Sermon for the Fourth Sunday in Advent
December 18, 2016, St. Paul Lutheran Church, Wallis, Texas
Sermon Text: Matthew 1:18-25
Sermon Theme: “What the Angel Told Joseph in His Dream”
(Sources: Concordia Pulpit Resources, Vol. 17, Part 1, 11-27-16-2-26-17, Series A; Anderson’s Cycle A Preaching Workbook; original ideas and examples; Online Jokes about Dreams; Emphasis Online Commentaries; Emphasis Online Illustrations; Harper’s Bible Dictionary)
Grace, mercy and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ.
A daughter tells the story about her parents who were asleep in bed one night, when her dad woke up everyone in the house with a loud, exuberant shout of “HELLO,” obviously to someone in his dream. His booming “hello” scared his wife half to death so that she almost fell out of bed.
So, the next night, as the family was getting ready for bed, the Mama said to the Daddy, “Honey, if you see somebody you know tonight, just wave, — OK?”
Psychologists have written books about the meaning and significance of dreams. Both the Old Testament and the New Testament make it clear that dreams are very important, — such as Pilate’s wife having a disturbing dream about the innocence of Jesus, the Wise Men being warned in a dream not to return to Herod, and, in today’s sermon text, an angel speaking to Joseph in a dream about Mary’s pregnancy.
While some dreams are funny, this is the most serious dream in the history of humanity, because it’s about the miraculous birth of the Savior of the world. Joseph is a good man, humble and lowly, not rich, and God chooses him to be the foster father of God’s only begotten Son. Because we see little and hear nothing of Joseph in the New Testament, I chose to focus on him for this past Wednesday night’s Advent Service.
As I said Wednesday night, Joseph was a very devout Jew who observed Hebrew laws and traditions, he was kindly and chivalrous, he was a loving and faithful husband, a good father, and he was hard-working and dependable. No doubt those are reasons God chose him for the role he played in God’s plan for Salvation.
In this miraculous dream, the Angel of the Lord says to Joseph, “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.” Joseph has been going through some soul searching doubt when this message from the Angel comes in a dream. The woman he is engaged to is found to be with child, and Joseph was thinking of divorcing her quietly. Joseph stands at a major crossroad in his life.
In the mid 1970’s, my wife and I were driving from Ontario back to Ann Arbor, Michigan, and, when one of the worst blizzards in recent history hit, we were faced with taking a highway of icy pavement, swirling snow and whiteout conditions back to Michigan. We had no choice; we couldn’t turn back; we had to take this road that the highway department warned the public to stay off! This was a drive we did not want to take, and a road no one wanted to travel.
There are other roads in life none of us want to take. When my twin brother died thirteen years ago, I did not want to travel down the road that would take us to his funeral. When someone close to me went to prison, I did not want to take the road to visit him in prison. When my neighbor’s son committed suicide some years ago, I did not want to walk across the street to be with this bereaved father and mother.
Although I made my way down each of these difficult roads, there are others I have avoided.
Nations come to cross roads as well, and their leaders read signs indicating a variety of paths to take. When Abraham Lincoln became president, he had made it clear in which direction he would move the United States in issues related to slavery. A number of states could not see themselves traveling down that road, and so seceded, fighting desperately to move the country in another direction. In the 1930’s, a group of Christians, within the established churches of Germany banded together to form the Confessing Church, resisting at every turn the road that Adolf Hitler wanted the nation to travel.
In our sermon text, Joseph was planning to take the high road of moral rectitude, only to find that the sign the Angel pointed to was a path mapped in ways he could not have understood, allowing God to make the decision at the crossroads. When God commands us, our decision must be to obey.
I am reminded of the Country music song, “He Didn’t Have to Be,” written and made popular by Brad Paisley whose songs are known for their simple, sweet honesty. Brad Paisley sums up the thoughts of a special man willing to take on the responsibility for raising and caring for children who are not his and accepting the role as stepfather with the words, “I hope I’m at least half the dad that he didn’t have to be.”
Joseph didn’t have to be Jesus’ daddy, but God called him to be such, and he obeyed the call.
The Angel not only explains the miraculous origin of this child and commands Joseph to make Mary his wife, but also he tells Joseph to name the child “Jesus.” The reason for this name is also given: “for He will save His people from their sins.” The name “Jesus” is the Greek translation of the Hebrew name “Joshua.” “Joshua” or “Yeshua” is a combination of the Hebrew word for “salvation” with “Yahweh,” the Hebrew name for God. It means “the One who saves,” or “Savior.” This infant will be born to save His people from their sins.
You can understand how difficult this would have been for Joseph to understand.
Why did the people of Israel need to be saved? Israel, after all, was the chosen people of God. But Israel rebelled against God, and broke the Covenant again and again. God punished His people ultimately by sending them into exile. Israel’s condition at the time of Jesus’ birth was a result of their national sin, and they were still under the rule of foreign kings.
Well, Jesus lived up to His name! Coming to save people from their sins, His mission was “Israel first.” “Go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel,” says Matthew 10:5-6. And so He did.
But how do we Gentiles find a place in this story? After all, we were not the Covenant people. Rather, our ancestors were outsiders for whom idolatry was the norm, says Galatians 4:8. Although, we are not guilty of Israel’s national sin, we do inherit the sin of Adam, and we have rebelled against God’s will. Before our Baptism, we were outsiders.
Jesus’ mission did not ignore the Gentiles, because He came to save all people, Jews and Gentiles alike. First, the Wise Men, who were Gentiles, were brought by God to worship Jesus as a child. The Gentile centurion showed faith that Jesus could not find in all of Israel. The Canaanite woman, a Gentile, showed persistent faith. The Samaritan leper, a non-Jew, came back to thank and worship Jesus. And eventually Jesus sent his apostles out to make disciples of all nations, says Matthew 28:19-20.
So how do we fit into the story? When we come to the crossroads, through the Holy Spirit, God sends us down the right path. It is often a difficult road, and we couldn’t travel it without His guidance, strength, and love.
We may have nightmares and silly dreams, but normally God doesn’t send an Angel to speak to us in any of our dreams. But He has sent his Son and His Holy Spirit to live within us, and thus we can move down those challenging roads of life. How exciting it is in this countdown to Christmas to read the gospel accounts of Mary and Joseph and the Christ Child who comes to save us. The Christ Child is “love” who came down to earth from heaven at Christmas, and that’s why we lighted the “love” candle on the Advent wreath today, this perfect love that was promised by the Angel in Joseph’s dream. Amen.
The peace of God which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.