Salem Lutheran Church

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That's Impossible!

Grace and peace to you from God, our Creator and Sustainer, our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit that abides in each of us. Amen.

One of my favorite Christmas songs is “What Child is This.” Do you know that song?

What child is this, who, laid to rest,
On Mary's lap is sleeping?
Whom angels greet with anthems sweet,
While shepherds watch are keeping?
This, this is Christ the King,
Whom shepherds guard and angels sing:
Haste, haste to bring Him laud,
The Babe, the son of Mary.

The Son of Mary? What about Joseph? Why not include Joseph in this song, after all, Joseph may not have been the biological father, but he did take on the responsibility of taking Mary as his wife. He did name the baby which was the responsibility of the father. He did willingly take on the responsibility of raising the baby, keeping him safe when times were dangerous, taking his to the temple as required of a good Jewish father, educating in the ways of God, teaching him to be a carpenter and so much more. As I have been told by parents who have adopted children, just because we were not the biological parents, doesn’t mean we are not the child’s “real” parents. According to the law and according to the Holy Scriptures, Joseph was Jesus’ earthly father. Joseph was there with Mary when Jesus was born. He was there when the shepherds came. He was there when the Magi came to give their gifts. Joseph did everything God asked of him. As far as we can tell, Joseph never let his pride or ego get in the way and he obeyed God’s wishes for his life, even when those wishes meant being shamed in his own community.

Yes, to accept a wife who was pregnant with another man’s child, remember, no one else, except Elizabeth knew the truth, would have been an embarrassment and most likely would have meant a loss of status in this honor/shame society. Joseph did not let the cultural norms of his day get in the way. He did not let his pride keep him from doing what was right. In fact, in telling what little there is about Joseph in the scriptures, Matthew tells us that Joseph was a “righteous” man. This means Joseph walked in the ways of God. Even before the angel appeared to him to tell him what was really going on, Joseph was already trying to do the right thing. When he found out that Mary was pregnant, he could have publicized her supposed promiscuity and he could have had her stoned for having relations with a man out of wedlock, but instead, we are told he wanted to “dismiss her quietly”, so as “not to expose her to public disgrace” (Matthew 1:19). In a society that was very patriarchal and in a society where a man’s honor and pride was his very reputation, Joseph did not think of himself first. No, he first thought of what would be the best for Mary.

I am not sure how I would have reacted. I mean, what the angel had to tell Joseph was pretty far-fetched, don’t you think? "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. She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins" (1:20-21). When I hear this, I can just hear my response in my head, “Come on, that’s impossible! First of all, you expect me to believe that Mary got pregnant just like that! And then, you also want me to believe that this baby, this little baby, will save all our people from their sins. That’s impossible! What do I look like? How stupid do you think I am? Let’s assume that Mary did get pregnant miraculously, how on earth will a child be able to save us from our sins. I know the sins of my people. I know how often we have turned from God and God’s ways, and no child is going to be able to save us from the punishment we deserve.” Now that most likely would have been my response. But that was not Joseph’s response. No, in fact, we are told that when he awoke, “he did as the angel of the LORD commanded him…” In his struggles to make sense of this messed up situation, Joseph believed the impossible. In his personal struggle to understand what was happening this righteous man, whom we know very little about and who is not given much credit, came to believe that in this mess, this child whom he was now was to take as his would bring hope for a brighter future and through this child, his people would be saved.

This is the promise of Christmas! This is the gift the world received some 2000 years ago and this is the promise we know will come again. Advent is that time when we once again hear that promise of God’s that seems so impossible that for many of us we just want to say, it can’t be true, but the reality is, God’s promises are true.

Joseph was a righteous man and today we are challenged, as we bring this Advent season to a close, to find it in our hearts to believe in the impossible. After all, handling the impossible is what God does best. I do understand how hard it is when you are in the midst t of dealing with a disease, either with yourself or a loved one, to believe that someday there will be no disease, but God has promised that it will be. I know as we watch the news, or as we deal with a loved one who is stationed in a war torn part of the world, how hard it is to believe that someday, there will be real peace on earth, but God has promised that. I know how hard it is to believe that life is worth living after you have lost a loved one, but God has said he will be with you and that someday all of us will be together again.

Brothers and sisters, in just two days we will begin the celebration of Christmas. The birth of Christ should have never happened. God should have never come down to us and as impossible as it may seem, God should have never become human, but he did. As sinful as we are, we should never have been forgiven, but we are. Christmas is about how God made the impossible, possible. So as we prepare to bring our Advent journey to a close, my prayer is that just like Joseph believed the impossible that you too, might come to believe the impossible. Believe, that through Jesus, the Son of Joseph, we are saved! Amen.


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