First Mennonite Church
December 18, 2022
Christmas: A Beautiful Love-Story
Text: Matthew 1:18-25
Matthew’s narrative tells us that Joseph was a righteous man. That means Joseph was a God-fearing and law-abiding man. He was 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 were engaged, but not yet living together.
In the Jewish marriage tradition in Matthew’s time, there were two steps a couple goes through in marriage. The first was a formal exchange of vows before witnesses. The second was the taking of the bride to the groom’s family home. This was the most festive part of the wedding.
However, after the first step takes place, the engagement was considered legal, thus the man and the woman were considered husband and wife, even when they were 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 was not living together, divorce would be required if the union were to be dissolve. 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 laws, 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 were engaged, Mary was visited by the angel of the Lord. So, imagine this scenario: on one evening after a day’s work in his carpentry shop, Joseph went to visit with Mary as was used to since their first official step of marriage. Since then, they had talked a whole lot about their future lives together and about their dreams as couple. They had 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 on that evening something is different. Mary looks nervous and seems as if she wants to cry, but she knows she has to tell Joseph the truth. And by now, she feels her bulging tummy is becoming obvious by the day. There is no more waiting! So, 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? Did you burst into tears, anger, or anguish? Did you scream at him/her or did you retrieve in dead silence with the intent of never speaking to him/her again? Did you run away or tell him/her that you do not want to see him/her ever again? Did you openly say or thought to yourself, “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?
When arguments happen or there is strong 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.
A word of advice: If a married couple has a disagreement before their children, it is important that they also resolve the issue in the presence of their children. Often times after a conflict or disagreement, couples go out on walks to resolve the issue of contention away from their children. Such practices do not help the children see how their parents resolve their difference or get reconciled. Thus, rob their children of a valuable lesson.
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, literally, involved a love story that was played out between a young man and woman who had vowed love to each other. Jesus’ coming as a baby disrupted an otherwise typical Jewish wedding between two young lovers. The coming of Jesus as a baby put at risk the honorable reputation of a young bride. The birth of Jesus brought suspicion, gossip, and great pain to a young lover. Imagine how desperate Mary 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.
As for Joseph, the birth of Jesus brought him grief, disappointment, and much unrest, at first. He could not believe his pregnant bride could be that unfaithful after she told him she loved him and wanted to finalize the marriage with him. 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.
Again, Christmas is the greatest love story. “For God so loved the world that he gave us his only begotten son . . .,” says John. (3:16) 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 coming back 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 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 if there is need. You will also be able to give forgiveness and love to those who have 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 relationship. Have a blessed Christmas!