklong wedding celebration, that would be difficult for anyone.
I know how much you hoped for children. Mary, I look forward to having a family too. But don’t be ridiculous. “The Son of God”? Mary, please.
Give yourself some time. Distract yourself. Think of other things. Don’t give your heart to this, Mary, I’m warning you.
Do you understand how serious this is? Promise me you will speak of this to no one. Maybe this idea will pass. Maybe things will seem different in a few weeks.
Please write me back and tell me that you fine. That you are the sweet Mary I dream of and that you have put all this baby foolishness behind us.
Joseph was back in Nazareth, the hometown of Mary and her fiancé and their families. There he was a carpenter, likely a furniture maker. Just an ordinary person looking forward to his wedding day. Or in their case, his wedding week.
Joseph was a decent man, righteous, Matt. 1:19 says. He was a man of principal. When he got news that his bride to be was expecting he had some difficult choices on his hands. Like I said last week, engagement was different in those days than it is today. It required witnesses, a legal document and a public declaration. Gifts, sometimes extravagant, were given to the bride’s family from the groom’s family. An engagement was only broken by a divorce.
But it was even more grave than that. An engaged woman who came up pregnant was guilty of adultery. And the punishment for that was death, by stoning.
Mary was pregnant. What would Joseph do?
- Dear Mary,I hope this finds you well
Your letters continue to describe your confidence that you are certain you are pregnant. And despite my cautions you seem as determined as ever that this baby you carry is to be the Messiah our people have been waiting for.
Mary, I have agonized over this for weeks and weeks now. At last I have made a decision. You are a precious girl and I can not bear, even under the circumstances, for anything terrible to happen to you. Like I said, I have made a decision. And you must know I am doing the best that I know to do for both of us. But even so, it breaks my heart.
I will get a divorce. And don’t worry, it will be a quiet divorce. I have no interest in making a public spectacle of either of us. My uncle, you remember Simon, well he works for a scribe. He will take care of everything for me. Your family can keep the sheep and the goats we gave you.
I suggest you stay with Elizabeth until the baby is born and older. You can only imagine what would become of you if you come back to town now.
I have sat awake many nights in my workshop, trying to decide what to do. This decision is the best I can make. May God have mercy.
Matthew 1:20 says that just when Joseph made his decision he had a dream.
- Dear Mary,I can not believe I am writing this to you. Only yesterday I sent that letter about the divorce. Well, you will not believe… okay, you probably will believe what happened to me last night. But I scarcely can…
Yesterday, I wrote you the letter about the divorce. It was so difficult for me. I hoped that I would finally have some peace after writing you, be able to sleep again… But I felt sick after writing. I could only imagine the look on your face as you tore open that letter from me, only to read that I was breaking the engagement.
Last night, like I said, I was hoping to finally get some rest. I laid down and tossed and turned thinking of you, wondering if I had made the right decision. Finally I fell asleep. And I had the most amazing dream…
An angel came to me in this dream. An angel spoke to me, Mary. He said, “Don’t be afraid.” Just like the angel said to you. He said, “Go ahead and get married. Mary is carrying a child by the Holy Spirit. She’s going to have a baby boy. And you are supposed to name him, Jesus. He will save people from their sins”.
Oh Mary, I am at peace at last. Believing seems so easy for you. It has been a struggle for me. But now I am convinced. God has given you a gift. You are to be the mother of the Lord.
And me too. I’ve been given gifts too. God sent the angel to help me believe. He has given my sweet Mary back to me. It’s as if you are mine for the first time all over again. And God has given me the chance to name this baby. “Jesus”. That’s what the angel said. “Jesus”.
Yesterday I as I wrote I felt that I was drowning. But God had mercy on us both and sent the angel. I’ll write soon with more plans.
Read Matthew 1:22-24a
- Dear Mary,Okay, two letters on the same day. I am not giddy and I am not carried away. I am, as you know not that type. But I am writing to say, you must come home immediately. Can you see the smile on my face as I write?
Come home immediately. To my home. You will live here with my family and I as my wife. You need to be here so I can take care of you. The angel said not to be afraid to take you as my wife. And I am not. Let the women around the well say what they want.
You are mine. The baby is God’s. We need to be together. I will begin making arrangements immediately. We will forget the wedding. You will move in with me and I will not touch you until after the baby is born. You have my pledge.
So Mary, bring yourself, and the baby and that song of yours back to Nazareth.
Oh, one more thing. Remember that table I told you I was working on? Well, just now I pushed it to the back of the workshop. Because today I will begin to build the cradle.
Read Luke 1:56
Some of us are like Mary. We believe instantly that nothing is impossible with God. But you know, I think more of us are like Joseph. We struggle with God’s call and our role in it. We question what to do. We come to believe slowly over time, only after man signs.
Now as we are having a service of healing prayer, I invite you to consider the places in your heart that are slow to respond to God. Just as Jesus came to Mary and Joseph, Jesus comes to us. What are the ways Jesus is coming to you? How are you hesitating to believe?
Come forward now for prayer and anointing. We will pray for you and God will touch you.