Advent: Joseph’s Yes to God
Please read: Matthew 1.
There are several characters in the Christmas story that I would like to personally meet: Mary, Joseph, the shepherds, the angels, the innkeeper, the magi, King Herod, etc. Out of all these important persons, who are often talked about, Joseph is my favorite; but he remains mute in the story. Even in the Christian history, art and paintings, and in sermons, we do not often see or hear about Joseph—the foster father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Even though we know very little about Joseph, but I believe he played the key role in the Christmas story.
Joseph, like Mary, was from a small village of Nazareth in Galilee. He was from a poor family and a carpenter by trade. The way Gospels portray him, Joseph was a godly man and who was willing to listen to God and obey him. Matthew 1:19 says Joseph was a “just” or “righteous” man. He was also a man of integrity and very considerate, as he didn’t want to disgrace Mary publicly.
Like Mary, Joseph, too, was a teenager and as such full of dreams and hopes for a married life… to start a new home with his beautiful fiancé. They were engaged for a few months and according to the Jewish custom, they could not meet often in private. There was hardly any question of premarital sex in the society they were part of. Imagine one day Joseph learning that his fiancé was pregnant and he had nothing to do with it! Imagine his place in the society…among his teenage friends, who often teased him about his forthcoming wedding. He lived in small village where everyone knew each other. There was no way to hide the pregnancy or to get rid of the baby. He could not face his friends in the village. He could not face his parents. Joseph was completely disappointed, in shock, and in disbelief. Therefore, the only option that Joseph had was to quietly divorce Mary and walk away from this shameful situation. Matthew (1:19) clearly point out that Joseph was determined to exercise this option of divorce without disgracing Mary, who would have been stoned to death for bringing shame to the family by what everyone would think was a case of adultery.
However, God interrupted Joseph’s plans just as he did with Mary’s wedding plans. God asked him not to divorce her instead accept her as his wife. What is most amazing in this story is that Joseph said yes! He said yes to God! He said yes to the impossible! Joseph said yes to the complications and consequences of saying yes to God! Joseph accepted the interruptions in his life, in his plans and schedules, and allowed God to work out something beautiful from his life—even the birth of the savior of the world!
Imagine yourself in Joseph’s place and circumstances. Would you say yes to God? If you did say yes to him today, would you be also willing to live with the consequences of saying yes to God in your life? Would you be willing to let God interrupt your plans, hopes, dreams, and expectations from your life for a greater, divine purpose?
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The first three (synoptic) gospels record that after Jesus’ baptism He was led by the Spirit into the wilderness (Read Matthew 4: 1-2, Mark 1: 12-13, Luke 4: 1-2). The wilderness where Jesus spent those forty days was most probably in Judea along the Jordan River and the Dead Sea, to the northeast of the city of Jerusalem. Unlike what we think of wilderness today as a long stretch of forests, it was a desert where hardly any plants grew and that mostly remained unsettled. It was a rocky, mountainous area where John the Baptist had also lived and ministered (see Matthew 3:1).
Wilderness has played a very key role in the life of God’s people. That’s why they believed that most significant things for their spiritual life actually originated from the wilderness experience. Moses was in the wilderness tending sheep when God appeared to him and called him to deliver people of Israel from the slavery of Egypt. However, after their liberation from slavery, the Israelites had to wander forty years in the wilderness before the Lord led them into the Promised Land. That’s why the Jews believed that “the law, they say, came from the wilderness; the tabernacle from the wilderness; the Sanhedrin from the wilderness; the priesthood from the wilderness; the office of the Levites from the wilderness; the kingdom from the wilderness; and all the good gifts which God gave to Israel were from the wilderness” (Shirhashirim Rabba, fol. 13. 3).
It’s very interesting to note that both Israelites and Jesus were led into the wilderness soon after they had experienced the favor of God and the manifestation of His power. Jesus experienced God’s favor at His baptism (see Matthew 3: 16-17, Luke 3: 21-22), and the Israelites had just seen the most potent manifestation of God’s power at work in their deliverance from Egypt. But in the very next step of their journey with God, they found themselves wandering and starving in the wilderness—Jesus for forty days, and Israelite for forty years! It’s not a coincidence for believers; rather, we learn from it that in order for us to grow in Christ and to be Christlike one has to go through the wilderness experience. This works as a refiner’s fire for our faith to shine for Christ and to make us victorious Christians rather than mediocre ones. So, what’s your wilderness today? Instead of complaining about it, let us be grateful and live expectantly that one day God will bring about something definitely good from out of your wilderness experience. Amen.
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