The Mystery of Christmas: “A Righteous Man”
Rev. Sandy Johnson
December 20, 2015
Our silent, leading man, Joseph came from the right stock. Although scripture has Joseph not uttering one single word, we know a good deal about him from his actions. He was called righteous; a hardworking man. He was a skilled craftsman, a carpenter, working his trade to support his family. We can see from his actions that he demonstrated compassion for Mary; he was kind and sensitive toward her. But most importantly, Joseph was obedient. Dietrich Bonhoeffer is quoted as saying, “One act of obedience is better than one hundred sermons.”
“I recently heard of a business owner, a non-Christian who was curious about Christianity, so he had employed scores of Christians in his company and he watched them like a hawk. He said he was naturally drawn to God by observing Christian workers who were conscientious and kind and thorough and assertive on the job. But what he said really impressed him was that one day a guy who he knew to be a fresh convert asked if he could see him after work. The business owner agreed to meet with him, but later in the day started to worry that this young religious zealot might be coming to try to convert him.
“The business owner said he was surprised when he came into his office office with his head hanging low and said to him, ‘Sir, I’ll only take a few minutes, but I’m here to ask your forgiveness. Over the years I’ve worked for you I’ve done what a lot of other employees have done, like borrowing a few company products here and there. And I’ve taken some extra supplies; I’ve abused telephone privileges; and I’ve cheated the time clock now and then.
“But I became a Christian a few months ago and it’s real – not the smoke and mirror stuff,” he said. “In gratitude for what Christ has done for me and in obedience to Him, I want to make amends to you and the company for the wrongs I’ve done. So could we figure out a way to do that? If you have to fire me for what I’ve done, I’ll understand. I deserve it. Or, if you want to dock my pay, dock it whatever figure you think is appropriate. If you want to give me some extra work to do on my own time, that would be okay, too, I just want to make things right with God and between us.’”
“And the business owner said that this conversation made a deeper spiritual impact on him than anything else ever had. It was the single most impressive demonstration of true Christianity he had ever witnessed.”
This is the obedience we all strive for. To put the call of God on our lives, first and foremost, over everthing. But it isn’t always easy, is it? Joseph was the epitome of obedience. If you looked up obedience in the biblical dictionary there is a picture of Joseph. As obedient men go, Joseph was stellar. It was in his gene pool, it was how he had been raised. He came from a long line of men who loved God and demonstrated that love through their obedience to God’s word. Let’s look at one of his ancestor, Abraham. Genesis 22 shares his poignant story where God required Abraham to sacrifice his own son.
God appeared before Abraham and told him to take his son Isaac and offer him as a sacrifice, as a burnt offering before God. Child sacrifice at that time was not unknown but it was certainly not the norm. Isaac was the child that was born to Abraham in his old age. He was more than 100 years old when Isaac was born. Sarah and Abraham had been unable to have children; that was until God blessed them. This son, Isaac, was a miracle baby and God was instructing Abraham to sacrifice him. Abraham’s willingness to follow the command of God demonstrated his absolute trust in and complete obedience to God. This type of obedience is difficult for us to imagine. Abraham was an incredible individual.
So Abraham took his son Isaac and a few of his men and traveled to the place where God had instructed him. They built an altar and laid out the fire together, father and son. Following God’s orders, Abraham bound his son Isaac and laid him on top of the wood, the fire that was laid, ready for a match. Just before he was to kill him, an angel of the Lord intervened and stopped him. God was testing Abraham’s obedience and he demonstrated fully that he would comply with whatever God instructed, knowing that the Lord would always make things right, God would always provide.
I wonder if Joseph thought of Abraham now. Here he had been given the news that his betrothed, his wife Mary was pregnant. He knew he wasn’t the father and could only wonder who was. The more he thought about it, the more he knew he had to divorce her quietly. He didn’t want her to be killed and didn’t want her to be exposed to the disgrace that would follow. The only way out was to either divorce her or to have her put to death by stoning. He couldn’t do that to her, even though she had obviously made a mistake, it wasn’t worth her life. He would have to do it quietly thought, he didn’t want the authorities to find out. So he made the decision. He would quietly divorce her and pray to avoid any public scandal. Have you ever made a decision, only to have God change your mind?
Enter, God, stage right!
Here God’s angel appeared to Joseph in a dream and assured him that there was a third option. He didn’t have to turn her over to the authorities, he didn’t have to divorce her. He could marry her and claim the child as his own. Now, why didn’t Joseph think of that?! The angel assured him to be calm, there was nothing to be afraid of. In fact, Mary hadn’t been unfaithful, she was still a virgin and the child she conceived was from the Holy Spirit. Then the angel told Joseph what to name the baby. He would be called Jesus because he will save his people from their sins. Then the angel explained that this was all in accordance with prophesy:
23 “Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel,” which means, “God is with us.”
It is this part of the story where some folks get hung up. I mean, a virgin birth, really? Each part of the Christmas Story, the story of the birth of Jesus Christ brings forward the mysterious, the unexplainable. We are all called to decide for ourselves whether we will accept the mystery or whether we will fight for hard facts, provable theories that lead to the “truth.” Well, I would ask you to define truth! As a Christian I am comfortable with the mysteries. In fact that is one part of my faith that I appreciate most. The ability to accept that there are things I can’t explain.
I was sure when I went to seminary that I was going to get answers to some of life’s difficult questions. Where did I come from? Where am I going? Why am I here? Why does evil exist? Why do people die of cancer? We can search our whole lives and not get the answers we are looking for. It has been freeing for me to acknowledge that I love and trust God and that regardless of what my questions are, he always comforts me, always is leading and guiding me. God loves us all so much that in the face of impossible odds, when confronted with tragedy and strife, there is no mystery in the fact that God surrounds us all with his peace, he fills us to overflowing with his Spirit and continuously demonstrates his absolute love for us, his ultimate creation. It just doesn’t get better than that.
Obedience to God may not look to us at all like it did to Abraham or Joseph. We may never be asked to risk the lives of our loved ones, or to defy the law to take a pregnant wife; but we are each called daily to follow the call of Christ. The calling we receive, be it large or small, each requires a decision on our part to do whatever it is God is asking us to do, regardless of the outcome. And trust me, it may be risky. We may look silly, but we will pave the way for others to find God. Like the businessman in our first story, we may be the only bible some people ever read. What story are you sharing? I pray it is the obedience to our call from Jesus to love “God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ But we are not to stop there. Jesus teaches us that we are then to “love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” (Mark 12:29-31)
How do we show this obedient love? Everyone in our congregation is called to share this love. Barbara Paulsen share’s God’s love in her obedience to serve with Nevadans for the Common Good. Lar Nelson show’s God’s love when he ministers to those battling addictions. Chuck and Jan Barbour demonstrate obedience and love each time they organize and lead the Family Promise dinner. God’s love is demonstrated through our new music director, Cory Jones as he shares his gift of music with us each week. Susan Kohlman demonstrates obedience and God’s love each school day as she encourages the children she crosses on their way to school. Our own church demonstrates obedience to God when we come together each Sunday to worship together, to love one another, to serve our community and in taking risks, like moving to a new location.
Being obedient and following the call of God isn’t easy, but it is simple. God will give us the choice to follow or not. It is my prayer that we all would be like Joseph and hear the voice of God and then follow, doing what we are called to do. I assure you, what God has planned for each of us is infinitely better than anything we could ever imagine. We have to get out of our own way and give God room to work. We are called to be an obedient people and obedience to God’s will is freeing and will bring us peace.
Let us pray: Heavenly Father, we want so desperately to be obedient to your will but we get scared when we think of giving up control of our own lives. Give us the courage to do what you call us and to do it with obedience and love. Amen.
 http://www.sermoncentral.com/illustrations/sermon-illustration-steven-chapman-stories-holiness-sharingmytestimony-workplaceevangelism-2474.asp Accessed December 19, 2015.
 Matthew 1:23