December 20, 2020

Joseph: I am who I am

Scripture Reading: Matthew 1:18-25 (Exodus 3:1-14)

Today is the fourth Sunday in the season of Advent. Our gospel reading today takes us to the home of a man named Joseph. He is the husband of Mary, the mother of Jesus. In the Christmas story, this pretty much says everything that most people seem know about the man. Joseph takes a secondary role to his wife who is the one who is now “venerated” (to be adored and worshipped) for her role as the mother of Jesus. Joseph is the forgotten man who comes on the scene briefly at the beginning of Jesus’ life, but then disappears, never to be heard from again. Of the four gospel accounts, Matthew says the most about him and in our reading from Matthew 1:18-25 he is in the forefront of the story.

Questions:

Why is it not a “wonderful time of the year” for Joseph in our reading? What’s troubling him?
When the angel of the Lord visits Joseph, what does he call him? Why is it significant that he is related to this Old Testament king?

Once again, we in Matthew’s account of the Christmas story that God must come to us because we would never go to him on our own. In our reading, the angel of the Lord visits Joseph in a dream and confirms that Mary is pregnant with a child that is not his. Joseph is told “Do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.” This is the part of the Christmas story we all know about but we do not think about what this means to Joseph. All is not calm and all is not bright for him. In no time or place or culture is this a beautiful, sentimental scene in Matthew 1:18-21. This tells us the Christian gospel is raw and real. The good news does not come to a world that is perfect. There is betrayal and hurt, unwanted pregnancies and shame. However, it’s precisely when things are raw and real and all messed up that you need God’s grace to enter your life and to heal and restore and make all things new. God comes to Joseph and announces a Word of grace that will be for the whole world. In verse 21 the angel of the Lord says to Joseph, “Mary will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”

Questions:
What does the name “Jesus” mean?
According to Q&A 31 of the Heidelberg Catechism, what does the title “Christ” mean?
In what way does Joseph make Jesus a “legitimate” child?

When Joseph is told to name Mary’s son “Jesus”, this is more than just a self-designating name. Jesus’ name is tied to his action as the Savior of the world. The apostle Paul links the Old Testament name of the covenant Lord with Jesus in Philippians 2 where he writes, “Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee shall bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

To really understand the exalted Name of “Jesus” we need to know how God revealed his Name to his people in the Old Testament. In Exodus 3 God reveals his holy Name to Moses at a strange occurrence at a “Burning Bush”. At this place God reveals his plan of redemption for his people. The Lord says, “I have indeed seen …” “I have heard …” “I am concerned …” “I have come down …” “I will bring …” This reveals that the Sovereign Lord of heaven and earth is not some distant, unapproachable, divine reality. The first thing Moses learns is that this God who speaks to him from the Burning Bush is a Savior God who sees and hears and is concerned. This God will act on behalf of his people.

Moses says, “Suppose I go to the Israelites and say to them, “The God of your fathers has sent me to you” and they ask me, “What is his name?” Then what shall I tell them?” At this point God condescends to Moses’ request and he reveals his Holy Name and says, “I Am who I Am. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: “I Am has sent me to you.”

Questions:

How do we see God’s care and concern for us in the Name revealed at the Burning Bush and in the Name Joseph is told to give Mary’s child?
From what were God’s people redeemed in the book of Exodus?

The Conclusion:

Joseph had good reasons to stay hurt and bitter about his circumstances. The weight of this world and the hurt that can come into our lives, can make us bitter. Joseph could have walked away from his calling in the Story of Redemption. He could have walked away from Mary and been done with it all. However, when grace invades your life, everything changes. Joseph responded to God’s revelation in faith. By faith we believe what is revealed to us and faith allows us to live in the truth. And when we live in the Truth we extend the grace of God to the world. Amen!