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What Are We Talking About?
So, it’s another sermon about love.
How many of these have you listened to over the years?
For some of you it’s a lot.
What more is there to express or learn about love at this piont?
You might learn something new about love today, but that’s not really the point of preaching about it.
The point is to be reminded.
That’s the point of a lot of preaching and teaching in the church for those who already follow Jesus and are familiar with the core truths of the faith.
Learning new things can be interesting and occaissionally life-changing, but being reminded of our deepest truths and encouraged to live them out anew is something we need on a regular basis.
A steady diet of truth helps us grow and mature.
If you know your Bible a little you know that God is love, according to 1st John 4. And you know that the pair of commands that Jesus said were the most important and summed up all the scriptures are Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and will all your mind and love your neighbour as yourself.
You know that for God so loved the world that He gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.
You know that if you have faith that can move mountains or give everything you have to the poor but lack love, you gain nothing, because in the end faith, hope, and love will remain, but the greatest of these is love.
You know that Jesus taught us, within the Church, that the world would know that we are His disciples if we love one another.
You know that love is central to every good personal quality and healthy Christian community.
Colossians 3:12-14 says:
You know that you need love, cherish the feeling of being loved, and find joy in expressing love.
You know these things.
And you also know that a lack of love in our world leads to all kinds of darkness and brokenness.
I wonder how many counselors and pyschologists we would still need if every parent was good at loving their children?
How many mediators and HR managers would be required if the employees of every workplace were committed to upholding each other in love?
How much stress and anxiety would just fall off of people’s shoulders if we could all walk through this world confidently expecting that the people we encounter were committed to loving us?
Yes, it’s too sappy, but the song gets it right: what the world needs now is love...
But how is that going to happen?
Who is going to do it?
Who is going to transform our world through acts of love, and what does that look like?
That’s what we’ll be talking about today - recognizing that Jesus came as light to the darkness, but calls us - His followers - to spread that light.
So let’s go into the Christmas story for some lessons on love before we look at some ways to shine the light of Christ to those around us.
What Does The Bible Say?
Luke’s Gospel has a lot more details about the Christmas story and it tells us a lot about Mary’s experience.
Matthew doesn’t spend nearly as much time talking about what happened before Jesus was born, and he focuses entirely on Joseph.
Joseph isn’t mentioned by the time Jesus begins his public ministry, so it’s generally assumed that he died, maybe when Jesus was a teenager or in his 20s.
But the few things we do know about Joseph tell us a lot about his character, and why he was chosen to care for Mary and Jesus.
Verse 18, where I started reading, begins with an awkward problem.
Joseph is engaged to Mary, and Mary has become pregnant.
Now, first of all, it’s worth knowing that getting engaged now is very different than it was for Mary and Joseph.
Today when people get engaged it’s a “we’ll probably get married eventually” kind of thing.
“We’re thinking summer of 2027…” Breaking off an engagement today may not look any different than any other break-up of a long-term dating relationship.
In Mary and Joseph’s culture engagement basically was marriage, with the exception that the couple didn’t live or sleep together yet .
Engagement was a formal arrangement that was negotiated between families, and to break off an engagement required a divorce.
This is why the Bible talks about Joseph as being Mary’s husband and why he contemplates quietly divorcing her even though they aren’t all-the-way married.
Engagement was a one-year process, and one of the main reasons for that year of waiting was to prove the sexual purity of the woman.
Basically, engagement was there to guard against a man marrying a woman who wasn’t being sexually pure and faithful to him.
If she became pregnant during the engagement period that was the ultimate red flag, and it violated the deal between the families for the marriage.
So Joseph finds himself in that worst-case scenario.
Mary is pregnant.
He knows it wasn’t him, so… what to do?
The Bible tells us that Joseph was faithful to the Law - he believed in doing things God’s way according to the scriptures as they were understood.
For him that ruled out going ahead with the marriage.
But Joseph also wanted to cause the least harm and disgrace for Mary, so he resolved to end the marriage as quietly as he could.
That’s when Joseph has a life-altering dream.
He has the experience of an angel messenger telling him to accept Mary as his wife, care for this baby which comes from God through the Holy Spirit, and to call the baby Jesus becaues he would save his people from their sins.
That’s an awful lot to process!
First of all, he’s told to bring Mary into his home now - not only going through with the marriage despite the pregnancy, but doing it before the one-year period like you were supposed to.
The people in town were going to think all sorts of things about that move, and none of it would be good.
And why should he do that?
Because the baby is born of the Holy Spirit?
People still struggle with this notion, or even mock it today.
And they argue about whether the words used in Isaiah’s prophecy and here should mean “young woman” or “virgin.”
But the Church, historically, hasn’t wavered on the virgin birth.
It was as incredible and miraculous two thousand years ago as it is today, but it has been a strongly-held view all the way along.
And that’s because we believe that Jesus was both human and divine.
He wasn’t a super-charged person, or God in a human disguise.
He was truly God as a true human.
The virgin birth is a part of that understanding - born of woman and of God.
As someone who believes in Jesus’ ressurection from the dead I don’t have any trouble with the virgin birth being a thing, but Joseph didn’t have any of that to go on.
It was a question of believing that this message really was from God, and then choosing to trust God despite the consequences.
Then there is the final element - the name, and what’s in the name.
Jesus, or “yeshua” or possibly pronounced “yesu” in that time and place, was a common name then and still is today: Joshua.
It means “Yahweh is salvation” or “the Lord saves.”
But it’s clear that the name points to the present reality of that salvation here.
The angel, first of all, reminds Joseph that he comes from the line of David, as the Messiah should, and declares that Jesus “will save his people from their sins.”
He will be the one the prophet Isaiah spoke of - Immanuel - “God with us.”
Joseph had faith.
He married Mary.
He cared for her and then the baby, providing for them in Bethlehem, protecting them by bringing them to Egypt to escape King Herod, and then resettling them in the relative safety of Nazareth after Herod died.
So where is the love in all this?
Well, we see the love of God and the love of Joseph at work in several ways.
Joseph’s love comes in a couple of forms.
He shows care and concern for Mary even when he thinks she has been unfaithful to him - even when he feels betrayed.
One defination of love is “seeking the good of the other” and Joseph doesn’t fail to love even when he feels wronged.
Joseph submitted his hopes and goals to God and followed God’s plan.
Joseph basically put his entire life from that point on hold to fulfill this mission - a mission that, in some ways, centered on His wife’s calling from God. Very progressive of him ;-)
I could put it more simply by saying that Joseph expressed love by putting God’s calling and his family’s well-being first, regardless of what that meant for his reputation, circumstances, or comfort.
That’s a powerful model for a husband or father’s love, and one that can apply to many other situations and circumstances.
The love of God is also present in these few verse in some major ways.
God informs and involves Joseph.
It wasn’t an easy mission, but God chose Joseph for an incredible priviledge in raising Jesus, and made sure that Joseph understand the world-changing importance of what He was doing.
That’s a loving gift.
Many people, and I think many men, don’t mind doing very hard things when they know those things matter.
And what could Joseph have done with his life that would have mattered more?
God reveals His love for all of humanity.
God had revealed things about Jesus’ coming to the prophet Isaiah and the Psalmist and others - He had given His people reason to have hope because God was going to come into their world and redeem it.
And now that time was almost here.
Immanuel, born of Mary and the Holy Spirit, God made flesh to walk among His people - He was nearly here.
God’s love is seen in His willingness to enter a world that would reject Him, and to give His life for people who scorned Him.
From the moment people chose to try to be gods over their own lives and fell into sin God did not stop loving them or stop working to make a way for their redemption and adoption back into His family.
Jesus - an ordinary-looking baby - was the symbol of a long history of God’s love come to fulfillment.
How Then Shall We Live?
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