Sermon Matthew 1:18-25 December 22 2013 “Believing the Impossible:Joseph’s Dilemma”

Joseph’s job was impossible and yet, by God’s grace, Joseph accomplished his task. Now, some of you might thinking I’m talking about the long, treacherous trek to Bethlehem to be taxed with a heavily pregnant Mary but, not so. In fact, the walk to Bethlehem was much simpler than the harder job of believing how in some way, Mary’s heavily pregnant state was the miraculous work of a mysterious God. That took a good bit of faith.

You see, Joseph was raised to believe God did miraculous deeds but no one had prepared him to be the recipient of such an act. And he wasn’t quite sure he should be welcoming of this particular God-act if, in fact, it was an action of God’s grace. Could he trust it? Could he trust Mary? He wanted to believe but this was so out of the ordinary. Mary, his promised bride pregnant and he knew darn well, he wasn’t the father. He’d kept the rules but had Mary? It was the puzzle. Joseph had known he was well in his rights to divorce Mary. In fact, he could, as the seemingly wronged spouse, have Mary stoned publicly. He was well within his rights to authorize the stoning and no one would fault him for throwing the first stone. But, even before the angel’s appearance, Joseph just couldn’t do it. He loved Mary and whatever she had done, well, he wasn’t about to multiply the sin by joining it to another…stoning Mary didn’t feel right.

It took an act of faith and no small desire on Joseph’s part to believe in the angel’s assurance of Mary’s purity. He wasn’t sure he was prepared to be the earthly father to a heavenly conceived child, but Joseph was grateful to God and to the angel as God’s messenger for a chance try and do his best. He knew, with God’s help, anything was possible.

And, anything and everything is possible with God. God has a way of continually surprising us. From the moment of his conception, the very existence of Jesus in the world has been and still is a sheer miracle that pushes the limits of human ability to fully understand. Jesus was born as a baby just as we were. He came into a world with a human nature, which could move him to feel compassion and know pain. God might very well be unchangeable, but Jesus as a fully engaged human being could be talked into changing his mind as he did when the woman with the spirit ill daughter came to him for help. She asked; he said no and she convinced him to change his mind. We might question his choice of disciples-a tax collector? We might ask ourselves why Jesus would care about a woman of ill repute, but he stood between her and those who would stone her…shades of his father Joseph slipping into his dealings with those he would meet as a wandering preacher. We might ask why choose you and me to be followers now, but Jesus surprises us and we follow. The one certainty we have in god is that we are never sure of what might come next. Daniel Harrell puts it this way:

How can Jesus be both fully man and fully God? How can our salvation come through failure? How does scandal pave the way for righteousness? How does a cross lead to life? Jesus died and rose but now abides in his people. His kingdom has come but is not yet here.”


And the line I love, “God creates and redeems with reliable unpredictability.”[1]


There is one other certainty in our lives. Though we don’t always acknowledge it, we still need a savior, perhaps more now than ever before. Sadly, we live in a world of skeptics, of cynics, and of unbelievers. We live in a world fraught with peril and distrust. Reportedly, in a recent poll, over the last 40 years there has been a substantial drop in the level of trust Americans have for others. A record high of nearly two-thirds now say, “You can’t be too careful” when dealing with people.[2]  Joseph had a good reason to be distrustful of Mary, a very good reason, but what Joseph understood and what we may need to rekindle in our time and our world today, is the belief in a God who is capable and willing to come into our lives as one of us, sharing our nature and our hopes for something better. We may need to see in God not a past but a future; not what was but what is yet to come. In Joseph, we see a man open to God’s possibility against all evidence to the contrary. We see someone who believed in what was foretold and could believe he might have a small part in a bigger story. In Joseph, we see us struggling against the pain of a present life but hoping for a more affable future. What he couldn’t imagine in his head, Joseph believed with his heart and when the angel spoke, Joseph laid aside his doubt and believed in God’s plan and purpose.

So, do we? Isn’t that what Christmas is about…God’s plan and purpose…not just a very long time ago, but now, in this moment, in our time and for our lives? What began then in a simple carpenter with a pregnant spouse bearing a new hope into the world, God’s new beginning continues in us. As writer Aaron Klink puts it this way:

“As Mary and Joseph journeyed to the first Christmas, they did not know where God would take them; all they knew was that something wonderful had been promised and that they had been beckoned to follow. So too the text calls us to rise and follow God’s call, not knowing where the journey will take us, or the path that God has set before us.” [3]


We are called to trust in something beyond our imagining and if we dare, to say “Yes, I will follow whatever path takes me closer to O God” we may just see a miracle. Amen.



[1] Daniel Harrell, The Christian Century, December 11, 2013, 18.

[2] The Wired Word, December 8, 2013, an online subscription resource.

[3] Feasting on the Word, Year A, Volume 1, 96.