First Mennonite Church
December 23, 2018
Christmas: A Love Story
Text: Matthew 1:18-25
Matthew’s narrative tells us that Joseph is a righteous man. That means Joseph is a God-fearing and law-abiding man. He is humble, honest and simple. Zechariah and Elizabeth are also described as Joseph is, according to Luke, chapter one, verse six.
Joseph’s character comes in clear view through the story that follows. We are told that Joseph and Mary are engaged, but not yet living together.
In the Jewish marriage tradition in Matthew’s time, there were two steps the couple had to go through. The first is a formal exchange of vows before witnesses. The second is the taking of the bride to the groom’s family home. This is the most festive part of the wedding.
However, after the first step takes place, the engagement is considered legal and the man and the woman are considered husband and wife, even when they are not living together. The bride would live at her parents’ home for about a year before she is taken to her husband’s family home. During that period and regardless that the couple is not living together, divorce is required if the union were to be dissolved. If the man or woman were to engage in a sexual relation with a person other than the partner, it would be considered adultery. And according to the Jewish law, women were the ones who got the harshest punishment if they were found having sexual relations after the first step of their marriage, according to Deuteronomy 22. The law required that the young woman be stoned to death, and so, “You must purge the evil from among you” (Deut. 22:20-21).
While Joseph and Mary are engaged, Mary is visited by the angel of the Lord. So imagine the scenario. One evening after a day’s work in his carpentry shop, Joseph goes to see Mary as was his practice. They have talked a whole lot about their future lives together and about their dreams. They have talked about their home, family, livelihood, and every imaginable thing any young couple would talk about in anticipation of their wedding day. They only see each other and there was the silly smile typical of people in love. But that evening something is different. Mary looks nervous and seems as if she wants to cry, and she knows she has to tell Joseph the truth. By now, she feels her bulging tummy is becoming obvious to everybody. And the time for her to tell Joseph has come. With a trembling voice she breaks the news to Joseph.
I want you to remember an occasion when someone dear to you gave you bad news, but more specifically, a confession of something you did not know about him/her. How did you react to the news? Can you remember? Did you burst into tears, anger, or anguish? Did you scream at him/her or did you retrieve in dead silence with the intent never to speak to him/her again? Did you run away or tell him/her that you do not want to see him/her again? Did you say or did it come to your mind, “I better be out from here, or go for a ride, or to my mother’s, to the bar, to my room?” How long did the standoff go, one hour, a day, a week, month, year, or is it still ongoing?
In your relationship with your spouse or children, after an argument or disagreement, who is the one who makes the first move? Who initiates the reconciliation process? For those who are married, who is the first to say, “Honey, I am sorry”? Or “Dear, can I have a word with you?” Or “Shall we go out for dinner?” I have heard that in most cases it is the man who makes the first move.
For you young people, how do you deal with anger or disagreements with your parents or friends? And who makes the first move to reconcile?
My dear brothers and sisters, Advent is the celebration of God’s unending love. And we hear that message Sunday after Sunday. We know that God’s love for the world is unsurpassed and unmeasurable. But let us not forget or overlook that the birth of Jesus included a love story played out between a young man and woman who had vowed love to one another. Jesus’ coming as a baby disrupted what otherwise would have been a typical Jewish wedding between two young lovers. The coming of Jesus as a baby brought Joseph grief, disappointment, and much unrest, at first. He could not believe his bride could be that unfaithful when she told him she was pregnant. As for Mary, just imagine how desperate she was, pleading with Joseph to allow her to explain things over and over again. Imagine a young woman who loved with pure love the man of her life, yet not being able to convince him about how and why she was pregnant. Matthew tells us that Joseph made up his mind to leave Mary quietly, that is, to divorce her. That means, Mary would live the rest of her life as a woman of bad reputation. She would become the living example of a disgraced woman. It took God’s intervention to convince Joseph.
Matthew tells us: But just when he [Joseph] 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. 1:21 She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.
Christmas is the greatest love story. God so loved the world that he gave us his only begotten son. But God’s love story interrupted a love story between a young man and a young woman. And I believe there is a much needed lesson played out in the human part of this great love story. From the very beginning of the Christmas story, we find love, forgiveness, joy and home –sweet home reestablished by God. It would not be an exaggeration to say that the coming of Jesus as a baby saved his parents from what otherwise would have been a tragic case of divorce. And yes, God intervened for that to happen. Joseph came back to Mary, let us say, whom he had not seen for a week or maybe longer. Just imagine how joyous Mary was to see Joseph again. But imagine how sorry Joseph felt for having thought so bad of Mary. Imagine how he must have repeatedly asked to be forgiven for not believing Mary in the first place. Their love was once again whole, pure, and alive. Their hearts once more made one. They gave to each other their heart in love. Mary and Joseph were given the firsthand experience that God is love.
Dear brothers and sisters, Christmas is a time when family members and friends usually give gifts to each other. In light of our story for today, I want to invite you to give yourself to God first, as Mary and Joseph did. Let me assure you that once you have given yourself to the Lord, you will also be able to give yourself in love to others. You will be able to seek reconciliation where it is needed for you to do so. You will also be able to give forgiveness and love to those who erred against you. Let us remember that Christmas began with a story of two sweethearts with their sweet love turning cold and sour. It was God who intervened and told Joseph, “Do not be afraid, receive Mary.” Let us not be afraid to give ourselves in love to others. And the marvelous love demonstrated and illustrated in Christmas will also be ours. May the Lord bless you, your family, and your relationships. Have a blessed Christmas!