A Tough Act to Follow
December 18, 2016
In 1983, the First Presbyterian Church of Concord made national news. It started when Pastor Leon Thompson convinced his 500 member congregation to purchase a pornographic theater located next to the church. When the purchase was finalized, the Concord community for the most part approved of what seemed like a gutsy real estate deal. However, the only catch was that the theater’s owner had several more months to go on the lease. As a result, the First Presbyterian Church became the landlord for the Galaxy Theater. For the better part of a year the church collected rent on a theater that showed adult films. That detail didn’t go over too well with some members of the community, but the majority of the church members were willing to be misunderstood and criticized. In time, the old Galaxy Theater became the new Presbyterian Community Center.
With the somewhat controversial actions of this church, I see a similarity to Joseph in the Bible. He was the quiet one who stayed in the background, but his ability to act in the midst of misunderstanding was what saved the day. This morning, I would like to highlight his character. My text is Matthew 1:18-25.
Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. 19 Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly. 20 But just when he had resolved to do 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 as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” 22 All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet:
23 “Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel,”
which means, “God is with us.” 24 When Joseph awoke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took her as his wife, 25 but had no marital relations with her until she had borne a son; and he named him Jesus.
This is the Word of God. Thanks be to God.
What is remarkable about the Christmas story is that Matthew does not record one word that Joseph spoke; however he always seem to be in the right place and at the right time. As we look at other passages from the Bible, we can tell Joseph’s character by his actions. For example,
- Joseph closely observed the law when he brought the baby Jesus to be dedicated in the temple.
- Joseph saw to it that Mary went through her purification ceremony.
- After the birth in the succeeding years, his family attended all the major religious ceremonies in Jerusalem.
As Christ’s chosen stepfather, Joseph had to walk in the ways of the Lord in order to receive his supernatural dreams.
Let me ask this question: If any of us lived in Biblical times and God needed someone to help raise the Christ child, would we be considered? And if we were chosen, how do you think the child would turn out? Some food for thought.
There was something else about Joseph that earned my admiration: he was a person of action. In the scriptures, we don’t hear his words, but we see his footprints. For example.
- He was present when the innkeeper turned him and his wife away.
- Joseph was the one who had to find lodging in Bethlehem.
- Joseph was the one who stoked the fire and baled the hay inside the stable.
- Joseph was the one who ran errands and took care of the mother and baby under than less ideal circumstances.
- Joseph was the one who fed and watered his donkey.
- Joseph was the one who kept watch for Herod’s soldiers.
- And Joseph was the one who led the family into Egypt.
For a church to be a success and run smoothly, a lot of work needs to done behind the scenes. We have some dedicated people here at RUMC who work behind the scenes every week. Those who become involved in these types of support ministries remind me of Joseph, who was a behind the scenes type of person.
Now there is something else about this story. In the first Christmas God chose to reveal his will to Joseph through the use of dreams, and I believe in this day and age, the Lord still reveals his will in dreams.
When I was in my second year in college, one of my English professors who hardly knew me, asked to see me after class. She said she had a dream and it was about me. She said I was dressed in white, and I stood by some medical parallel bars as a child tried to walk.
Although my professor did not know what the dream meant, she felt it was important enough to tell me. Well events gradually unfolded in my life. Three years after the dream, I was in the Army and my first duty station was at the old Fort Devens hospital where I was assigned to the Physical Therapy Department. Like in the dream, I wore a white uniform, and I did work with children who used the parallel bars as they tried to walk. I worked in the medical field for a number of years; it served as a foundation for me to go into the ministry.
That was the only time in my life where someone had a dream about me that had some significance. Sometimes I wish there were more such experiences to guide me, especially when I am faced with difficult decisions, but frankly, this was the exception rather than the norm. We have to walk by faith and use common sense.
Each one of us has our own spiritual walk where God leads and guides us in different ways. So I encourage all of us to be open to the mysterious ways of God. Don’t’ be surprised if the Lord does a new thing or brings you into a new phase in your life signified by an open or closed door.
The beauty of the church is there are no cookie cutter believers. We are all different and have unique gifts and talents. The Lord speaks, as He did to Joseph, in a variety means: scripture, conversations with others, music, dreams, impressions of the spirit, open and closed doors, and unusual circumstances. So let us be open and ready to listen.
Joseph is proof that God can still use those who are quiet and keep a low profile. I would like to read to you a newspaper article that was published almost 30 years ago in all the major newspapers across the United States. I believe the subject of this newspaper article had some Joseph like qualities. It was written by a 13 year old girl.
Julianne Holland, 13 an eighth grader in Mechanicsburg, PA wanted to do her part for Jesus at Christmas. Without informing her parents, she addressed a letter to Jesus in care of the local post officer. Eventually the letter landed on the desk of Mr. Donald L. Orner, the director of customer services at the postal center in Harrisburg. “Dear friend,” wrote Julianne. “I am 13 years old. And you must think I’m weird for writing a letter to Jesus when everyone knows it wouldn’t get anywhere. But I wanted to give you a message. Every Christmas all people think about is getting presents. But that is not the reason at all. I think Christmas means getting all your friends together and having a good time because Jesus is born and that is just the beginning of all the beautiful things he did for us. By being born, he let love into the world. Signed Julianne Holland.”
Well Mr. Orner wrote her back. “Dear Julianne, We have no mail routes to heaven, but I am sure that Jesus is aware of what you wrote. In every line of your beautiful letter, love flowed out across the miles that no mail could ever travel. You said your letter wouldn’t get anywhere, well it did. It touched my heart. May you have a happy Christmas and God bless you. Signed Donald L. Orner.”
Julianne was a young person who was used by God to share Christ’s message. May God help us as we spread the light and love of Christmas to others.