“Infidelity and the Incarnation”
Advent 4, December 18, 2016
Infidelity and the Incarnation
Text: Matthew 1:18–25
We have discussed from this spot how much lying there is in our society. We lie all the time. You might be doubting me here, but we do. We call them “White Lies,” but they are lies. When our spouse asks if the clothes they are trying on make them look fat…we lie. When someone we care about has gone to great trouble to make us a fine meal, which actually tastes like sawdust or manhole covers…we lie. When we tell folks how big the fish we caught was or how long the putt we made was or well, you know. We lie.
Politicians love to do it. Al Gore said he invented the internet. George Bush (the first one) said he would not raise taxes. (He did, if you are not old enough to remember that.) I was going to give you a specific example from this week or month, but I realized that pretty much every one of them is lying when they say anything. (I am not cynical, right?) We heard a president say “I am not a crook.” He was. We heard a president say, “I have not had (you know what) with that woman…” He did.
We are lied to in commercials, as well. As a kid, every toy I saw advertised on TV (While I was watching The Bugs Bunny/Road Runner Hour) never worked as well in my home as it did in the ad. Peloton told us every husband would improve his marriage if he bought his wife an exercise bike. But two big whoppers were the ads that told us cigarettes were healthy, and Listerine cured colds.
Now why are we talking about this? Imagine what Mary’s parents and Joseph must have thought when Mary came home from cousin Elizabeth’s house pregnant, when she and Joseph were only engaged. Then imagine what they must have thought when she said God was the Father of her baby! Today we are going to discuss an often-overlooked aspect of the first Christmas. Today we are going to talk about “Infidelity and the Incarnation.”
Last Sunday’s Gospel had to do with John the Baptist’s approaching execution, and his doubts whether Jesus was really the Messiah. Today’s Gospel takes us a little closer to Christmas, this time featuring Joseph. One of the things that I have noticed over the years is that Christmas is a Mary-Jesus thing, not a Joseph-Jesus thing. Our carols are more about Mary and Jesus. Not many sermons or songs about Joseph these days. Look at the postage stamps you put on your Christmas cards. Every year the post office sells a stamp that has a famous painting of Mary and her Child. Usually when people think of Christmas, Joseph’s role is barely a cameo. His importance is usually considered less than all the other folks, whether it is the angels, the shepherds, and the Wise Men. This is different. Writing through the evangelist Matthew, the Holy Spirit puts Joseph at center stage. For Matthew, Christmas begins with Joseph’s dilemma about what to do with a wife whom he thinks is carrying another man’s child.
Joseph had his doubts. It was not that Joseph didn’t believe Isaiah’s prophecy about the virgin bearing a child, but he did not believe that the prophecy was coming true in Mary. It is my opinion that any man in Joseph’s shoes would have reacted the same way.
Joseph was in a bit of a pickle back then. Joseph had to decide what to do with a woman to whom he was legally engaged and attached but still not actually married. Old Testament law required divorce in cases of adultery, but one was also allowed to do so without showing cause. He could divorce her publicly, which would probably result in her being stoned to death. He could divorce her quietly. Or he could just marry her. But you need to know that in those days you needed a son to pass down your estate, and someone else’s kid would not work. Joseph chose the second option. He would not tell anyone what he thought Mary had done. Joseph had chosen the kinder thing to do. Joseph did not want to make a bad situation worse for her.
Joseph believed Mary when she said she was pregnant. He did not believe her when she said that God was the baby’s father. He was not going to go through with a marriage to a gal he believed had cheated on him. Legal separation and divorce are no fun, but in Joseph’s mind, he had no other choice.
Now Joseph had to figure out how he was going to prevent Mary’s pregnancy from coming to light in a village of less than a hundred people. Today a woman can travel out of town to give birth. Not so then. Women rarely, if ever, traveled alone. It would not take long for her predicament to become fodder for gossip. This is what Joseph struggled when the angel communicated with him, most likely as he lay in bed one night.
Joseph is told by the Lord’s angel to take Mary as his wife. Joseph is told she is NOT lying. Hers is not an ordinary child, but is the Son of God who redeems His people. The God who had come in dreams to Abraham, Jacob, and the Old Testament Joseph, was now coming to another Joseph in a dream. Mary’s husband would not be the biological father of the Messiah, but he would be His legal father. Joseph would be the one legally that Jesus would be born of “the house and lineage of David.” As soon as Joseph woke up, and probably much to Mary’s surprise, he decided not to divorce her.
For all legal purposes throughout his life, Jesus was known as Joseph’s son, and from Joseph Jesus learned the trade of a carpenter. If there was any doubt about Jesus being the Son of David by blood and not just in law, Luke tells us that Mary was a descendant of David, too. So Jesus is David’s Son by law through Joseph and by blood through Mary. This is important because a thousand years before, God promised David the Savior would be from his family. God makes a promise. God keeps a promise.
How do we see this? Through repetition, what the Creed says about Jesus being “conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the virgin Mary” may now be so ordinary for us that we are unaware of the tension this caused with Mary and Joseph. How many pregnant virgins have you known? Things like this simply do not happen. Things like this simply don’t happen—or don’t happen simply—but it happened once and God became a human being just like us.
In the fine Lutheran tradition, we can now ask, “What does this mean?” We need to note here, three days before Christmas, that everything we look towards in this Advent season and everything we will celebrate for 12 days at Christmas is not just because a child was born, but because later, He was stricken, smitten, and afflicted, died and rose again. For Us! With the death and resurrection of Jesus, He forgives all His brothers and sisters, and that includes you and me. And that is NO LIE.
We lived in an era where people who lie say they “misremembered,” fake news, and so on. And lots, billions, of people believe that was in the Bible is not true. I read on a blog this week, “all religions and gods were created out of thin air by primitive, superstitious humans that were high on mushrooms and looking for an explanation to their existence….” (The Lost Ogle: 12/13/19) I feel bad for this person. What we read in Matthew, and Luke, and all the Bible is the Truth. God created you, loves you, and did everything necessary to save you. That all started in a manger in Bethlehem. That is No Lie. Let’s keep that in mind as we make our way down this road to Bethlehem this week.
In Jesus’ Name.