Fourth Sunday In Advent
December 22, 2019
“The Road No One Wants To Travel”
Rev. John R. Larson
Ascension Lutheran Church
It was just about 4:00 on Thursday afternoon, December 12, when I received a phone call from Amy Powell’s uncle and God-father, Bill. The message was short. “Pastor, Amy has died. Can you come over to the house?” At 4:00 I was just getting ready to go home but plans changed that quickly. “Sure, I’ll be over there soon.”
During that 20-minute trip I’m wondering, “What happened?” “How did she die?” I had just seen her 4 days before that in the worship service. But now I was going somewhere where I really didn’t want to go. I didn’t like the news of the death of this young lady. I didn’t look forward to seeing her family in pain. I was on a road that no one wants to travel.
I bet you’ve been there, too. Your relative calls from the emergency room and you get in the car and rush there and you have a terrible feeling about what awaits you. Or, you have to speak to someone about their behavior and you get all worried about how to do it and how they will react. Or, you are the one to dismiss someone from their job and it the last thing that you want to do. You are on a road that no one, especially you, wants to travel.
Today you get to be in the shoes of Joseph. Joseph is a unique figure in the Bible. He is nicknamed, “Joseph, the Silent.” The Bible never has him opening his mouth. Not one word is spoken by him. (Good husband material, right?) Joseph, usually, is secondary, in the Christmas story. He is with the Magi, Shepherds, sheep and cattle. Have you ever seen a stamp of “Joseph and Child”, with Mary resting in the back of the room? No. But when you read Matthew’s account of the birth of Jesus, Joseph and the perplexing situation that he was in takes center stage. He finds himself on a road that no one wants to travel.
In Matthew 1 it says that, “She was found to be with child.” (Verse 18) Who found out? I bet it was Joseph. She got to be more than just a little pudgy, more weight put on than eating a few too many Christmas cookies. They were “betrothed”. This is a little bit different from our engagement. Betrothal happened about a year before the big ceremony of marriage. You didn’t live together. You didn’t have sex with each other. Betrothal was so serious, legally, you were considered married.
Can you imagine the pain that Joseph felt? He had anticipated being married to Mary. But now when she was “found being with child”, it must have crushed him. She had been unfaithful. She had had sex with another man even though she was engaged, betrothed, to Joseph.
So, what should he do? He had options. The strict Jewish law said that you could bring her before the rulers of that community, the “Elders”, and they could decide the proper punishment. The Law directed a stoning to death. But Joseph, on a road that he didn’t want to be on, opted for mercy, “Because Joseph her husband was a righteous man and did not to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.” (Matthew 1:19)
Joseph was trying to be compassionate. He would quietly leave and start his own life without her. But this wasn’t ideal for Mary. One writer said that Nazareth had about 100 folks. Everyone knew everyone. The scorn and the shame that Mary would have to face, alone, would have been constant and overwhelming.
Sometimes good people only have bad options. And Joseph, for all the right reasons, is about to do the wrong thing. That is, until God intervenes. “But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and says, ‘Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.’” (Matthew 1:20-21) He then is told that this child will be called, “Immanuel”, which means “God with us”.
This road that he was on was a tough one. He didn’t want to be on it. He wanted to just up and leave and start life over with none of the past touching him. But God told him otherwise. “Do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife…”
Isn’t it a wonder that God comes to us when we’re on a road that is too much for us to travel alone? Joseph began this account with discouragement and doubt. He ends it with faith and assurance.
One of Amy Powell’s favorite verses was, “If God is for us, who can be against us?” (Romans 8:31b) Isn’t that what we have? “Unto you is born this day in the city of David, a Savior, who is Christ, the Lord.” (Luke 2:11) I hope that you are on a road that shows you how much you need God. I hope you know, without question that you are broken, have deep problems in your soul, that you need forgiveness for sin and a new beginning to life. It is good for us to know that we, by ourselves, do not have the answers for life. It is good to know that we will, one day, have to give an account of our life before God, our judge. Do not travel this road of finding peace in your soul by yourself.
Joseph was told about a son being born whose name would be Jesus. The name of Jesus means, “God saves”. Now we can travel the road of life and sin and struggles because Jesus, our Savior, would be the master over our sin and would give us a new beginning to life.
Joseph, so overwhelmed by the news of Mary being pregnant needed to hear that he wasn’t alone, on this road. He was told to call his son, Immanuel, which means “God with us”. God gives us the greatest strength by combining humanity with the divine in Jesus. In Romans 1, our epistle for today, it says, “Regarding his Son, who as to his human nature was a descendant of David, and who through the Spirit of holiness was declared with power to be the Son of God by his resurrection from the dead: Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Romans 1:3-4) Was Joseph on a road that was too hard? Yes!! But he wasn’t going to walk it alone. He was told about Immanuel – God with us. In Hebrews the writer can tell us what Immanuel means for our every day, “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are – yet was without sin. Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” (Hebrews 4:15-16)
At times in life there aren’t any easy options. That is what we see in the life of Joseph. But this man, a righteous man, who for all the right reasons was going to do the wrong thing, did the right thing. He took Mary home to be his wife. He didn’t leave her to face the gossip, the finger-pointing and the rejection alone. He moved in and they got all of that together. Together they got the stares. Together they got the accusations. Together the walked down a road that no one wanted to travel.
But they didn’t do it alone. The child was to be Jesus, the Savior of the world. He is the Redeemer that God gave so that we would be given new life. They wouldn’t be alone, they had Immanuel, God with us, with them.
I know that everyone of us is going to find ourselves on a road that we don’t want to travel. It might be this week or this month. It certainly will occur in this New Year. A phone call like I got about Amy Powell won’t be the last one that I receive. I’ll get another this month, or next. The travel to a house or a hospital or a mortuary will come. You’ll get a call that will take your breath away. It happens.
But there is something else that happens. God’s great intervention will happen. You’ll find on that difficult road a great God, a Savior, a Lord, who will never leave you nor forsake you. Like Joseph you might begin the trip with doubt or discouragement but you will end the trip with faith and strength. Jesus, the Redeemer, The God-man, Immanuel, God with us, is with you. Amen!!