Matthew 1: 18 - 25
[Give everyone a nail when they come in]
It’s a bit awkward for me to be speaking to you today because I’m known as a man of very few words. I may look like one of your long-winded pastors but my name is Joseph. I’m the only character in the Christmas story that doesn’t say a word.
A lot of things took place that turned my life upside down. Most of my relatives lived in Bethlehem but my home was in Nazareth, a small village in Galilee. A disciple named Nathanael made this remark “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”
I was good with hammers and nails. [Hold up hammer and nail] I actually made a lot of wooden handles for the various tools that people used. I especially liked making yokes. My father’s name was Jacob and he was a carpenter as well. I dreamt of the day I could pass along my trade to my son.
One of my dreams was to be as righteous as I could be. I loved God so much that I wanted to live out my faith every day in every way. I was careful about what I ate, who I hung out with and didn’t open my shop on the Sabbath. People admired me and little boys wanted to be like me. I understand in your culture people look up to athletes, actors and actresses; from what I’ve been reading I think you’re aiming way too low.
I kept my distance from anything that would derail me spiritually. I had the wonderful benefit of being a descendant of King David. That meant that I had some royalty in my veins and I knew that the Messiah would eventually rule on David’s throne. However, just as some of you have some failures hanging off the branches in your family tree, one of my relatives really messed things up for me. In David’s line there was a wicked king named Jehoiakim who when confronted with Scripture, decided to burn the Bible.
So I had some fame but my family name was also filled with shame because of what Jehoiakim had done. I determined to delight in Scripture and not disparage it like he did. I had it all – a strong faith, a good family and a lot of friends. My business was going well and my dreams for the future were filled with images of a beautiful young lady named Mary.
Our families had known each other for years and our parents had arranged for us to get married. I was OK with that because she was beautiful on the outside and on the inside. I was really attracted to her faith because she was a woman who feared the Lord. There was no way I wanted to marry someone who was lukewarm toward the Lord. I hear that believers in your culture often settle for a spiritual mismatch in marriage. I don’t understand that.
Our engagement period, or betrothal, was very serious. We had a ceremony with 2 witnesses and we signed an official marriage contract. I gave Mary a present and her father made a down payment on her dowry. This betrothal often lasted a year and people referred to us as husband and wife.
However, we were never intimate and wouldn’t think of living together. Mary lived with her parents and I lived with mine. It was a time in which we were to test our commitment and faithfulness. Any sexual immorality during this time would be punished and would be immediate grounds for divorce. This was a happy time, filled with dreaming, planning and building. I made a number of pieces of furniture for Mary.
Mary stored them at her place in anticipation of our big day. I was building a house for us to move into after the wedding. Actually, it was an addition to my father’s home (that’s how we did it back then). I drew up the design and laboured in love for the love of my life.
Shortly after we got engaged, Mary traveled to her cousin Elizabeth’s house to help her out because amazingly, she was pregnant in her old age, after having been barren her whole life. Mary mentioned something about an angel appearing to Zechariah in order to announce the news but I was sceptical.
After Mary returned she sat me down and said we needed to talk. She looked a bit different and I sensed that this was going to be a life-changing conversation. She got right to the point and it was pointed, let me tell you! She told me that she was pregnant! The only thing I knew was that I wasn’t the father. How could she do this to me? I thought I knew her. My dreams were shattered! [Smash pottery].
I cried more that day than I had my entire life. How could she cheat on me and then lie about it? You know how the story turns out but put yourself in my sandals. Imagine your fiancée comes and says, “I’m pregnant but I haven’t been with anyone else. God did a miracle and all generations are going to call me blessed.” This didn’t seem like a blessing to me!
I was turned upside down! I felt like a nail had been driven through my heart [Hold nail to heart]. My expectation of getting married and having a son had turned into a nightmare. My dreams were destroyed and I didn’t know what to do because I still loved Mary. I was torn between my legal rights and love; between conviction and compassion; between doing what would be right for her and still being thought of as righteous myself.
My fiancée is pregnant and I’m not the father! This is a big problem because my reputation was on the line. In my small town people were saying all sorts of bad things about me. Some of my friends were urging me to expose her publicly and then have her punished. I didn’t want to be like Jehoiakim and just disregard the Scriptures and yet I was in a huge dilemma because I was committed to obey the Word of God. I was thankful that I had some other options. Stoning was not done very often in my day because the Romans wouldn’t permit it, but I was allowed to take her to court, to collect more money from her family and to publicly humiliate her. I had every legal right to do so but because I loved her, I didn’t want to do that.
Instead, my plan was to just find 2 witnesses and privately break off our relationship without giving a reason for it. This would lessen Mary’s shame and it would restore my name. If I didn’t divorce her people would assume that I was the dad. I was trying to do the loving thing and still fulfill the law at the same time. But most of all I wanted to do what God wanted. My plan was to do everything quickly and quietly…but I was sad. I couldn’t stop thinking about this. Mary told me that she had not been with another man and that somehow the Holy Spirit was the cause of conception. Who had ever heard of a virgin getting pregnant? Then the Scripture shouted in my mind: “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.”
I quickly brushed this aside. Mary was too young. Nazareth was too small. We were supposed to get married! I decided to divorce her and just get on with my life without a wife. But I didn’t rush into it and I didn’t allow my emotions to control my response. I was hurt but I wanted to take the time I needed to allow God to speak. I’m glad I did.
After I thought I had settled everything, I had a dream in which an angel of the Lord showed up and said: “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.”
It was true! The baby inside Mary would be called “Immanuel!” God was really with us.
What a relief…I was able to obey the Word of God because God’s Word came to me through an angel! God’s timing is always impeccable! I needed that dream at that exact time. As soon as I woke up I did what the Angel had commanded me. I ran to find Mary and told her we were getting married. She wanted to know when and I said, “right now!” I then legally sealed our marriage by taking her to my half-finished home as my wife, deliberately tying my destiny to Mary and her child, no matter what. Out of respect and reverence for the baby she was carrying I was not intimate with Mary until after she gave birth to Jesus.
Many said that by marrying Mary people would think that I was the father. I didn’t care! Whenever we would try to explain the facts people would just shake their heads and say, “Yeah, right!” We lived under a cloud of humiliation, knowing that almost everyone believed that we had been immoral. Because of my tenacious love for Mary and my devotion to the Lord I gladly took her shame and made it my own.
I was glad when I heard that everyone had to register for the census in their hometowns because that would get us away from the nosy Nazarenes for a while. That meant that we had to travel about 150 kms south to Bethlehem, the city of David, because that’s where my family records were kept.
It was not easy traveling this far with a pregnant wife. It took us over a week to get there, stopping only on the Sabbath to rest. I wept and worshipped as God brought to mind that the Messiah had to be born in Bethlehem. Incidentally, we were too poor to use a donkey. We walked the whole way.
When we arrived in Bethlehem I thought one of my relatives would help us out with a room but we were shunned by all of them. It’s amazing how quickly gossip spreads, even before Facebook and Twitter! I kept watching Mary and knew that we didn’t have much time. I started running from place to place, finally finding an inn but was told that it was full. The manager showed me a shed which I gladly accepted. When we got there, I was overcome with sadness. My dream had been to build a house for us and now we were in an area that was dirty and smelled of manure.
All of a sudden Mary’s water broke! I became frantic and Mary told me to sit down and that everything would be OK. It all happened pretty quickly. Mary gave birth to a baby boy and I wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a feeding trough for animals. When Mary put Him in my arms I felt like I was holding heaven. Just as we were enjoying the miracle of this moment, I heard some loud noise outside. I grabbed my hammer [pick up hammer] and ran to the door. I would do anything to protect my wife and the baby boy.
I was met by a group of scruffy shepherds who looked like they had seen something supernatural. They were filled with joy and couldn’t stop talking, saying something about glory to God in the highest. I moved to the side and they crowded around. These shepherds dropped to their knees in worship, giving thanks for Mary’s little lamb. They didn’t stay long and they almost didn’t seem to notice Mary and me. They started running to all the houses spreading the news that Immanuel had arrived!
Sometime later when we were staying in a house, some wise guys from the other side of the desert came to worship Jesus and gave gifts to Him. All of this was beyond my wildest dreams. Contrary to your nativity scenes, these guys showed up months after Jesus was born. And there were more than 3…I see why you think there were 3 because there were 3 gifts given but there was actually an entire caravan that traveled across the desert.
I was looking forward to going back to Nazareth with my family and couldn’t wait to teach Jesus how to use my tools. As I was drifting off to sleep one night, I had another dream. If you want to hear what happened next you’ll need to come back next Sunday.
When we eventually arrived back in Nazareth, no one threw us a baby shower. People were still talking about us. I tried to get some work and Mary and I did our best to raise Jesus. He seemed to enjoy carpentry and was fascinated by wood and nails. He spent hours using my hammer to pound nails into rough timber.
I kept something that He made…[Hold up cross]. As a carpenter’s son He was used to the feel of wood and nails. One day a soldier took nails much bigger than this and hammered them through His hands and His feet and nailed Him to a rough piece of timber [hold up nail and then pound into wood]. The cradle in Bethlehem leads to the cross at Calvary. Before leaving I’d like to pass along some life lessons.
Lessons from a Carpenter
1. Jesus was fully human and fully God. He is both Son of David and Son of Deity. Because I was not his biological father, the curse of Jehoiakim was not passed along to Jesus! And since I adopted Him, He was the legal heir to the throne of David.
2. God often calls us to do more than we think we can do but He never calls us to do more than He can do. At Christmas we’re reminded that the Deity did not stay distant but came close to us. We couldn’t get to where He is so He came to us. Listen, Jesus came down into the stress of your marriages, or into your singleness. He came to help you with the junk in your job or the fear of not finding work. He came to help you with your health concerns, the friction in your families, the stress of your schooling and the anxiety about your finances. If you’re faced with something that seems too hard for you, remember what the angel said to Mary: “For nothing is impossible with God.”
3. God often shatters our dreams so He can give us new ones. Are you still holding on to a dream that God wants you to let go of? Sometimes the future you think you are preparing for is not what the Lord has in mind for you. One of the hardest things for me to do was to give up control. I had to die to reputation, comfort and status. Jesus is not just someone you simply add to your life like downloading an app to your phone. Give him complete control and He will turn your life upside down, which will actually be right side up!
4. Always do what God tells you to do even if it doesn’t make sense. Perhaps you want detailed explanations before you’ll obey. God wants us to obey no matter what. Are you in a dilemma right now? You will never go wrong when you do what is right. Like me, you may be faced with the choice between doing what you want and what God wants. Always do what He wants even if it seems unbelievable and impossible.
5. Our righteousness is never enough to satisfy a righteous God. My good works were never good enough – and neither are yours. I feared that I would never be known as a righteous man again and then I realized that my own righteousness was never enough in the first place. With Jesus a new righteousness was brought into the world and those who receive salvation have this righteousness applied to their account. When you are saved, the Saviour will take all your shame.
6. You need to be saved by the Saviour. Jesus means Saviour and Immanuel means “God with us.” You and I need both. We need to be saved from our sins and the only way that could happen was for the Saviour to leave heaven and live among us. That’s what Christmas is all about. The Saviour is now among us.