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December 15, 2019

Sermon Matthew 1:20 . . .“The angel said:  Don’t be afraid to take Mary as your wife”

“The angel said:  Don’t be afraid to take Mary as your wife”

Matthew 1:20

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus.

Jacob Rodney Cohan, also known as Jack Roy, also known as Rodney Dangerfield, was born in November of 1921, the son of a vaudeville performer and a stay-at-home mom.  But his father walked out when he was just a young boy, abandoning the family.  Later he said, he was left out in the backyard with half a sandwich on the stoop, while his grandmother kept an occasional eye on him through the window.  He spent the day playing with a hammer.  To make money, he delivered groceries after school, and sold ice cream and newspapers at the beach.  

But even at a young age, he knew he could make people laugh.  So selling aluminum siding by day, he worked as an entertainer by night.  

But it wasn’t easy.  In fact, when he once played a club somewhere in the Catskill mountains, he said it was so far out, his act was reviewed by Field and Stream.

Finally, in March of 1967, he got his big break on the Ed Sullivan show.  That’s also when he began to realize that he needed an “image,” an on-stage persona that would set him apart from other comedians.  So he took on the name “Rodney Dangerfield,” a man for whom nothing went right.

Maybe you’ve heard some of his lines--”My fan club broke up.  The guy died”...”Last week my house was on fire.  My wife told the kids, ‘Be quiet, you’ll wake up Daddy”...”I was ugly, very ugly.  When I was born, the doctor smacked my mother,” and “I went to the fights last night, and a hockey game broke out.”  Just before he had a heart valve replaced late in life, he said to his doctor, “Shouldn’t I at least meet the pig first, to see if we get along?”

But the joke for which he’s best known is, “I don’t get no respect.”  Like the time he walked into a bar and ordered a drink.  The bartender said, “I can’t serve you.”  “Why not?” he said.  “I’m over 21!”  He answered, “You’re just too ugly.”  “Boy, I tell you, I don’t get no respect.”

It’s been said that, out of all the characters that played such an important part in that first Christmas story, and there are many, Joseph is the “Rodney Dangerfied,” the forgotten man of Christmas, the one who never seems to get much respect.  

Think about it.  If you had the chance to meet any person in the Christmas story, who would you choose?

Think of Herod the Great, for example, that wicked old tyrant king of Israel, insanely jealous of anyone or anything who might threaten his throne, even if it’s some Baby in Bethlehem.  Think of the magi, wise men from the East.  Who were they really, and where did they come from?  And what was it like to see that Star?

Or how about the Shepherds?  Today, nearly all the shepherds in modern Israel are teenagers, many of them girls.  So there’s every reason to think that the shepherds in Jesus’ day weren’t the old men of tradition, but youth who were fifteen or sixteen years old.  If we were to meet them, we would ask, “What was it like to see Jesus lying in a manger, and to hear the angels sing?”  No wonder they ran through the streets of Bethlehem and told of all the things they had seen and heard.

And think of Zechariah and Elizabeth, the father and mother of John the Baptist, Anna the prophetess, and an old man named Simeon who once held the infant Jesus in his arms.

And think of Mary, the one God the Father chose to be the mother of His Son.

But of all the people who played such an important part in that very first Christmas, don’t forget about Joseph.  And while Luke tells us so much about Mary, Matthew tells us about him--the husband of Mary, the foster father of Jesus.

Please turn in your Bible to page 1026, as I read the words of our text.  I’ll start where it says, “The Birth of Jesus Christ.”  Matthew chapter 1, verse 18:  “Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way.  When His mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit.  And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly.  But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, ‘Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.  She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.’  All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet:  ‘Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call His name Immanuel’ (which means, God with us).  When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him:  he took his wife, but knew her not until she had given birth to a son.  And he called His name Jesus.”

So what do we know about Joseph?  What does the Bible say?

His father’s name was Jacob.  His hometown was Bethlehem in Judea, but he lived up north, in Nazareth of Galilee.

He was a carpenter, an artisan by trade, something he, no doubt, had learned from his own father.  He was religious man, a devout keeper of the Law.  And he was poor.  We know that because, when he and Mary came to present Jesus in the Temple, they didn’t bring a lamb.  A turtle dove was all they could afford.

How old was he?  We can’t say for sure, but most believe he was young, probably in his late teens or early twenties.

But what a man he must have been, for he was tender when he could have been harsh.  He was thoughtful when he could have been hasty.  He was trusting when he could have doubted.  He was strong when he could have been weak.

For just a moment, put yourself into his shoes.  One day, in your little town called Nazareth, you met a beautiful, young girl, named Mary.  And the more you got to know her, the more you fell in love.  And just as soon as you were old enough, you asked your parents to sit down with her parents, to allow you to become husband and wife.

And how he loved his Mary and longed for their wedding day--a day of festive clothes, of veils and vows, of wine and celebration.  What a wonderful day it would be!

But all of a sudden, plans changed.  An angel came to Mary to tell her this good news:  “You will be with Child,” he said, “and give birth to a Son...He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High.”

And what happened when she sat down to tell him?  We can hardly imagine!  He was destroyed.  “How could you, Mary?” he said.  “You promised.  We were going to be married.  We were going to build a house together and a life together.  How could you do this to me?”

What words can we use to describe a man at a time like this?  Angry...confused… frustrated...embarrassed...shamed...hurt...devastated...disappointed.  Did she tell him about the angel Gabriel?  Did he even begin to believe?

What should he do?  The Law of Moses told him exactly what to do.  It said:  “Bring her to the door of her father’s house and the men of your town shall stone her to death.”  Some would have been more than happy to do just that.

But the more he thought about it, the more he couldn’t stand to see anything happen to his Mary.  If only somehow he could keep it quiet.  Maybe he could send her to live with a friend or even her cousin Elizabeth.  And as he lay in bed, tears rolling down his cheeks, he tossed and turned until finally, he fell asleep.

And somewhere between sleep and wakefulness, an angel appeared to him in a dream.  Verse 20:  “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.  She will bear a son, and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.”

It wasn’t a long message.  But it was enough.

Even though the Bible chooses to record not even a single word from Joseph, there is much that he can teach us.  There wasn’t really anything special about him.  His name was common, his occupation was simple, and his home town was very plain.  Yet it was to him that Jesus came.  Out of God’s rich grace and mercy, without any merit or worthiness in him, Joseph became the foster father of Jesus Christ.  For while Mary helped to form Jesus’ body, Joseph formed his character.  And later, when Jesus grew and began to teach the people, He chose one word above all others to describe what God is like.  He called Him, “Father.”

As someone once put it, “Joseph never led an army, never won an election, never wrote a book, and was never a singer of songs.  But he believed God.  And that alone took him out of the ranks of the ordinary.  His name might have been plain, his profession simple, yet his faith was profound.”

Arrested by the Nazis in 1937 for defying Hitler, Pastor Martin Niemoller spent three and a half years in solitary confinement.  Finally in 1941, he was moved to Dachau where he was housed with other high-profile, non-Jewish prisoners.  Then in 1944, the Nazis allowed him to preach a sermon to a half-dozen fellow Protestant inmates, the first service he would conduct since his arrest.

At first, he was hesitant.  Would his fellow prisoners want him, a German and a Lutheran, to conduct the service?  When they agreed, they set the day for December 24th, when Germans traditionally celebrated the birth of Christ.  For Niemoller in 1944, it was the eighth Christmas he would not celebrate with his own wife and children.

Crowded into cell number 34, he stood before his six-member congregation--a Dutch cabinet minister, two Norwegian shippers, a British major in the Indian army, a Yugoslav diplomat, and a Macedonian journalist.  And as he acknowledged the fear and uncertainty of Allied bombs raining down on German cities and Hitler urging his soldiers, old men and boys, to fight to the last man, he counseled them to rejoice that God had built a bridge to the world, even to Dachau, through the birth of His Son, Jesus Christ.

And it is to our troubled, war-torn, and weary world that Jesus comes, wrapped in swaddling clothes, and lying in a manger, Son of Man and Son of God.

When we think of Joseph, dear Father, we marvel that his faith was so humble, yet so profound.  Grant us such faith as we too seek to faithfully follow you, for Jesus’ sake.  Amen



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