Risk, Sacrifice, and Trust

2019-12-22 – Year A – Advent 4 – The Rev. Carrie Klukas Isaiah 7:10-17; Psalm 24; Romans 1:1-7; Matthew 1:18-25

Lord give us ears to hear you, hearts to be softened by you, and minds to be changed by you. Give us insights into your word and help us to change our lives to live more inline with your ways. In your name we pray. Amen. 

The gospel passage today we are reminded of what we are about to celebrate this week, the birth of Christ. We are told once again about the conception of Jesus, Joseph’s first reactions to Mary’s situation, and his subsequent response to the angel. How many times have we heard this passage? For those of us who have been in the church for a long time, we hear over and over this story and it becomes rather easy to overlook the significance of the passage. 

Mary lived in a time in which women had little to no power. She had few legal rights and in agreeing to have God’s child she was seriously endangering herself. Mary would have grown up knowing what happens to girls who are found out pregnant before marriage. Mary would have seen the persecution of girls and the suffering of their families with shame. Guilt and shame are the crux of the Jewish way. Shame and fear kept people in line and under a standard of living. Mary’s willingness to trust God was profound. 

Joseph and Mary were most likely set up by their families as a good match. Mary probably did not know Joseph very well and did not know his character. There is no way she could have known what he would do with the news of her pregnancy before their wedding.  

Young ladies or let’s be honest young girls were set up by their family in an agreeable match with an older man. Joseph was older, more established and able to support a wife and children. Mary was young so that she could bear many children and her family could be relieved in the care and financial provision for her. Marriages of falling in love and choice were highly abnormal in biblical times. Marriages meant alliances in families and the development of community. 

(I am thankful to be alive in a time period when there is a choice and freedom for women. I am thankful to have fallen in love with my husband’s heart, character, and love of the Lord.)

 In Mary’s day in age if a woman was found out to be pregnant before marriage she was liable to death. She would have been taken beyond the town limited and stoned to death by the town. Most of these young girls did not choose to become pregnant, they lived in a time period when they were thought of as property. The identity of the man responsible for the woman’s situation was usually unknown. 

I think so often in the church we really sterilize what is happening in the midst of Mary and Joseph’s story. Mary is scandalized by trusting in the Lord. Joseph is left believing that his future wife was unfaithful to him. Both of them bear the weight of other people’s speculations and assumptions. Both of them have to trust each other despite facts that appear to prove something different. 

Joseph and Mary lead the way for us, they become tied to one another in an interdependent way. Their story is a story of great risk, sacrifice, and trusting of the Lord in a profound way. In a holy Christian relationship a couple is tied one to another in an interdependent way. They choose in the process of getting married to put aside their days of thinking only for themselves. 

They set aside a future of choosing what works just for them and instead take on a life of self-sacrifice, thinking of others and seeking the good of the whole family. Husband and wife bend themselves toward each other in understanding and graciousness. Joseph and Mary show us that interdependence can bring great peace, love, and provision in our lives. 

Joseph and Mary’s story at first is messy, difficult, and oh so similar to life as we know it. How many people have gotten married under difficult circumstances? How many people continue to live in difficult marriages and circumstances? How many people remain in difficult relationships in general? 

Both Mary and Joseph give us a deeper understanding into what it means to be a godly woman or a godly man in this world. They give us a pathway to the Father and a way to follow in this life. Today I want to look at how their lives, choices, and attitudes can shape our lives. 

First we will take a look at Mary’s life and the attitude of her heart. Mary’s final response to the angel Gabriel became a life verse for me when I became ordained and it is, “Be it unto me according to your will.” Mary’s life points us in the way we should go. Trusting God is not easy, it does not promise us a life of ease or constant comfort but rather a life of Godly presence. 

Mary trusted that God had a plan and even though she didn’t know what it was that He would be with her. We know from the scriptures that Mary was fearful of what the angel was asking her to do. We know that this because the angel says, “Do not fear.” Mary was human and experienced all the things that we do; pain, hunger, sickness, anxiety, loneliness, and fear of the future. And yet she steps towards godliness, willingness to follow despite fear.

 Her life and story truly can be ours as well. So much of my own life is coated with layers of fear or anxiety; being a priest, being a mom of a large family, or even walking into a large room and having to talk to everyone can be challenging. However as I walk with God and become more like him I see different aspects of him. When God calls us to love others, to take up our cross and follow Him, we can quake with fear and anxiety. But the true test of our faith is, “Are we willing to step out even though we quake with fear?” A godly response is one that says, “Be it unto me according to your will.” 

Submission to what God is calling us to do is our way forward. We don’t have to show up perfectly and totally prepared but rather show up to what he wants for us. Godly men and women learn to listen to God’s voice and follow his way to a life of light, truth, purity, and self-control. Mary shows us how to fear, trust, and step into what God calls us too despite our own limitations.

Joseph is not spoken of much in the scriptures however his character is shown in this passage. Joseph gives a powerful example to the world of a godly man. As we have heard earlier Joseph had every legal right to have Mary killed for her pregnancy or at least publicly humiliated for her situation. 

He decided instead to divorce her quietly which would have surely meant a life of bondage and/or human trafficking for both Mary and her son. Women were unable to provide for themselves and left vulnerable to the evil motives of others. 

God however spoke to Joseph in a dream encouraging him to take Mary as his wife and to raise Jesus. Joseph listens and obeys despite the immense cultural pressure that must have been to send her away. He was the one with great power in the relationship with Mary and he did not abuse this power. Culturally he could have and no one would have thought ill of him. However eternally he was called to do something quite different. 

Joseph is a fine example of a godly man who bends his strength and power to the will of God. Some of the finest Christian men I have met in my life live lives poured out for others. Christen men are called to use their size, strength, intelligence, and courage to serve others. They are to lay down their power to the will of God. Over and over again we see in the world examples of men mistreating others and using their power to take for themselves what they want, when they want it. Our news right now is filled with examples of immoral living, abusing power, and using repulsive language. 

What is the Christian way? Joseph provides a hedge of protection around Mary and Jesus. He provides them with a livelihood and a place in society. He sees them as human beings made in the image of God to be respected and cared for. In our society today one of the leading causes for being unable to see someone as made in the image of God and rather looking at them subjectively is the use of pornography. 

Throughout the development of technology our phones have become small computers that go everywhere with us and therefore take the internet everywhere. Accessing pornography is a massive wide epidemic that knows no age limits or genders. Children are being exposed often accidently at very young ages and become quickly addicted as well as all ages in between. 

Our culture’s lackadaisical attitude regarding the consumption of pornography has led to a serious break down in marriages, in healthy sexual development of children, and in the ability to see someone as being made in the image of God.

 If we are to become people of God who bend our power and will towards God this must not be apart of our lives. If we are to look at someone and see their heart, their dreams, and humanity then we have to give ourselves to pure, holy, and undefiled living. If this is a struggle for you, you don’t have to live stuck. You don’t have to crave those images or be bound by them. God is powerful enough to break open the bonds of death and He can set you free. He longs to clean your mind, to give you an ability to see others as He made them. Jesus longs to bring His people into the light. 

In Philippians 4:8  it says,”Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” Seeing and treating someone with grace, kindness, and humanity requires our minds to be free of worldly sins. 

Joseph sees Mary as a human being made in the image of God and therefore cares for her and Jesus in a profound way. Joseph allows Jesus to grow up in a safe Jewish home with a mother and a father. Joseph provides a hedge of protection around Jesus and Mary and does not use his authority and power to frighten, humiliate, or abandon them. 

He shows a truly strong man who uses his size, strength, and intelligence to quickly obey the Lord. Joseph did not hesitate towards action when the Lord told him to do something. He used his god-given manly attributes to provide and care for Mary. Christian men can safely follow Joseph’s example of love, provision, kindness, and the bending of his own will towards the will of God the Father. How might God be calling you into a life of sacrifice for the sake of another? How are you serving those around you and providing a hedge of protection around others? 

Do you see a small child wandering from their parents? Encourage the child back to their parents. Do you see someone struggling with a door, groceries, or keeping up their lawn? Offer to provide help and perhaps provide great relief. Do you see your spouse struggling or drowning in some aspect of their life? Perhaps offer help, let them know that you love them and long to help. True strength comes in the laying down your life for others. 

I am deeply thankful for these last 14 years of married life as it has been an awe-inspiring experience to be walking next to a man who longs to provide love, care, and kindness to his family. I have watched him shape pursuits around his family giving up sleep for the sake of providing. I have watched him give up opportunities knowing it was not good for our family. I have watched him sacrifice comfort, self-oriented activities, and inward pursuits for the sake of myself and our family. He longs to be a Jesus follower, to be a man of peace, and to be changed more and more into the likeness of Christ. He follows the way Joseph lays out for us today. 

There is another man in history one of whose stories I would like to share to demonstrate a life lived in accordance with God. Night was falling over the harbor of Bristol, England, and in the orphanage founded by George Müller and his wife, the children were getting ready for bed. George was working in his study when his wife arrived with alarming news. “We’re out of milk,” she said. “There isn’t enough for the morning oatmeal.”

George laid aside his pen. This wasn’t the first time that money needed to buy food and other supplies was tight. The Müllers took in their first group of thirty girls in 1836, and their orphanage now housed over a hundred. From the first George remained resolved never to ask for funds from people or to borrow money. 

He went to God alone for every need, trusting wholly in the Lord’s faithfulness and provision. The pastor rose from his desk and reached for his wife’s hand. “Mary,” he said, “let us pray.” Two orphanage employees joined them, and together they made their humble yet necessary request to God. Tiny, helpless mouths were depending on them for sustenance. “Be assured, if you walk with Him and look to Him and expect help from Him,” George reminded them afterwards, “He will never fail you.” 

Someone knocked on the door. Mary hurried to answer, returning to the study a moment later. She handed her husband an envelope. “It’s a letter, George. Hurry up and open it.”Enclosed was a sum of money, more than enough for the milk. Within minutes, two more letters arrived with money and pledges of support. This immediate and abundant response to prayer had become a typical experience for Müller. After he came to faith and started meditating seriously on the Bible, he determined to simply trust God at His Word.

All throughout history we have profound examples of Christian men and women who pour themselves out in the service of others. Men and women who radiate the love of the Lord, show self-control and kindness when they could abuse the power God has given them. Abusing power, lying, and cruelty is fast and easy. Just think how easy it is for you to sin, be unkind, quick with your words, and quick in your judgment. Joseph and Mary show us that we are to be a holy people who cling to the cross, taking the hard path that leads to eternal life. God longs to train us up, shape us for glory, and make us into people of peace and self-control acknowledging each other’s humanity. 

As we enter this Christmas week I pray that each one of us will look upon the nativity of our Lord with new and fresh eyes. I pray that each one of us will see some piece of our own hearts that need to be transformed and made new. I pray that each one of us might come more fully into our humanity being able to see one another as God has made us.  To God be the glory now and forever. Amen

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