Advent Fourth Sunday
By: Thomas E. Brewton
Mary and Joseph were confronted by the Immaculate Conception, Mary’s impregnation before the marriage ceremony, with what would have appeared to the outside world as a serious breach of Judaic righteousness that potentially could have ostracized them from their community. Yet both of them heeded God’s Word: “Do not be afraid.”
The Reverend Jason Pankau preached today’s sermon at the Long Ridge Congregational Church (North Stamford, Connecticut). The message was “do not be afraid.” When you hear God’s call, trust in Him and follow where he leads.
The main scriptural text was:
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, do not 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 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”â€”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. (Matthew 1:18-25)
All of us are reluctant to endure public opprobrium, ridicule, or ostracism. In today’s caustically secular society, avowing the Word of God, standing forth as a Christian or a religious Jew can be emotionally painful.
Joseph’s situation was the reverse, but the potential consequences were the same. As the text above notes, Joseph was a righteous man, which meant that he endeavored scrupulously to observe all the laws, customs, and rituals of religious Jewish society. In that milieu, cleanliness and purity were paramount concerns. A woman who became pregnant outside wedlock would become a pariah, unfit for marriage, unfit to live in society.
Joseph considered quietly divorcing Mary when she informed him of her condition. In that era, with a one-year betrothal period before marriage, it would have seemed obvious to all that Mary had violated the rules of purity.
Nonetheless, when an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph and told him the extraordinary nature of Mary’s pregnancy and of the Child she would bear, Joseph trusted in God and followed His commands.
Joseph might have yielded to normal human fear, one of Satan’s most powerful tools for stopping us from following God’s Word.
About 60 years later, the Apostle Paul exhibited the same fortitude and faith that directed Joseph. In a letter from his prison cell in Rome to the church at Ephesus, he wrote:
Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.
Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of
salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. (Ephesians 6:10-17)
The closing message for the Sunday before Christmas, when we celebrate the birth of the Lord Jesus Christ, is found in Paul’s letter to the church at Philippi:
The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:5-7)
Thomas E. Brewton is a staff writer for the New Media Alliance, Inc. The New Media Alliance is a non-profit (501c3) national coalition of writers, journalists and grass-roots media outlets. His weblog is THE VIEW FROM 1776 [http://www.thomasbrewton.com/]
Thomas E. Brewton is a staff writer for the New Media Alliance, Inc. The New Media Alliance is a non-profit (501c3) national coalition of writers, journalists and grass-roots media outlets.