Joseph: The Face in the Background

Second in a series: Faces Near the Manger, Delivered December 7, 2003 by Rev. John Schmidt.
This was the Second Sunday of Advent.

Sermon Text:
Matthew 1:18-25

Sermon Notes are at the end.

[Started with video clip from the end of “It’s a Wonderful Life.”]

The movie, “It’s a Wonderful Life” and it celebrates the importance of an ordinary person, George Bailey. His whole life comes to a point where everything is being taken away from him, and there is a financial catastrophe coming on him because of some enemies that he has made. And he despairs of life and is committing suicide and in the movie, an angel shows him just what an impact his ordinary life, his day to day decisions had made in the lives of an entire community around him. And so this is the end of the movie where everybody is just coming and rallying around in gratefulness to help him because of the ways, the many, many ways that he had helped them.

But George Bailey is not the sort of person we would recognize or really notice in day-to-day life because as Americans we are very star conscious. We like famous people. So Paris Hilton goes to the rural America, that’s a TV series, that makes somebody millions of dollars. If somebody from our congregation goes to rural America, we call it a mission trip. We like stars. It even comes into the church. We have certain names in Christian circles that mean a lot, and for churches like Central, Billy Graham, Chuck Colson, James Dobson and Mother Teresa, names like that are people that are famous for us and their opinions matter more to us. We seek them out, even in areas where they might not have much expertise, because they are famous. There are famous people in scriptures. People that we really think they were people who were really in the center of the action. People like David and Moses, Peter and Paul, even Mary. But those aren’t people like us. You know, we are just mothers, fathers or children. We are students. We are accountants. You know there is no Red Sea parting in our lives. None of us walk on water, and we see very few miracles like some of those that we consider heroes in scripture. And so, it’s because of that that I think we need to look at the life of somebody like Joseph. Let me read to you a section about Joseph’s life. It comes from the gospel of Matthew, the first chapter, and I am going to begin reading at the 18th verse.

“This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit. Because Joseph her husband was a righteous man and did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly. But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, don’t be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name of Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: “The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel– which means, “God with us.” When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. But he had no union with her until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus.”

Let’s pray. Lord, we thank you for your Word and we pray now that wherever we are that you will take human words and make it speak to our real need for we ask this in Jesus’ name. Amen.

We need to look at a life like Joseph’s because Joseph is somebody like us. Joseph is a member of the supporting cast in the movie. He is one of the faces in the background. In fact, Joseph is introduced to us in Matthew, Chapter 1, verse 16 as Joseph, the husband of Mary. The reason why we know Joseph at all is because he is connected to Mary. Joseph is like us. He is somebody who is not necessarily at the center of what seems to be happening. He is described in Matthew, Chapter 1, verse 19 as a righteous man and its because of this character that he has, that even after he hears terrible news from Mary that she is pregnant, he is trying to handle it in such a way that it won’t expose her to public disgrace and so then it says in verse 20, “after he had considered this,” well, lets stop for a moment. One of the things you’ve got to do in Bible study is notice these momentous moments that is just covered by a word or two, Joseph considered this. His fiancee is pregnant. His dreams are shattered. The future is gone. He is open to public disgrace. He considered this. And you know what’s amazing is that God doesn’t immediately come and say, “Wait Joseph, don’t worry.” He lets him think about it. In fact, it seems to at least be the evening of the day that he gets this terrible news after carrying it around in his gut all day, that he goes to sleep and an angel speaks to him and says, “Its not like you think.” And God explains it to him and the miracle is that when Joseph wakes up, he does what the Lord told him to do. Now, his friends don’t know the explanation. All the people publically don’t know. The only people that know is Mary and him and maybe Zechariah and Elizabeth. And yet, despite this public confusion and suspicion he obeys the Lord and does what he says.

We see him again in chapter 2 of the gospel of Luke, where Joseph has gone back to his ancestral town because of the census and he can’t provide a place for his wife to have a baby. No matter what he does, it doesn’t connect. And you’ve got to think, this is his ancestral home. He should have some relatives there. Why aren’t the relatives helping? Maybe there is some stigma because of all that is happening with Mary. We don’t have any answers here, but we do know that Joseph is feeling that frustration and yet he presses on. In Matthew, chapter 2, we see a third moment where there is danger to Jesus because of the powers that be and an angel speaks again to Joseph and says, “You’ve got to take Jesus, take your family and go to a foreign country, a place where you don’t know the language, live as a refugee until further notice.” Joseph gets up and he does what the angel tells him. An amazing person.

But, we get a wrong impression if we look at these events and think of Joseph as having this spectacular, exciting life his whole time because these are just a few short years. Joseph was a young man when all this happened. We don’t know exactly how old, but this picture over here reminds me, maybe a person in his early 20s, somebody about the age of many of the people on the worship team. They live much of those years with nothing much happening, just the normal stuff. And then, somehow at this age, God feels like he can ask him to do something major like this. At an age where we hardly give people responsibility to you know, you can barely get normal insurance at this age for your automobile. And so he has this big period of time with nothing much happening and then there is three incredible years where God is speaking and requiring deep challenges from him, where he has to swallow his pride, where he has to push aside his fears and obey God and then there is ten years, 20 years where he just lives as a tradesman. We think that he was a carpenter. We don’t know much about Joseph, but we do know that he doesn’t show up once Jesus goes into public ministry, so perhaps he has died before that point. But again, there is a long period of time where he just goes along with life as usual. Now the thing is, he is not in the limelight long and he doesn’t even develop a ministry out of these three fantastic years. He doesn’t write a book you know on “Raising the Messiah in Egypt, you know which is what we would do now. He doesn’t do that. He doesn’t start a new ministry. There are no miracles that follow him in his life. He understood little of what was happening, and he didn’t even get to see the fruit of his obedience in the life of Jesus in his public ministry. So Joseph is kind of left out of the loop a whole lot, an average person swept up in to the activity of God and history. And that’s why I think we need to look at Joseph and take a look at two lessons here.

The first one is, there might be invisible Christians, but there are never unimportant ones. Last week we had a funeral here at the church. Next week we will have another. During the funeral service there were two people up front. I was up front and the organist and yet as I walked around that day and related to the family, I started to realize that there were perhaps 20-30 people that had been involved in making this whole experience of the funeral and all a ministry to this family. There were people who had worked on the bulletins, the people who were greeting, the people who had provided the food, the people who had visited before and there were countless, just a large number of people within the life of this church that had dedicated themselves to this ministry in the middle of the week, even to the point that early that morning somebody came and made sure that the sound booth was all set up for the funeral. You know, every organization has its visible people and the invisible. In a church you’ve got your ministry, you got your song leaders, you got your teachers, you’ve got a few prominent missionaries and they are visible and sought out and all, but you know there is a much larger group of invisible people. People like those who work up in the booth, people who come and prepare the sanctuary on Sunday, those who get ready in the classrooms, the people who provide the flowers and arrange them and its not just what people do here in the church, there are people who are praying for this church in their homes. This is valuable. People who do the hospitality outside the doors. It’s not just what we do in official Christian service. Just raising our kids to walk with God, to be a Christian that has integrity in the workplace and all of these things are in part and parts of the invisible life of this church.

These are George Bailey type folks. People who in the day to day, affect people where they live. And Joseph was that sort of person too, not a splashy person, but someone that God spoke to and someone that God used. God uses regular people with regular lives and so we need to be reminded that there is never anyone that’s unimportant to God and there is never anyone that’s unimportant to God’s plans.

Now, the second lesson that’s here in the life of Joseph, is that even in routine lives there are divine interruptions. Now around here at Central we know that you don’t have to be in a religious vocation to be in the will of God; that God calls us to a variety of honorable ways to serve him in what we would call regular occupations. The same thing that normal people do. The problem is, when you do that, its easy after a period of years to start to believe that divine interruptions are for ministers or for missionaries. Not for people who clock in 9 to 5. And one of the things that we see in the life of Joseph is that that is not a valid assumption. God worked in all these routine years in Joseph’s life, but they did have that moment when God spoke and stretched him and called him to do something that he never, ever expected to have to do and what we see again and again in Joseph’s life is that he got up and did what God called him to do. It’s an amazing thing to see him rise to the occasion like that. So you had these routine years and those routine years are years that God uses. But then God holds the right to interfere, to come in to our situation and to speak a word that calls us to something more. Like Joseph it might come in a dream, but it might come in a pink slip. It might come with an offer for a new job. It might come with a new neighbor. It might come in a newsletter. It might come in just the counsel of a friend. We never know when it might happen, but the time will come in everybody’s life that God does something unexpected and calls for something from us. He calls for a step of obedience, we didn’t necessarily expect to take. And so, we’ve got to watch and we’ve got to be ready. How would you handle that sort of interruption that Joseph had? He is living normally. He gets engaged. He is looking forward to his future. Bamm. Something happens and within 24 hours he has a whole new direction in life. It still happens to us.

When I look at the church I see a lot of Joseph’s. Normal people. Not big stars, but people who are in touch with God. People, who strive to listen and be faithful in the day to day and for folks like that, you know things might seem routine right now. You might be doing the same thing today that you were doing yesterday and that’s okay. Raising kids, working hard, studying, whatever it is, it’s okay because God is in that routine because he is building in you the kind of character that we need when those bigger moments come. God worked in Joseph so that when Joseph arrives on the scene in Matthew 1, it says that he is a man of character. That character was build across a period of years. So it’s okay if life is routine. But those big moments will come. And so, that’s okay too. The challenge then is to listen. The challenge then is to obey when God calls. We have no right to life as usual. Divine interruptions can come. There are uncontrollable changes that hit our lives and after that our lives are forever different and in the midst of that, we might find a new call to new obedience. Like Joseph, whether we are in a routine or whether we are at that big moment, let us be the kind of people who hear what the Lord is saying and who obey.

Let’s pray. Gracious God, we thank you. We thank you for your Word. We thank you for the model that we have in Joseph. Lord, our lives often look like his and so Lord whether we are in the routine or whether we are in a moment where we sense that everything is about to change, that Lord we will walk closely to you, listen closely to you and that Lord our faith would grow to meet every challenge. And so Lord we know that you are always present, but we invite you very specially to make yourself known to us as we continue our worship here in communion. For we ask this in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Sermon Outline Notes:

Joseph was part of the supporting cast.
He is a face in the background.

There are two lessons here.

The first is that there might be invisible Christians, but there are never unimportant ones.
The second lesson is that even in a routine, regular life, there are divine interruptions.
May we be the kind of people who when we hear God’s voice, we get up and we do it.