Community Lenten Service March 19, 2019
Year C, Matthew 1:18-25
No recording available. This sermon was delivered at the Woodstock United Methodist Church.
18Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. 19Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly. 20But just when he had resolved to do this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “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. 21She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”22All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet: 23“Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel,” which means, “God is with us.” 24When Joseph awoke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took her as his wife, 25but had no marital relations with her until she had borne a son; and he named him Jesus.
You might have noticed that I’ve read a Gospel that you would normally hear during the Christmas season. You might be asking yourself why you’re hearing this at a Community Lent service. Well, there is a two-fold reason. First, on this day in many churches, including the Episcopal Church, we celebrate the feast of Saint Joseph. Saint Joseph, who is the earthly father of Jesus, is known as the patron saint of adoptive parents.
But it’s also important because I think the story of Joseph is often overlooked and we need to remember how important Joseph is to our story, the story of Jesus Christ, the story of Christmas, the story of Christianity, and indeed the story of Lent.
The story of God becoming incarnate in the world, in Jesus Christ is dynamic and especially during Lent it is a time to be reminded of God being active in history.
We always hear about how Mary is an instrument of God’s grace. But In this Gospel from Matthew, we also hear that Joseph is a man who trusts in God. He is, of course, a young man. Likely a teenager. And yet he and his intended are at the center of a story that results in an overwhelming experience of believing – believing in God’s presence in this boy, God’s son who is also proclaimed as Joseph’s son.
There’s so much to be gleaned from this gospel. God’s mystery and presence permeate these eight short verses. God confirms who we are and whose we are. Joseph might seem to be passive in this encounter since Matthew describes this as occurring in a dream. Yet, what does Joseph do at the end of the dream: he awakes and does “as the angel of the Lord commanded him.’
“God is with us.” That’s what Matthew tells us. How will “God is with us” save us from our sins? How will “God is with us” help us repent and return to the Lord.
Jesus calls his followers to a path of radical obedience – calls us to humility. It’s about discipleship as the grace of God – a call to faithfulness.
In Matthew, we meet Joseph the dreamer – a righteous man who trusts relationship rather than rules – an obedient man who responds to dream.
We’ve all had dreams, haven’t we? And we know how bizarre and elusive dreams can be. I’m not sure there are many people who make major life decisions based upon what they saw or heard in a dream? Do you? And don’t we often hear, “Oh, think nothing of it, it’s just a dream.”
Yet, according to Matthew, Joseph awoke from his sleep and did as the angel of the Lord commanded him. And there’s certainly power in the dreams of the Bible. In our bible study, we recently finished the two different books of Esther. One in the Old Testament and the other in the Apocrypha, the Greek version. Think of the Greek version of Esther – Mordecai’s dream is a prophetic dream of impending danger to the Jews. In biblical history, dreams are often the way God frees and rebirths people, pushing us into new ways of life. It’s that way with Joseph, confused and scared and wanting to do what is right. I think it’s often the same way with us, wondering what God can possibly be up to.
Dreams can be ways to discover fresh insights about living and believing especially in highly anxious times. Dreams are sometimes a place where we can find hope. They can give us a new way of seeing, a new way of trusting, a new way of coping with problems that seem insurmountable.
We hear a lot about Mary. But what do we know about Joseph? In all the New Testament, he never utters a word. Yet, he is a principal figure in this story.
Tradition has it that Joseph was a simple man of an honorable trade. A carpenter from Nazareth. It is likely Joseph would have been educated by apprenticeship. The trade of a carpenter was a respectable one but not on one of the higher rungs of the social ladder. If you remember when Jesus preached his first sermon in the synagogue in Nazareth, the elders raised their eyebrows and asked, “Is this not the carpenter’s son? Is not his mother called Mary? And are not his brothers James and Joseph and Simon and Judas? It is clear that the people of his hometown weren’t impressed.
Yet, here we are. We have Joseph. Joseph who was righteous. But even more importantly, he was obedient, he was merciful, faithful, and courageous.
Isn’t that what we are being called to in Lent? To be obedient, merciful, faithful and courageous. To remember who we are and who we are called to be: faithful witnesses to our Lord, Jesus Christ.
This is a time of year specially set aside to give us space and time pace to remember that God so loved the world that God gave God’s only begotten Son, so that everyone who believes may not perish but have eternal life. So that you and I can be children of God, and heirs of God’s eternal kingdom.
Lent is a time for us to be tested – tested as Jesus was tested, tested as Joseph was tested. I can only imagine the fear, the loneliness that Joseph must have felt. Yet it’s often in these lonely times and places that we have the greatest opportunity to pay attention to what’s most important in our lives and to experience growth in our relationship with God.
The forty days of Lent provide us with an opportunity to remember and discover who we are. It gives us a place to settle into emptiness, and to prepare to meet God.
I don’t know about you, but I have often encountered God in the Lents of my life – when I have been most lonely and most tempted.
While we’re in Lent, let’s think about how the angel of the Lord appears to us, calling us to think about who we really are? Let’s think about what really matters, what values we hold, what kind of life would really make God proud.
Do we really follow Jesus, or just say we do?
Do we live for ourselves, or others?
How much do we really care about the welfare of all of God’s children?
Do we even take the time to learn what other lives are actually like?
Do we take the money, status, and fame or do we walk the path with Jesus?
What kind of people do we most want to be in this life?
These aren’t just rhetorical questions, but real questions to ponder as you leave here today.
Remember, too, that Lent is not a magic bullet. To experience a Holy Lent, which was our invitation on Ash Wednesday, we must be willing to set aside time to remember who God is, and what God was willing to do to secure our salvation in the world. God was willing to become incarnate, to become fully human, to be tempted and to set his face journey to Jerusalem.
God’s love is not just for a moment, but for all time. During this Lent, I ask you to consider how each of us can reflect this love? How we can reflect the mercy, faith and courage shown by Joseph.
And remember during this Lent that God never closes God’s heart to us, and God’s faithful goodness is our constant safeguard, even when our faults cause us to stumble. Even if we have turned away from God, we never need to be afraid to repent and return to the Lord. Because God always comes to meet us.
 Matthew 1:24, New Revised Standard Version
 Matthew 1:23
 Matthew 13:55, New Revised Standard Version
This was a sermon preached by The Rev. Kathleen Murray for a special community event. The Sunday sermons are recorded at St. Andrew’s and uploaded by Kemp Miller, for whose ministry we are all grateful. You can listen to this sermon by clicking the link above, but to access the entire library of audio files for recent sermons, CLICK HERE.