1 Thessalonians 5:16-24 (CEB)

16 Rejoice always. 17 Pray continually. 18 Give thanks in every situation because this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. 19 Don’t suppress the Spirit. 20 Don’t brush off Spirit-inspired messages, 21 but examine everything carefully and hang on to what is good. 22 Avoid every kind of evil. 23 Now, may the God of peace himself cause you to be completely dedicated to him; and may your spirit, soul, and body be kept intact and blameless at our Lord Jesus Christ’s coming. 24 The one who is calling you is faithful and will do this.

 

Matthew 1:18-25 (CEB) Birth of Jesus

18 This is how the birth of Jesus Christ took place. When Mary his mother was engaged to Joseph, before they were married, she became pregnant by the Holy Spirit. 19 Joseph her husband was a righteous man. Because he didn’t want to humiliate her, he decided to call off their engagement quietly. 20 As he was thinking about this, an angel from the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, don’t be afraid to take Mary as your wife, because the child she carries was conceived by the Holy Spirit. 21 She will give birth to a son, and you will call him Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” 22 Now all of this took place so that what the Lord had spoken through the prophet would be fulfilled:

23 Look! A virgin will become pregnant and give birth to a son,
And they will call him, Emmanuel.[a]

(Emmanuel means “God with us.”)

24 When Joseph woke up, he did just as an angel from God commanded and took Mary as his wife. 25 But he didn’t have sexual relations with her until she gave birth to a son. Joseph called him Jesus.

This is the word of God for us the people of God.  Thanks be to God.

Faithful: Christmas Through the Eyes of Joseph: Raising A Child Not Your Own

The past two weeks we have been talking about Christmas through the eyes of Joseph, the father of Jesus, and looking at Joseph’s faithfulness.  We have considered that Joseph was a carpenter and might have had characteristics like patience, creativity and attention to detail.  We also imagined that Joseph was a kind, compassionate and loving father to Jesus because those are some of the same things that Jesus taught the world about.  And we also considered that Joseph was an amazing example of one who shows mercy, forgiveness and grace in taking Mary as his wife even after she became pregnant before the wedding day.  Today, we consider what it might have been like for Joseph to raise a child not his own and what faith that would have taken.

Today we are going to talk about fear.  Common sense tells us that what was happening to Joseph must have been terrifying.  Just the thought of becoming a father is scary enough.  But Joseph was probably a teenager facing marriage to a woman who was carrying the shame of becoming pregnant before marriage.  Joseph would face a lifetime of responsibility for a child who wasn’t even his!  Add to that the angel’s revelation that the baby to be born is “Emmanuel, God with us,” and you’ve got plenty of reasons for Joseph to be afraid!

But the angel says, “Don’t be afraid!”

That is so much easier said that done, right!  I remember the first roller coaster my kids ever rode – it was at Silver Dollar City – Fire in the Hole.  We stood in line forever, and then when we got to the front of the line they chickened out and tried to revolt.  When I said, “Don’t be afraid.  It will be ok,” they looked at me like I was insane!  And, I can imagine that same look on Joseph’s face when the angel said, “Don’t be afraid.”  Today I come to encourage you to “fear not” when God calls you to a terrifying task.

First, I want to share with you some things about the angel to get at this lesson about fear.  In the book of Matthew, Joseph sees the angel four times, all in dreams.  Now I must say that I think there are all kinds of ways that God communicates with us—and the one we see here is an angel.  The Greek word for angel means messenger, and so I do think that sometimes messages from God come from God’s messengers, both heavenly ones and earthly ones.  Joseph’s particular angel appears in his dreams.  And some of you, like me, may have had dreams that you felt were messages from God.  I have often thought that God sometimes sends us messages when we are asleep because we aren’t listening when we are awake.  Sometimes we don’t take time to slow down and listen, and so God just breaks in when our minds are still and quiet in our sleep.

And we have these four instances of the angel appearing to Joseph in dreams.  We know from today’s scripture that in the first dream the “angel reveals that Mary is pregnant by the Holy Spirit and describes the child’s destiny.  In the second dream, an angel tells Joseph to take his family to Egypt to save the child.  In the third dream, when Joseph and the Holy Family are in Egypt, he receives word from the angel of the Lord that it is safe to take his family to Mary’s hometown of Nazareth.  And in the fourth dream Joseph is warned not to return to Judea.” (Hamilton, 64; see Matthew 2).  Each time, the angel gives Joseph direction for what to do next.  The angel directed Joseph one step at a time.  In Matthew 2:13 the angel says stay in Egypt until I tell you to leave.  There is no long-range plan.  There are no details.  It is strictly a bare bones, one step at a time plan.

And so our first tip for living without fear while following God is to let go of the idea that we can ever know or understand God’s plan for our futures ahead of time.  Sometimes it is literally a day by day trusting that God will lead us and guide us.  It’s hard to give up on the idea that we can control our futures, but it is part of living without fear.

The other part of living without fear comes with trusting God no matter what the circumstances.  This is where the wonderful scripture from 1 Thess. comes in –

16 Rejoice always. 17 Pray continually. 18 Give thanks in every situation because this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

Joseph was somehow able to listen, to obey and to trust God for his very life and the life of his family, too, even when he was afraid.

Another thing I think we can see from Joseph is that God asked him to do something that he never would have predicted.  Part of living without fear is being ready, willing and able to do whatever it is that God asks you to.  Doesn’t it seem that you can count on God to ask you to do something you never dreamed of, or something you never thought you could, or something that you think is even the opposite of what you should be doing from a logical stand point.  And there is a reason for that – there is a reason that God asks us to get outside of our comfort zones.  The reason is that God wants to work with us to do something great for God.  And when we are weak, and everyone knows we are weak – then God’s power can be seen all over that thing.  Isn’t that exactly what the apostle writes about in 2 Corinthians 12:9 when God said to the Apostle Paul:

“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore, [Paul says] I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.

So expect God to use our weaknesses; expect God to work miracles through you – especially when you are willing to be the instrument God uses to show love in the world.

Now let’s talk for a minute about God asking you to do things.  Because I’m pretty sure some of you think I’m talking crazy talk – and you think God doesn’t ask you to do things.  But God speaks in all kinds of ways, and I pray that we would listen more!  We’ve talked about God’s messenger speaking to Joseph in a dream.  In Luke’s Gospel, the angel Gabriel appears to Mary face to face.  But don’t you think there are also messengers of God who are real live earthly people.  Sometimes, there are people in our lives who speak a word of encouragement, mercy, forgiveness, grace or peace just when we need it.  And not only do these earthly angels speak but they act with love and compassion at just the right time.  I know you have had experiences with people you would call your earthly angels.  And sometimes these earthly angels seem more like prophets because they hold us accountable to use our gifts for God – challenging us to try things that we really think are beyond our abilities.

I also think about God speaking through the Holy Spirit – there are times in my life when something would get on my mind, and God would not let it go until I did that thing.  God can speak through the sense of a deep conviction to do a task that God has prepared for you.  And then, the most obvious way that God speaks to us is through scripture – we can read the words of the prophets, the words of Jesus, and the words of the first disciples – calling us to love abundantly.

So expect God to speak, and expect the message to be one that asks you to step outside your normal self-imposed boundaries.  With God there are no boundaries – God can cross all boundaries to use each of us for God’s purposes in the world.

Don’t be afraid, the angel said.  Don’t be afraid.

Take one step at a time – trust the Lord day by day.  Be ready and willing to go and do in ways that are sure to be outside what is easy and ordinary or within your comfort zone.  But most of all, don’t be afraid – because God is with us.

I want to share with you a story of a family who are also raising children not their own.  Listen to the way they moved from an ordinary life to an extraordinary life.

**Ohio couple expands their family by adopting 6

Raising one child not your own must be terrifying.  I cannot even imagine raising 6 children not your own.  It must be hard work and take so much patience and love and grace and time and money!  But imagine the reward!  Can you imagine the joy of being asked to adopt the kids?  Can you imagine the joy of being told, “I love you!”  Can you imagine the joy of seeing these little people grow up to be happy people living productive lives! The reward of a life of obedience is joy.

And while God won’t ask most of us to raise children who aren’t our own, God is asking us today to do something to show love in a world that really needs the love of God.  And so, don’t be afraid!  God might ask you to do something terrifying, but there is joy in trusting, and there is joy in listening and there is joy in obeying God’s urgings.

Joy comes when we follow God.  Joy comes when we obey God.  Joy comes when we live for God and not ourselves.  Joy comes when we love others in a way that takes sacrifice.  The joy of the Lord can even come in hardship!

At Silver Dollar City that day, I somehow convinced the boys to get on Fire in the Hole.  And it really was pretty terrifying at times.  We went up and down and right and left and we got jerked around a lot.  And sometimes it felt like we were going off the tracks.  But when we walked out of there, those little boys were laughing and joking around because it was such a great ride.  And they wanted to get right back in line and go again.

Living a life committed to God is no joke, it’s a serious matter.  And the fear we face riding a roller coaster is miniscule compared to the fears we face in life.  But the point is, we can’t let our fear stop us from being faithful disciples of Jesus Christ.  We can’t let our doubts or feelings of inadequacy squelch God’s plans for us!  Because Emmanuel has come, and God is still with us.  And through all the ups and downs, and feeling like we are going to go off the tracks, what a great ride it is!  What a great ride it is!

In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.  Amen.