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Love; Advent 4 2019

Date: 22 December 2019

Love

Love is patient, love is kind, love is Christmas.

At Christmas God showed his love for us by sending his son into the world ‘Born of the Virgin Mary’, the bible is focused around these two incredible events, the birth of Jesus and later the death of Jesus.  These are the ways that God showed his love for us, his love for you.  Because this wasn’t just something that happened a long time ago in a place a long way away.  This is something that happened for you, God sent his son – so that he could befriend you.  And so that he could rescue you, rescue you from a life of dissipation and purposelessness.  God cares for you.

Today I want to talk about Love through the lens of Joseph, he was Jesus’ adoptive earthly father.  And I want show how significant Joseph was as a role model of a good man for Jesus.  By the time Jesus had become a man, by 30 years old his dad was gone, we all assume that he had died.  What I want to suggest today is, that although Joseph was dead, he was still an incredible role model.  Joseph can teach us something about love.

3 things.  He swallowed shame for love, he wore shame for love, and he went without for love.  Not love in the purely romantic sense, but love in the good-man sense.

Now we don’t know a lot about joseph, what do we know?  Please take 30 seconds and talk to the person next to you.  What do we know about Joseph the husband of Mary?  - A couple of extra things.  He was obedient when an angel told him to leave Bethlehem he did and then again on his return.  Secondly he was faithful, he took the family up to Jerusalem every year for Pentecost.

But let’s drill down.  Now we don’t know a lot but we can reasonably infer a few things.  Joseph was betrothed to Mary, this may have been more like an arranged marriage for Mary, she was young and he might have been a little older, he was a small business man – a carpenter and he might have still been in his 20s.  Remember people didn’t live long.  But he would have had some say in the betrothal.  So he was likely a little sweet on Mary.  He may have been in love with her.  He must have at least admired her.  So this is not Romeo and Juliet, but it is reasonable to infer that Joseph would have felt some affection towards Mary.

And Mary fell pregnant and he knew it wasn’t by him.  So let me start my description of love, with Joseph feeling betrayed.  Surely he would have felt angry, hurt and let down.  Sadly these are classic emotions that when not properly dealt with can lead to domestic violence.  There was a time in NZ culture that if a wife was having an affair, there was not only sympathy for the aggrieved husband but an acceptance of a violent reaction.  It shocks me that not long ago our culture used to think that an affair was justification for domestic violence. 

So Joseph must have been angry and upset.  He must have also felt shame. A toxic mix of emotions.  And you know what he does with that?  Even before the angel turns up.
He swallows it, he quenches it, he does not embrace it nor let it burn, he swallows the shame.  I think in joseph we have a good man, who set a good example for Jesus.  What does the scripture tell us, he was righteous and he went about preparing to divorce Mary quietly.  Now she would be left shamed, a single mum in those days wasn’t onto a good thing, but safe. Yet here’s the interesting thing, the law said that she should be stoned.  Deut 22.20 states that If a man marries a girl who it is claimed was a virgin, and yet she wasn’t – she could be stoned.  Single girls got pregnant, but deception was a real problem.  It was about breaking trust and damaging the institution of family. But joseph.  Joseph is described as righteous even when he doesn’t follow the letter of the law.  We don’t know what his friends said, maybe they tried to wind him up.  All we know is that he was kind.  LOVE from joseph meant swallowing his pride and swallowing the shame and going for a quite divorce.  Now you might think surely women weren’t really stoned, yet in John 8 we read how that barbaric practice was still being exercised. 

Joseph showed LOVE by swallowing the shame.  He showed love by the way he responded to a feeling of being aggrieved. 

When do we feel aggrieved?  When someone rips us off, when someone lets us down, when someone doesn’t do all that we demand.  We live in an age of grievance and I would suggest Joseph’s love is a model for us.

I know in the medical profession complaints have been spiralling, teachers are far more at risk of a complaint today, and businesses can be ruined by a spiteful review.  There has been growing in our culture a sense of the right not to be offended, and as Christians we need to follow Joseph’s model and sometimes, accept or swallow something that offends or upsets us.  I’m not talking about condoning abuse, but love says that sometimes we won’t go out of our way to harm someone.  I read the tragic story a couple of months ago about the restaurant Gypsy Caravan that went out of business, because they asked a diabetic woman not to eat her own salad inside their premises.  Now it sounds like it got into quite a mess, but its sad when we decide to post our conflicts on facebook and the result is a business shut down.  Love sometimes means swallowing the shame.

Then an angel visited Joseph, I know it’s an unusual story.  It’s meant to be unusual, even then angels were unusual and most people probably didn’t believe in them – until they turned up of course.  Well the angel asked Joseph to do something more.  He asked Joseph to go ahead and marry Mary.  The hurt is probably gone, but now he needs to wear the shame.  And in those days having a baby outside of marriage was unusual and would have been a cause for shame.  There are 3 things that people might have assumed. 

Firstly that the baby was Joe’s and he had been having sex with Mary when he shouldn’t have been.  There would surely have been some ribbing, ‘An angel eh Joe, a likely story’.  ‘We know who was the baby daddy, it was you mate.’ Joe would have had to wear some shame.

Or people might have assumed that Mary had been unfaithful and Joe was being a stand up guy, he might have got all kinds of teasing about that, ‘She wasn’t that keen on you mate, but she’s keen on your money, ha ha ha.’   -  ‘Joe is so desperate he’s going to marry her even if the kid isn’t his’.  Joe chose to wear the shame.

Or thirdly, (and there was a story like this that spread later), perhaps people thought that Mary had been raped by a roman soldier.  I think that wasn’t so uncommon.  Maybe people might have kept quiet about it, but there would have been funny looks and sideways smiles.

In all of this Joe wore the shame, he took Mary on and he took on the shame that went with her predicament.  That is another deeper form of love. 

We can show this sort of love also.  When we see someone in trouble and we decide to carry some of their pain, or their shame or their issue.  It might be that love means confronting someone about their racist comments and standing with a minority group in their vulnerability.  Love does that even when you don’t necessarily agree with everything another might do.  You might stand up for your Hindu friend’s right to be vegetarian even if you are a happy meat eater yourself.  Or you might stand with a colleague who has been accused of something and put your reputation on the line alongside there’s, I don’t mean lying, but standing with someone.  I admire defence counsel and supporters who stand alongside sex offenders, not justifying their actions, but being a friend.  And then sometimes you take a risk on a new person, giving them a chance.  

The third expression of love was a going without, in the story it’s a small thing but in life this can be a true sign of love when we go without something that would be normal.  Joseph married Mary and then had no sex with her until the baby came.   Some Catholics believe Mary never had sex with Joseph.  But generally protestants think Mary had later children.  In this case a small going without.  But often times loves means going without something that would be normal.  Perhaps going without the presence of a loved one while they are off overseas serving.  Perhaps going without the focus of a loved one while they are caring for their parents or another family member, perhaps going without your own bed when you put guests up in your room.  All these small ways of going without are expressions of love.  Sometimes it is peace of mind that we go without when our loved one is putting themselves in harms way, the way our police officers do every day.

So love can be about swallowing shame, it can be about carrying shame and it can be about doing without in the name of love.

When Jesus came to earth, he was without sin, but John tells us that he came to that which was his own and his own did not receive him.  There must have a been a great rejection that God felt when human being first sinned and turned away from him.  There must have been a great rejection God felt when the world did not universally embrace the bay Jesus, Herod tried to have him murdered, and then during his ministry Jesus must have swallowed a whole lot of rejection, pain and shame.

When Jesus came to earth he put on flesh, he adopted some of the shame that goes with being associated with sinful humanity,  then later in his life Jesus went to the cross, and the wonder on the cross is that on the cross, Jesus took on himself all our sins and died for them.  He accepted our shame and our guilt and crucified it.  And here is a real sense that even when he was born, Jesus was taking on that dual nature, human and divine.

And love goes without.  I think we assume we have a far greater importance than we deserve.  God need not have made us.  God is self-sufficient unto himself.  We are not necessary for God.  Life exists at God’s pleasure not at his need. And certainly God did not need to come to earth as the baby Jesus.  God had other things that he could have been doing!  The birth of Jesus was not a foregone conclusion at the start of the universe, quite the opposite it is a miracle of vast proportions.  God so loved us that he put aside whatever else he could have been doing and came to earth.

You see Joseph is a mode of love, and we can see those three things also in Jesus, will you swallow the shame that is dished up to you?  Will you wear someone else’s shame for love?  Will you give up something else you could be doing – for love?

As we come closer to Christmas I really invite you to think about what Jesus has done for you, and how can you pay it forward,

When someone insults you this week, by something they say, or by something they do, or by something they forget to do.  Will you swallow the shame?

When you see someone having a hard time this week, when they are being harassed or just struggling, will you gout of your way to help someone?  Will you spend a little of your Mana to lift someone else?

And finally will you go without, in a way that no one sees.  Will you go without sleep to care for a relative?  Will you go without a gift to pass it on to someone else?  Will you go without peace of mind for the sake of reconciliation?

Will you embrace love even as love has embraced you?

And if you have never accepted Jesu and his love into your heart.  You will do that today?  Are you ready to say yes to God?  Do you feel God’s touch on your life and his invitation to follow him?  Do you know what you need to do?  You just need to say yes to God.  Yes I am thankful that Jesus came and was born and died on the cross to forgive my sins.  Yes I confess that I have sinned against you God and I commit as I am able to turn away from everything I know is wrong in my life and yes I invite your holy spirit to come into my life and change me to be more like Jesus. 

Pray

 

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